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Boat Wreck  /

 This project is a commission for Museum Het Domein in Sittard Geleen. Once again I was working alongside curator Andy Brydon from Curated Place,  see more of our Secret Cities projects here.

For all the limitations of cartographic representation of space the map of Sittard-Geleen gives away more clues than most in the struggles of belonging. The perimeters of the large sister towns carving out a figure-eight shape separated by an undeveloped no-man’s land at the boundary – almost geographically proclaiming that here are two distinct places ready to engage in trench warfare in defiance of name changes or shifting of municipal boundaries. Meanwhile, to the north, Born quietly sits by the river taking a ring-side seat to the rivalries played out between its bigger neighbours - locked in a rivalry generations old.

Perhaps the proximity to the waterways has something to do with the more laid back attitude in the villages and hamlets around Born. There’s certainly a different pace of life to be experienced when spending time with the river-folk of Berghaven. Whether it’s the calming effect of the water that slows things down, or the inherent notion of mobility that comes hand in hand with a home that can simply float on to the next village should one desire – there’s a detachment from the rhetoric of rivalry once one reaches the banks of Juliana Canal.

Although built as an essential transport link in and out of the region servicing the emergent heavy industries of Coal and Chemicals the completion of the canal in 1935 also created a new environment for those wishing to escape the increasing pace of the emergent city – a new space for the weekend pleasure cruisers and for those seeking a more permanent space outside of the expected settled, domesticated life.

There’s a different hierarchy on the rivers though, rather than simply being measured by economic means knowledge of the water counts for so much. Stories of experienced sailors taking time out on weekends to watch weekenders committing breaches of boating etiquette or enact errors of judgment abound in the swapped tales of the river folk. Almost all have a tale about witnessing inexperienced skippers clumsily negotiating the locks with disastrous consequences.

In the water of Berghaven there was even physical evidence of what could happen when those further down the pecking order of seamanship are allowed to enter the boatman’s realm. The sunken pleasure cruiser of Renee van Schijndel had become the equivalent of a local monument to the mishaps of the river, slowly rotting for over a decade opposite the heavy cranes of the harbor. Just like the traditional monuments of the area stories began to develop about the boat. Rumours abound as to what had happened; poor maintenance, a catastrophic mistake, sabotage – and just like elsewhere the truth didn’t always matter.  What was important was that the boat gave something different, a personality to the small harbor, a space for local identity to emerge and evolve around something unique to the place.

But a week after photographing the boat was gone. It was assumed that its long awaited removal had something to do with the imminent Julianakanaal Expansion project underway.  However, it seems that rather than being an official clean up the boat has instead been ‘stolen’ from the water (though who from remains unclear). The suspected thieves working for four days unchallenged to acquire the increasingly valuable scrap metals from the deck and hull of the boat. While the issue of ownership and wrongdoing may be a tricky one to unpick what has been lost is a marker that created a unique place that could be imbued with personality and (sometimes imagined) histories rather than simply another functional space. Occasionally it’s the flaws in an area that allow for the creation of meaning rather than the pretense of the pristine.

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Boat Wreck Secret Cities Sittard Geleen