In 2004, photographer Alex Hartley discovered a floating island in the High Arctic region of Svalbard, revealed by the melting ice of a retreating glacier. As the first ever human being to set foot on this piece of land, the artist ensured its registration on all maps and charts that have subsequently been produced. But upon his return to the island in September last year, with authorisation from the Norwegian government he had the official territory removed, and began to sail the island through the seas towards England, as a new nation in its own right. Applications to become a citizen of Nowhereisland are open to all through an online process, and over 5,000 people have registered so far.
With Hartley steering its way through a sequence of new domains, Nowhereisland is headed towards England and is due to arrive off the south west coast this summer, voyaging from the Jurassic Coast to the Bristol Channel over a period of six weeks. It will be accompanied by the Nowhereisland Embassy, a mobile museum which tracks its remarkable journey.
Hartley’s work has previously focused on altering perspectives of architecture and the built and natural environment, but this project stands apart as a groundbreaking venture, encompassing wide-reaching political and socio-geographical issues; in fact, Nowhereisland’s impending arrival has become a catalyst for critical international discussion.
Raising polemic issues about citizenship, land ownership and national identity, as well as the imminent environmental topic of climate change, Hartley’s nomadic embarkation has sparked debates and activities centred around this unprecedented set of circumstances and the notion of digital democracy, including a site dedicated to ‘Letters to Nowhereisland’ from eminent thinkers from around the world.
“It is also an exploration of the romantic and problematic notion of the pioneer or explorer, and our poetic idealised relationship with island landscape,” states the artist; the poignancy of which is alloyed with the fact that 2012 is the centenary of Captain Scott’s intrepid yet doomed journey to the South Pole. Nowhereisland was a winning proposal for the Artists Taking the Lead project as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad, and will be one of 12 projects taking place around the United Kingdom.