Approaching Nowhereisland (all images courtesy the artist)

Back in 2012, a curious landmass journeyed around the coast of England, broken free from the Arctic, where it had long been invisible under a glacier. Nowhereisland, as it was anointed by its discoverer, artist Alex Hartley, became land art on a massive scale. Hartley’s project was also a response to climate change, as well as an attempt to get people to think about what they would do if given the chance to start a totally new nation. Now Hartley is raising funds on Kickstarter to create a book to preserve the stories of Nowhereisland.

The artist hasn’t shied away from employing monolithic materials as points of artistic response, as in his LA Climbs: Alternative Uses for Architecture book, which treats the architecture of Los Angeles, from Hollywood sign to Frank Gehry’s concert hall, as potential climbing walls. When he found the small rocky island, revealed by a retreating glacier, in 2004 while with the Cape Farewell project, he turned it into a more-than-decade-long experiment in territory ownership, environmental discussions, and public art.


Nowhereisland art, made from dust of the island’s Arctic rocks

With some £500,000 (~$831,000) support from the Cultural Olympiad — an artistic component of the 2012 London Olympics — and permission from the Norwegian government, Hartley scooped up six tons of the island’s crumbly, glacial moraine surface and hauled it 500 miles to the UK, where it was formed into a floating facsimile of the island.

“As it made this epic journey, it travelled through international waters, whereupon it became the world’s newest nation — Nowhereisland — with citizenship open to all,” Hartley explained to Hyperallergic. Nowhereisland spent a year touring port cities and gaining some 23,000 “citizens,” who contributed their ideas on what this new nation should stand for. Ultimately, its rocks were broken up and shared with its people. “The book will document this: the island’s discovery, the political machinations with the Norwegian authorities as we sought permission to gather the island territory and take it out into International waters, the 2011 Arctic expedition, the declaration in International Waters, and the Olympic connection,” Hartley said.


Nowhereisland on the move

He’s not the only artist to use a small landmass for a meditation on ownership and sovereignty. Back in 2004, Duke Riley claimed the tiny U Thant Island in the East River during the Republican Party Convention. Swedish artist Lars Vilks constructed some rickety sculptures to proclaim Landonia, now recognized as a micronation. Nowhereisland, however, faced strong criticism for its use of public money in what some saw as folly. Still, Hartley avowed that the story of the mobile island should be about its citizens and what the public art project meant to them:

It carries with it the stories of the place from which it came — its origins as an artistic act of discovery, its roots in the highly politicized territory of the High Arctic, and the myths and stories through which it resonated as an artwork. The island also carried with it the aspirations of its growing nation of citizens from across the world, and in doing so, became not simply an imagined place — a nowhere or ‘utopia’ — but a tool for imagining our world ‘as if things were different’ and an urgent call to action.


Nowhereisland’s “embassy”

Nowhereisland: The Book by Alex Hartley is fundraising on Kickstarter through April 21.  

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print and online media since 2006. She moonlights...