The artist collective based in the harbor of Linz, Austria for the past 20 years has become increasingly engaged in DIY nautical culture. Time’s Up reflects on their investigations in Europe and around the world.
As the Nautical Expo in Paris wraps up and the Vendée Globe skippers sail into the Pacific, Makery gets up to speed by telling stories of the sea, pirates, UFOs (unidentified floating objects) and carbon-free sail cargo fair transport. Part 1 of a flowing interview with Tim Boykett from the Time’s Up collective.
Ooh! Thanks for the interest. The interactions of our work with futures and storytelling, fair transport, fair trade, trade and value in general have fascinated us for several years now, from our Data Ecologies symposia to the latest piece we just showed in Riga. And machines. We have run a series of workshops over the years with students from various universities and other groups, where water machines have arisen again and again as something of relevance. Recently, Geert-Jan Hobijn from Staalplaat Sound System did a residency with us to build the prototype of his Plastic Souls installation.
How was Time’s Up created?
Time’s Up was founded in 1996, as a group of us had just finished working on a project called Contained and wanted to work with more technological things: video, audio, computer control, in addition to large mechanical devices. We were still very focused on aspects of physicality, in contrast to the mid-1990s fascination with virtual everything and the incessant chatter about “uploading” to some kind of incorporeal silicon paradise. We found the workshop spaces in the Linz trading harbor, which had been used by the Danube Steamship Company and the harbor master since the 1950s, empty at the time. We started Time’s Up as a one-year project, but kept on finding reasons to carry on for another year, or another three, until we reached the ripe old age of 20 years working together. Be careful what you wish for…
As we started Time’s Up, we had a collection of ideas floating around that were not directly related to the work we were doing. As we were situated between the harbor and the Danube, we had some strong side interests in water issues, transport, stories about the chains across the Danube for tax collection and, of course, Danube pirates, as well as the legends of pirate utopias as told by William Burroughs, with Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zone essay and Lamborn Wilson’s story of the pirate republic of Salé as leimotifs. The Time’s Up logo comes from one of the early pirate flags, the expired hourglass, with the name coming (chronologically) after the logo. Our kitchen (or more technically, galley or Kombuse, as we like to call it) is decorated with a dense collection of maritime kitsch, mostly flea market treasures.
So what exactly is the nautical association TUBA?
We started using the name TUBA (Time’s Up Boating Association) as a tongue-in-cheek way of summarizing these and other informal boating activities. We have had a series of workshops with students from various universities, where some students used the harbor waters as a place to try various floating, swimming or sinking projects. With the Danube still blocked by the Yugoslavian war and a fallen bridge and mines in Novi Sad until 2003, the amount of traffic in the harbor remained minimal, so the calm waters could be used for all sorts of activities until about 2010. Around this time, a few other groups in Linz began working more with the Danube, particularly around the Stadtwerkstatt cultural center and the Eleonore barge. In 2012, we undertook the Control of Commons voyages, then in 2015-16 the investigations of marine pollution, sail cargo and ecosystem collapse that fed into the Turnton project.
Could you summarize the conclusions of your “Turnton” white paper for Changing Weathers?
One of our contributions to Changing Weathers, for a pan-European project, is based on what we call “transiencies”, a residency in motion. In these journeys, we aim to collect and amalgamate ideas, experiences and dreams, from those who are involved in and/or influenced by alternative practices of transporting goods. Fair transport is a buzzword, slowly becoming more relevant as climate change gets closer to our everyday life, the destruction of the oceans becomes more obvious, and the façade of “business as usual” crumbles.
The sail cargo movement is, in general, filled with images of traditional vessels, complete with archaic-looking rigs, wooden hulls and some degree of disdain for motorization, alongside renderings of modern, high-tech naval architectural plans—which would be built, if only they could get the funding together. It is clear from the branding of most of the products transported by ship that this traditional image is part of the entire marketing ploy. Many of the sail cargo vessels use traditional rigs for a simple reason—traditional rigs were developed over centuries for power and reliability. Contemporary sailing rigs, as seen on pleasure and racing vessels, are designed primarily for speed, ease of use and the ability to sail close to the wind. These are not the qualities that a sail cargo vessel needs. Powerful gaff or lug rigs are used in coastal transport, where contrary winds are likely. For trans-oceanic sailing, ships use the regular trade winds, following courses that keep the winds mostly astern. Thus, square-rigged vessels remain useful for precisely this type of sailing.
