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Say hello, waves don’t goodbye

Arts project No Man’s Land explores how the sea connects people, localities

Kristina Borg’s research was presented visually through a drawing of a map at the collective exhibition Dal-Baħar Madwarha, curated by Maren Richter, at St Elmo Exam Centre, Valletta.

Kristina Borg’s research was presented visually through a drawing of a map at the collective exhibition Dal-Baħar Madwarha, curated by Maren Richter, at St Elmo Exam Centre, Valletta.

As traffic congestions have become the order of the day, an arts project is reflecting on the lack of use of our islands’ major natural resource – the sea – as a means of transport for daily commutes.

No Man’s Land, being held over the next two weekends, will see a series of performative boat trips taking place around the Grand Harbour and Marsamxett areas. They will offer a circular route around each harbour and include a number of pick-up and drop-off points. Participants are invited to make full use of the functional element of this project and plan one’s journey based on one’s needs and errands. 

Kristina BorgKristina Borg

“I believe that the sea is our main natural resource but it is severely underutilised when it comes to transport and commuting,” says artist and educator Kristina Borg.

“Our perception of the sea relates more to leisure and tourism. We already have one ferry route per harbour – Valletta to Cospicua and Valletta to Sliema – which is increasingly being used by tourists and locals alike. So, by offering a more circular route in each harbour one would be catering for more people from other localities, such as Kalkara or Msida, and this can help alleviate the traffic congestion on our roads, especially in the island’s central region.”

Borg believes that such an initiative may lead to a more efficient and reliable public transport system but, in order not to increase sea pollution, it is important to offer sustainable and alternative practices. That is why she opted for an electric-powered luzzu, the result of a project carried out in 2008 under the supervision of Joseph Cilia at the Department of Industrial Electrical Power Conversion, Faculty of Engineering, University of Malta.

“No Man’s Land can be presented as a pilot towards making a first proposal. I wouldn’t say this is a fully-fledged proposal but, hopefully, a first step forward,” Borg points out.

“We need to change our social mentality and make public spaces fit the needs of residents and pedestrians.”

To a certain extent, the project revisits past routes where localities, such as Valletta and the Three Cities, were “better connected” with the use of il-lanċa.

Through her research Borg found a photo from the late 19th and early 20th century that shows the skeleton of a pontoon bridge where il-lanċa used to berth in Msida, close to the parish church.

The concept behind No Man’s Land, however, goes deeper than the functional aspect. By definition, ‘no man’s land’ is an area of unowned, unclaimed, uninhabited or unoccupied land and Borg invites the boat trip participants to look at these areas along the coast.

The artist treats the sea as an extension to land, thus questioning whether the coast can be considered a border that unites or separates.

I describe Malta as a seamless island, where notions of periphery are quite alien and borders seem invisible, yet these exist

“Thirteen towns and cities – Kalkara to Valletta, Valletta to Sliema – each demarcated by its set of borders, surround this coastal area. I describe Malta as a seamless island, where notions of periphery are quite alien and borders seem invisible, yet these exist. Through this project I researched how these invisible borders are rendered visible while also exploring the spaces in-between and the immediate environs.

“How do such spaces affect the locals that inhabit them as residents, workers or commuters and how do they permeate in one’s social life and political processes,” she asks.

To answer her queries, Borg held a number of conversations with locals in order to gain a better insight of their day-to-day experience, their fears and hopes, dreams and worries.

Conversations were locality based and held on a one-to-one basis or in groups, depending on the availability of community members. The topics tackled their relationship to the sea, experience of the locality, relationship with neighbouring areas and thus the effects of confines and borders on their daily life, and issues or anecdotes related to spaces of ambiguity or places of contestation.

“One particular issue that struck me was the situation of Floriana where a good part of its territory has been either privatised or taken over for administrative, political and mass entertainment functions – these do not offer any particular or specific benefits to the locals. Similar to Valletta, Floriana overlooks both the Grand Harbour and the Marsamxett Harbour, however, the accessibility to the sea has been practically blocked by private ventures,” she laments.

Based on the research and conversations, Borg wrote two narratives, one specific to the Grand Harbour and the other specific to Marsamxett Harbour. These narratives include a mix of history, facts and daily experiences as well as some fiction.

Performer and storyteller Miriam Calleja will perform each narrative live and she will interact with the boat passengers during the boat trips.

Themes presented will deal with theprivatisation of the sea and of public spaces, accessibility to the seashore and the lack of it, changes in the use of the harbour along the years, traffic and environmental issues.

“Of course, one cannot forget the aura of both harbours, and this is where some elements of beauty emerge,” says Borg.

A sustainable mode of transport

No Man’s Land is making use of an electric-powered luzzu, which is 4.5 metres in length and can carry seven persons on board. It is operated by two batteries with a total weight of 45kg. It is the result of a project carried out in 2008 under the supervision of Joseph Cilia at the Department of Industrial Electrical Power Conversion, Faculty of Engineering, University of Malta.

The boat was specifically updated for No Man’s Land, so as to make use of the latest battery technology equipped with lithium-ion cells. This has also reduced the boat’s weight by about 80kg, allowing for an additional seventh person to board the boat. The monitoring and control of the electric boat uses the patented technology of local company, Abertax Ltd.

Originally, the aim was to use this electric-powered luzzu for short trips in harbour areas or inlet seas, replacing an existing tourist boat trip used to view the Blue Grotto Caves. But, in spite of having a fully-fledged electric boat, the agreement did not go forward and the boat ended up being garaged at University.

The boat is fully equipped and the university is interested to lease this boat to a touristic operator in order to put into practice this technology.

No Man’s Land forms part of Valletta 2018’s major multi-site exhibition, Dal-Baħar Madwarha, which explores the idea of ‘islandness’ in playful and critical ways. For more information about No Man’s Land, send an e-mail to borgkristina@gmail.com.

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