Worth Every Penny
September 30, 2011
Readers may have noted the NowhereIsland art project, in which assorted radical freeloaders – referred to as a “think tank” - were shipped to the Arctic at public expense to ponder the possibilities of progressive utopia and generally engorge their cultural glands. While moored at Nyskjaeret, an apparently unclaimed island the size of a football pitch, our merry band of thinkers gathered sand and rock and loaded it onto a barge, thereby creating a floating “visual sculpture” of tremendous, indeed profound, political significance. Said work will subsequently “tour” the south coast of Britain, leaving better, more enlightened people in its wake.
The project’s intellectual lynchpin, artist Alex Hartley, has explained why his subsidised trip was so imperative:
It will gather ideas around climate change, land grab, colonialism, migration… all of these issues that can be put onto the blank canvas of this new land… My plan is to take a part of the island into international waters and declare it as a micro-nation so people can register to become citizens… We have just declared our statehood. This moment marks seven years of work inspired by a simple question: What if an Arctic island went south in search of its people?
If this all sounds a little familiar, you may be thinking of this comedic excursion from 2009.
The project’s mission statement tells us,
NowhereIsland is established in response to the failure of nation states to adequately address interconnected global crises, such as environmental exploitation… NowhereIsland embodies the global potential of a new borderless nation, which offers citizenship to all; a space in which all are welcome and in which all have the right to be heard.
Others have taken a less sympathetic view. Among them, Geoffrey Cox, Conservative MP for Torridge and West Devon, who referred to the project as an “extraordinary folly”:
I think my constituents are going to find it quite astonishing that… we are spending half a million pounds digging up earth from somewhere in Norway and floating it down the South West coast.
Having survived this two-week taxpayer-funded odyssey in radical conjecture and dirt relocation, Laurie Penny - for ‘tis she - shares her thoughts:
I met a polar bear, a whale, some reindeer, several fat seals, an arctic fox, many drunk Russians, a statue of Lenin, and a very dear and well-meaning collection of British academics, activists and journalists… Crammed on a ship trying to teach everyone consensus decision-making whilst we held down our lunches as the Noorderlicht dived through the waves, trying to group-write a theoretical constitution for a speculative nation.
Good times. Though there were of course a few issues to contend with.
Every single one of us was white and middle-class.
Luckily, rote identity politics soon gave way to the romance of it all.
As we discussed our ideal society… it really did feel like the last colony ship off a burning planet - like we were the chosen, special ones strapped to a cosy life-shuttle, looking for a new world at the touching point of symbol and substance. This, surely, is how the privileged will experience the end times.
The chosen, special ones. And not, say, the ‘B’ Ark.
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