Graveyard of Giants

Chittagong 17-X2

Ships’ graveyards are well known nowadays, we have written about it before and the work by Edward Burtynsky about shipbreaking helped to put this issue on the architectural arena again, while focusing on its geopolitical, social, economic and infrastructural implications. The cycle of extraction, production and recycling has demonstrated to be a failed system and the dystopic landscapes of places like Chittagong or Alang simply provoques an overwhelming reaction when we look at them.

Some of the worst disasters in the past years are related with industrial models and the micro-politics of power. This issue is being explored on the exhibition Critical Episodes, where we can read:

The dismantling of the traditional chains of production had direct consequences on individual lives. Societies and their relational systems endured radical changes, while a global scenario of control was gradually being put into place.

This is the leitmotif of Jan Møller Hansen recent work Graveyard of Giants. After travelling and visiting Chittagong and witnessing all the activities around ship breking, he researched for several years this issue, just to found out that the ship breaking industry in Bangladesh is estimated worth an annual turn over of around 1.5 billion dollars. Globally some 700 ocean-going vessels are scrapped each year, and more than 100 of them are scrapped in Bangladesh. Some of the ships are 350 meter long with a weight up to 10-15.000 tons and it has become a big business, employing more than 50,000 workers, without any formal worker-management relationship or legislations.

With an estimated 30 percent of the world’s Light Displacement Tonnes [LDT] scrapped in Bangladesh during the period 2000-2010, the environmental and social consequences are crucial to understand the global impact of this kind of practices.

Chittagong 10-X2

Chittagong 14-X2

We have remarked recently the deep crisis we’re living in terms of economy, but also in terms of ethics and values under the capitalist market and the political decisions that surrounds our daily life. In this context, these images are a reflection on today’s global crisis, inasmuch as they make an accurate portrait of some other important issues beyond environment, such as labour, poverty, and legality.

The images of the broken ships reminds us about Georges Perec quote on La Vie mode d’emploi:

From this, one can make a deduction which is quite certainly the ultimate truth of jigsaw puzzles: despite appearances, puzzling is not a solitary game: every move the puzzler makes, the puzzlemaker has made before; every piece the puzzler picks up, and picks up again, and studies and strokes, every combination he tries, and tries a second time, every blunder and every insight, each hope and each discouragement have all been designed, calculated, and decided by the other.

Even if it’s seems that this quote is not related with the ships graveyards, we do think so. Beyond the formal similitudes, the pictures that show the interior of the ships also refer to a hidden reality: it is estimated that half of the workers are under 22 years and nearly half of them are illiterate, up to around 20 percent of the total work force consist of children. And this happens because economic interests in the ship breaking industry and the decision to take them to third world countries have all been designed, calculated, and decided by the other.

Chittagong 11-X2

As we can read, currently, the costs associated with removing asbestos, along with the potentially expensive insurance and health risks, have meant that ship-breaking in most developed countries is no longer economically viable. That’s why nowadays, most ship breaking yards are in developing countries, with the largest yards at Gadani in Pakistan, Alang in India, Chittagong in Bangladesh and Aliağa in Turkey. Even if sometimes this kind of photo reports has been criticised for aestheticize tragedy, we think they are necessary to make us aware of the situation, so we can try to address real challenges faced by humankind as a result of their economic and geopolitical relationships.

Each one of those ships are part of the jigsaw puzzle that form the global economy. They can be used as mirrors of our reality, because they represent the same driving force of control and power which economic forces are using in our globalised world. But we can also use them as a catalyst for utopia… as Foucault pointed, “The mirror is, after all, a utopia, since it is a placeless place.” Just as in Perec’s book, every one of these images talks about multiple lives, by looking at them we can almost “listen” to the children working there, telling stories about ships of different shapes and sizes, and about a desired future of travels and adventures. It’s up to us to listen carefully, in the words of Baudelaire:

“The breeze and water distantly
sing their song, mingled here
with sobs to soothe the spoiled child’s fear…”

Chittagong 23-X2

Chittagong 12-X2

We want to say thanks to Pedro Gadanho, for the motivation with this words, “Writing, as we know, requires not only time to produce the actual writing, but also a certain disposition to produce the thinking.” Also to Transit-City for posting about the wonderful work of Jan Møller Hansen.

All images by Jan Møller Hansen. For more info, please visit his web-site


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