To look at it, one would never suspect that the mostly barren, deserted island situated off the coast of Mexico would have such a compelling history. But the little-known Island of Clipperton has a strange story to tell, one that reveals as much about its unique geographic and ecological past as it does its human history. In October, a group of 14 art and science professionals (7 scientists and 7 artists) will embark on an unprecedented exploration of Clipperton's biosphere, delving into the island's complex past through the multi-faceted lens of these two different yet converging fields.
[Correction: An earlier version of this story said the group would embark in March. They plan to embark in October.]
The Clipperton Project is the brainchild of expedition leader and artist Jon Bonfiglio, who believes the journey will address relevant social, cultural and ecological concerns. The plan: Bonfiglio and his art-and-science dream team will set sail on a 3-week expedition of the atoll, exploring its obscure lagoon as well as its cultural history. Specifically, the team will focus on the ill-fated attempt of colonization during the early 20th century, and how the disaster affected the surrounding environment. The participants will then produce works inspired by the island, which will later be displayed at a variety of science and cultural institutions across the globe. Additional plans are already underway to publish a book about what promises to be a remarkable journey.
The goal, according to Bonfiglio, is to reveal not only the fascinating history of the abandoned island, but to highlight what Clipperton symbolizes on a grand scale. "The idea of an international arts science expedition came about as offering a way to explore areas such as global warming and environmental issues through cross-cultural dialogue," he said. "By linking these two broad areas of endeavour it would bring something new to the fore and hopefully reach new audiences." In a recent interview with MutualArt.com, this artist-turned-"Clipperton Captain" outlined the mission in detail, elaborating on his plans for this innovative project.
What is the Clipperton Project?
The Clipperton Project is a multi-disciplinary, four-nation arts and science project which aims to take some of the very best practitioners in the arts and sciences from Mexico, the United Kingdom, the United States and France on an expedition to the forgotten island of Clipperton in October 2011.
The participants will then produce work based on the history of the atoll (specifically Mexico's damned colony of 1917) and its ecological, geological and human history in order to paint a cross-cultural portrayal of this unique island in the middle of the Pacific, displaying its work at some of the most important forums in these countries between 2011 and 2014.
Where did the idea for the project originate? What role(s) have you played in making it happen?
In a pub in London in 2006, I was told about this strange island, and began to research it. At that point I knew that at some point I would be involved with it in some way, and at the start of 2010 it struck me that an expedition to the island was the perfect way to discuss a great many topics which are crucial to us today. I initiated the project, and am leading the expedition.
Why involve scientists and artists? Will they collaborate in their work while on the island? Where do their contributions to the project as a whole overlap?
The Clipperton Project is seeking to break down barriers between the arts and science in order that they might reach new audiences, and in doing so establish the importance to these audiences of both the arts and sciences in contemporary existence, not least in terms of establishing a new kind of discourse and presentation on the topics of Global Warming and Climate Change, using the island of Clipperton as a prism through which to view these broad, literally ground-shifting topics.
The arts and sciences both have a social responsibility - one that is often forgotten. The divisions between them are also - to my mind - arbitrary. Both are about human endeavor which tries to make sense of us, and of our predicament, both in the instant in which we find ourselves, but also looking at the wider trajectory, and longer path.
Their work may well overlap, it may not, but each will clearly be informed by each other, and will respond to stimuli normally outside of their boundaries.
Who are the artists involved? How were they selected?
The artists are from a variety of countries and backgrounds, and they were primarily selected because their work engages with real, visceral topics, but also because they as individuals can be trusted in difficult situations. About half of them I have worked with before under what might be termed 'tricky conditions.'
Dancer and choreographer Mia Habib, for instance, has worked extensively in conflict resolution, and Scottish sculptor Charles Engebretsen has spent much of his life on the sea in the outer northern reaches of Scotland. Filmmaker John Dickie has made documentaries on difficult topics for the likes of PBS and Channel 4, and Naim "El Libanes" Rahal's photography deals primarily with the topic of memory. All are highly regarded in their fields and bring something unique to the project, not least a track record of coping well under pressure.
What are the artists planning in terms of their projects?
At this point I truthfully have no idea. I don't think we can pre-guess this. I - for instance - am a writer as well as [the leader of] the expedition, but I have deliberately not read other people's accounts (fictional or otherwise) of the island. The project has to allow artists and practitioners space to think, breathe, and produce in an honest, untethered way.
How will you get there and what do you expect daily life to be like?
We're getting there from Acapulco on two 60 foot sailing vessels. It'll take us a week to get there, and about ten days to get back. All in all, we expect to be on the island for between 7 and 10 days, depending on the conditions. Daily life will involve all participants thinking on their feet an awful lot. Clipperton is not an easy island to get to, and it's even less easy to access. And when you add in the rats, the poisonous crabs and the fact that it is located where Pacific hurricanes tend to develop....
What is the next phase of the project? Where and when can we see these works?
After we return from the expedition itself, we go into overdrive with regards to public events, starting in early 2012 and heading on into 2014, at venues such as Glasgow Sculpture Studios in Scotland, the University of Helsinki in Finland, the Universum in Mexico, the Institute of the Americas in London, England, the Islands Conservation Project in Mexico and so on. The documentary will also be screened at various international film festivals from the spring of 2012 onwards and we expect the book detailing the expedition and the history of the island to be available from the summer of 2012.
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