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Academic helps set up new nation

Posted on 07/10/2011

An academic at Royal Holloway encountered stormy seas, whales, a polar bear and some of the world’s most beautiful landscapes as part of a two-week expedition to Svalbard, in the High Arctic, where he was part of a team of “brightest minds” accompanying the artist, Alex Hartley to declare a new nation.

Hartley has been commissioned by the Arts Council to produce a major piece of art for the 2012 Olympics. His work is called “Nowhereisland”. In 2004 he was the first human to step foot on an island recently revealed by a retreating glacier. The aim of this trip was to recover six tonnes of material from the island and sail it out into international waters before declaring a new nation of Nowhereisland. The sculpture will travel around the southwest coast of the UK during the Olympics in 2012 and will be accompanied by an on-land embassy.

Professor Tim Cresswell from the Department of Geography travelled onboard the Noorderlicht.to participate in debates about place, nationhood, citizenship and mobility that will inform the nation’s on line and physical embassy as well as the declaration and constitution (see nowhereisland.org). While on board he also participated in the writing of a creation myth and creating a map of the island. There were 17 members of the expedition team including activists, academics, artists and high school students.

Professor Cresswell said: “The project’s strength lies in its ambition. It uses the founding of a new nation and subsequent visit of this nation to the southwest coast as a way to draw attention to some of the world’s most pressing issues. Climate change, ideas of nationhood and citizenship, international migration and forms of governance are all brought into sharper focus for those who engage with the work.”

The project is set to reach up to 250,000 people from across Britain and the world. Nowhereisland includes a year long engagement with a diverse array of people, including over 2,400 signed up ‘citizens’ from 32 nations, residents of the southwest who will encounter the island during the Olympic period, and pupils from a number of schools across the region who have constructed educational programmes around the artwork.

Professor Cresswell described the journey as an experience of a lifetime. He explains: “I was particularly impressed by the thin layer of human inhabitation left from failed attempts to reach the North Pole over 100 years ago, attempts to mine marble and the current coal-mining town of Barentsberg – a town that is fading into ruin while inhabited by around 300 Russian and Ukrainian miners.

“These sites reminded me that even the most remote and seemingly unconnected places form part of a web of interconnections. To me, Nowhereisland is a space that allows us to think about these connections without the limitations imposed by the division of the world into nation-states."



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