The most high-profile ship in the fair transport circuit is the Tres Hombres, a 32-meter-long former minesweeper, rebuilt between 2007 and 2009 to a brigantine with several square sails in her foremast. The Tres Hombres and her sistership the Nordlys are both motorless, in order to emphasize the cleanliness of their transport, while making more space for cargo. As a result, they cannot be registered in a European country, even though they operate out of Den Helder in the Netherlands. Initially running under a Sierre Leone flag, they now operate under a Vanuatu flag. The use of these “flags of convenience” is widespread in the shipping industry. Usually they are used to optimize (i.e. avoid) taxation. For Tres Hombres and Nordlys, the Vanuatu flag allows them to operate without a motor, underlining their intentions. This is an interesting turnaround.
But there are other forms of “clean” shipping besides sail cargo?
Yes, there are many other projects, such as the speculative use of waves as propulsion or the obvious introduction of natural gas as a fuel, which is becoming mandatory in Chinese waterways, for example. A middle-road emerging technology is electric motors combined with effective battery systems, alone or as auxiliary power for wind-powered vessels, piggybacking on the developments of better and better motors and batteries for electric cars and other applications.
This combination of technologies and approaches, from traditions to high technology, can also be found in the third-stage developments being planned by the Fair Winds Trading Company with their imports from the Casamance in Senegal. Because the Casamance is a shallow, ever-changing river delta system, with villages often accessible only by scrappy dirt roads or water, the export project will stick with the water approach. Thus, the cargo vessel needs to be able to navigate shallow waters and be maneuverable without another ship. Their plan is to take the Pacific island tradition of a Proa, the use of twin asymmetric hulls with the driving sail on the main hull, and the mast doubling as a loading crane. The test construction of a 12-meter version in 2015 showed that the design works, and the full version should be around 60 meters. This construction uses fibre-reinforced plastics, high-tech materials for sails and a regenerative power system, so that the motion of the hulls can maximize the power available for the electric drive systems.
The problem is that vessels currently plying the sail cargo routes suffer from a lack of tonnage. The only example of high tonnage is the Avontuur, which can carry as much cargo as all three of the main ships combined (Tres Hombres 35 tonnes, Nordlys 30, Grayhound 5) and as much as the 70 tonnes of the Undine, which operated only between Hamburg and the island of Sylt. Actually, the Undine was declared bankrupt in April 2016 but is up for sale. Perhaps a budding sail cargo-ist in northern Germany is ready to take on a German-registered cargo sailing ship?
These stories remind me of Nathalie Magnan, a media theorist, artist and professor who recently passed away. This activist of the cyber-feminist and LGBT communities, who was also an established navigator, had led the “Sailing for Geeks” project about ten years ago. She would take geeks out to sea to study the technologies of marine traffic control, refugees boats, fair transport… Did you meet any geek sailors?
Wow. I totally wish I had met her. An interesting group of people operating on many sidelines, the Donautics here in Linz, have connections with a sailing boat residency in the Netherlands and then to the Stubnitz, currently docked in Hamburg. Our friend Marie Polakova just completed the beginning of a project surveying cultural groups living and working on the Danube. There is a strange crossover of geek, DIY, culture and gender issues that meet on the water. The people working around Timbercoast and Fairtransport are also here to openly spread the good practices. They do not want to build an empire. Rather, in the flavor of the Transition Town Movement, they want to grow by empowering people to emulate their process. The Timbercoast crew do not strike us as the type who want to develop a fleet of ships that are guided around the world from a head office somewhere. Rather, we see them as people who want to work hard to make something good happen, to meet with and work with like-minded equals.
Join the Timbercoast crew on their trip to Australia:
Part 2 of this interview will follow next week.
Time’s Up website