Friday Ephemera
Elsewhere (49)

Worth Every Penny

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.

I found myself becoming more and more committed to our airy utopia, as we talked and talked and talked about what this NowhereIsland society might look like.

Time is money, people. Tick, tock. Can we cut to the good stuff? Share we us, please, the insights we’ve paid for.

I discovered that the world is full of bright, decent people doing important, beautiful things, and because of that, it might not be too late to build a better one. I also discovered that Geography professors CAN dance to dubstep.

We’ll sleep easier tonight, then.

Laurie’s reflections are, however, tinged with sadness. Not least regarding the notes of public disapproval:

Of all the myriad problems with the NowhereIsland project, the press have inevitably focused on the most anodine [sic] and inconsequential: the money… I believe in art, and folly, and dreams. I believe that if we can’t collectively subsidise artists to imagine new worlds for us, we have no business speaking of social progress.

Yes, I know. It’s so unexpected. Pretentious taxpayer-funded noodling is vital, says beneficiary of pretentious taxpayer-funded noodling. Because Laurie believes in folly, see, ideally when done at someone else’s expense and regardless of their objections. And because without the Arts Council and its politically generic freeloading caste, all human progress would simply grind to a halt. Besides, grumbling about the extortion and misuse of other people’s money - half a million pounds of it - is anodyne and inconsequential.

Out of her way, you little people.


Update, via the comments:

A reader, Newbie, asks: “If money is so ‘inconsequential,’ why do these parasites always expect to be given loads of someone else’s?”

Why indeed? Presumably, taxpayers shouldn’t trouble themselves with how their earnings are expropriated and pissed away by their betters. Artists, it seems, are visionaries, not made of mortal flesh, and so sacrifice is necessary - yours, of course, not theirs. Laurie illustrates this point unwittingly and with her usual grandiose sorrow: “Is this what human progress has come to? Fighting over the scraps of money left as the markets crumble?” Oh, the indignity of not being given all the money you want just because you want it.

There are two things worth noting here. Firstly, Laurie equates the fatuous, self-aggrandising relocation of dirt with “human progress.” Apparently, NowhereIsland is exactly the kind of progressive project that will drag us in its wake to a brighter, more enlightened tomorrow. (It only looks like the usual cliquey freeloaders’ talking shop, in which the same self-selected caste of middle-class lefties pretend to be pivotal to human advancement. Because, hey, they’re that important.)  

Secondly, the notion that artists might actually consider earning a living doesn’t register at all. There’s not even the briefest flickering of that possibility. The idea that artists might endeavour to produce work that their customers would pay for voluntarily, without Arts Council coercion and political vetting, appears to be unworthy, and perhaps unthinkable. Artists are much too important to waste their time making beautiful things that people want to buy. According to Laurie, their role is political and much, much grander - to “imagine a culture beyond the control of capital and the nation state.”

This, of course, is simply asserted. As so much is in Laurie’s world.