When artist Alex Hartley wrote of his search for, and discovery of, an uncharted island in his blog entry 'New Land Discovered' for Cape Farewell on 19th September 2004, the formal tone and language of his words harked back to those of an Arctic explorer’s endeavor decades before. With the words ‘a land on which no human had ever stood’, he summoned a vast body of art and literary references for which the urge to seek out and possess the remote and unfamiliar landscapes at the ‘edges’ of the world have been a enduring creative impulse.
But what happened next is surprising. From this artist’s sole Arctic endeavor, and his act of attempted colonization, emerged a multi-faceted artwork – Nowhereisland - which opened out over time, over space and through participation with others. Nowhereisland can be seen to have emerged from Alex Hartley’s studio-based, photographic and sculptural practice, but it has seen the artist move into other fields of practice, characterised elsewhere as ‘conceptual’, ‘utopian’, ‘socially-engaged’ and ‘post-studio’.
Nowhereisland is an artwork comprising multiple facets. Like many contemporary art works of this nature, Nowhereisland is durational (it unfolds over time); it is nomadic (it moves across locations, accruing different meanings in different contexts); it is physical matter (it is a sculpture comprising material from the Arctic and a collection of objects, documents, photographs and films in the Embassy); it is an intervention (a geological displacement of material, a landscape moving around another landscape); it is the words and images of others (speaking back to the project through the Resident Thinkers programme and Constitution) and it is a utopian idea (a conceptual nation involving thousands of people across the world shaping that nation's values and principles online).
This section offers the opportunity to consider Nowhereisland’s artistic precedents – in particular its relationship to Land Art and Utopia – as well as a consideration of how ideas about participatory artworks have shifted through artworks such as Nowhereisland in recent years, alongside a look at Alex Hartley’s own artistic practice.