On Islands | Landscapes of Contradictions


Star Wars’ Cloud City. Model by Juan Carlos Acosta

Gilles Deleuze started his book Desert Islands with this quote:

Geographers say there are two kinds of islands. This is valuable information for the imagination because it confirms what the imagination already knew. Nor is it the only case where science makes mythology more concrete, and mythology makes science more vivid. Continental islands are accidental, derived islands […] Oceanic islands are originary, essential islands.

We have seen a renewed interest on the concept of “island” during the past months. San Rocco Magazine dedicated its winter issue to this topic and Cabinet Magazine published Islands as its summer 2010 issue.

Maybe it’s due to urban sprawl that we feel there’s no more space on Earth and drives us to the idea of creating permanent dwellings at sea? It is the need for expand our livable areas? Jonathan Swift dreamed in 1726 with Laputa, a floating island with an adamantine base, which its inhabitants can maneuver in any direction. It has inspired different fictional works based on the idea of floating or flying islands, like L’Île à hélice by Jules Verne or in recent years, Star Wars’ Cloud City and Stargate Atlantis.

But what about architecture, cities, territories and islands?

“What is a more vibrant, energising icon for nature than the movement and constant renewal of water? It moves through, around, under, over and binds us together.”

The Pregnant Island by Naja & deOstos investigates the impact of large dams on minority communities in Brazil. As they point, the project is inspired by heartbreaking statistics about gender inequality, mass migration and loss of culture and a desire to explore the subject outside the problem-solving straitjacket, the project absorbs the factual and mixes it with mythical native tales.

We can read on the report TucuruÌ Hydropower Complex Brazil [page xiii]:

A number of displaced people, estimated to be around 3,700, colonised the myriad of islands that were formed by the hilltops when the reservoir was formed. There was no infrastructure on these islands and the lack of tenure was a disincentive for further improvements. In the summer the only water source available was the reservoir, even for drinking. The lack of sanitary infrastructure, clean drinking water and the use of smudge pots to ward off mosquitoes rendered them vulnerable to diseases such as malaria, diarrhoea, verminoses and respiratory problems. In addition these island dwellers were harassed by the former owners of these lands and by loggers.

With a critical approach and without avoiding political implications, the project rearticulates the island’s landscape created by the initial flooding of the Tucurui Dam reservoir. Within this context, the Pregnant Island merges existing ingredients within spatial narrative, a space that changes with time and is a multidimensional experiment depicting cultural and social ambiguities within the context of native communities.


Iceberg Autonomus. Source eVolo

There are other kind of speculative projects which proposes new ways of conquering the sea. The Iceberg Autonomy project is basically an enclave, a seascraper of suspended oil collectors and separators, described as “a new water-world in constant navigation”. The legal position of islands has been discussed frequently, just as Sina Najafi pointed, these outre-mer acquisitions tended to be spatially and legally marginal, regardless of their economic importance.

According to that, it’s easy to understand Akram Fahmi when he says about his projects that it is a drifting political territory of temporary autonomy occupied by a maritime mining and refining community that is searching and hunting for suspended oil plumes in the pelagic depths of our oceans —lost oil, forgotten and unclaimed through leakages, industrial run off, and devastating spillages.

Mostly all of the time, islands are related with geopolitical issues and some times described as enclaves, as they are places that are both “a part of, and apart from” national boundaries. In this context is also interesting to think which kind of inspiration drives us to build artificial islands? There are many kinds of abandoned islands, natural ones such as Hashima in Nagasaki or man made oil rigs [undoubtely a kind of island, according to its definition as a land mass surrounded by water] and ice islands. And instead of inhabiting them again, many artificial islands have been built in the last sixty years.


Northstar Island, an artificial island for oil drilling in the Beaufort Sea


Umihotaru. An artificial island

Godfrey Baldacchino pointed on his book Island Enclaves: Offshoring Strategies, Creative Governance, and Subnational Island Jurisdictions:

[Islands] represent quite fascinating examples of “the resourcefulness of jurisdiction”, illustrating the flexibility and tenacity of global capital, of federal politics, of smaller autonomous territories, as well as of sovereignity and the geography of power generally —and not necessarily in that order.

The direct relationship between politics and economical power has made that the creation of artificial islands and island-growing techniques became a new bussines model. Dirk de Meyer wrote about this on his essay Growing an Island: Okinotori and we can read at the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea treaty [UNCLOS], that “artificial islands are not considered islands for purposes of having their own territorial waters or exclusive economic zones, and only the coastal state may authorize their construction [Article 60]; however, on the high seas beyond national jurisdiction, any “state” may construct artificial islands [Article 87]”. Is this “freedom” and ambiguity, when talking about high seas with no political jurisdiction, which is creating this phenomena of ocean colonization.

Alexander Bolonki points that an old idea is building a big ship, but maybe the best solution to this problem, however, is the provision of floating cities, islands, and states. As Roger Miralles just reminded us, this immanent human desire of colonialism and geopolitical independence and power, has been related with islands not only in political treaties, but as an old human need, as we can see also in literature and arts.


Nowhere Island. Source

Are we witnessing new forms of governance and geopolitical territoties? The rise of Micronations all around and projects as Nowhereisland, led by artist Alex Hartley and recently declared a “new nation” with 2.532 registered citizens [and growing], make us think that we are. The recent economical crash and worldwide uprisings against political decadence are some of the source of inspiration for this kind of projects. Nowhere Island’s statements includes:

Nowhereisland is a new nation declared on behalf of its citizens.

Nowhereisland’s territory originated from an island newly revealed by a retreating glacier in the High Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. Nowhereisland is established in response to the failure of nation states to adequately address interconnected global crises, such as environmental exploitation.

Nowhereisland seeks to redefine what a nation can be.

The future of this ocean colonization is full of questions. Micronations looking for a better quality of life for its inhabitants are only part of this landscapes of contradiction. There are many other projects based only on economical issues or geopolitical control, as Israel plans to build artificial islands off Gaza Strip coast.

Maybe the answer is that contradiction itself, as pointed by Deleuze, “we can assume that these elements are in constant strife, displaying a repulsion for one another. In this we find nothing to reassure us. Also, that an island is deserted must appear philosophically normal to us.”


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