Artist Alexandra Bircken designed the sculpture Snag, a life-sized copy of a 19th century wrought iron ship anchor, for the platform of the High-Speed Line in the new expansion of Antwerp’s Central Station. The sculpture hangs serenely in the air, from an oval shaped chain attached to the concrete ceiling.
Does Bircken, with this powerful symbol of hope, refer to the old soul of the historic port cities of Antwerp and Amsterdam, now linked by the High-Speed Line? Or is this anchor rather intended as an item of jewellery, the enlargement of a charm one might find on a necklace, and thus a Beuysian commentary on the area surrounding the train station, with its many Jewish jewellery shops and trendy fashion boutiques?
It seems that appearances can be deceiving, once we observe particular details of the sculpture. The anchor is not a wrought iron replica but a copy assembled from chrome plated steel, and like the accompanying anchor chain it is a refined two-dimensional abstraction of an original ship’s anchor. Furthermore, it appears that the top of the anchor is ‘tattooed’ with a mysterious boat-shaped symbol. On further examination we see the inscription of the Hebrew word ‘Noah’. The link with the oldest boat in history, Noah’s Ark, is of course quickly forged, but the key to the deeper significance of this sculpture lies in the original meaning of the word Noah in Proto-Germanic language: calm, quiet and tranquillity. Bircken thus refers subtly to the serene mystery of an anchored boat at rest. A bigger contrast between this romantic image and the world that hurtles past us in today’s high-speed traffic is almost inconceivable.
Through the perfection of the polished chrome finish on the originally robust object, Bircken takes the viewer with her into an associative world in which mutability, the real and the artificial interrogate one another. Obviously, the passing traveller will not quickly forget the elevated symbolism of the hanging anchor. There is every chance that Bircken’s ‘Snag’ will permanently vitalise the platform by firmly anchoring it in the collective memory of many a passenger.
Snag can be seen at track 23-24 of Antwerp Central Station.