The Possibility of an Island

‘There exists in the midst of time
the possibility of an island’

– Michel Houellebecq

The Possibility of an Island forms the first installment of a trilogy of studio projects exploring the notion of islands as geological, bio-geographical and man-made cultural constructs. Islands can be considered as abiding figures for self-containment and isolation, its long cultural history has often stood for paradise as well as testing grounds for (r)-evolutionary theories and incubators for social and ecological experimentation and human intervention. Since Plato, through to Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis , via  Herman Melville’s Moby Dick, Charles Darwin (the structure and formation of coral reefs), Buckminster Fuller (One world / One island),   E.O.Wilson (theory of island biogeography) and in the works of numerous contemporary artists such as Robert Smithson’s Floating Island Manhattan the island figure has been employed to negotiate relationships between the real and the imaginary, utopia and dystopia, selfhood and otherness, centre and periphery, local and global. The Possibility of an Island studio charts the topography of this intellectual archipelago – interrogating the possibility of isolation and hybridisation in the 21st Century.

The topic of this year’s studio will be the construction of artificial islands into a makeshift archipelago with special reference to the visionary Ocean Cleanup initiative founded by the young Dutch inventor / entrepreneur Boyan Slat (1994).  About 8 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year. Part of this accumulates in 5 areas where currents converge: the gyres. At least 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic are currently in the oceans, a third of which is concentrated in the infamous Great Pacific Garbage Patch. The Ocean Cleanup has developed advanced technologies consisting of a floating network of barriers to extract the plastic debris floating in the oceans. The central idea of the studio is to utilise the flotsam of recycled plastics from the world’s oceans into an archipelago of artificially constructed floating islands, with potential to evolve emerging ecologies located in specific selected sites / trajectories.

We invite students to charter the world oceans in search of strange exotic beauty and enlightened imagination; the classic Gardens of Hesperides, The floating gardens of Xochimilco, Mexico City and the floating rafts by the Dutch Provo and agent provocateur Jasper Grootveld in Amsterdam during the roaring ‘60’s when Amsterdam was ‘the magic centre of the world’, OMA’s Delirious New York’s floating pool, Superstudio’s Happy island and -most recent- China’s controversial expansion with makeshift islands in the South China Sea. Students will be stimulated to behave like stowaways and castaways to discover the flotsam and jetsam of new geographic possibilities, and above all, become imaginative and visionary designers who will create and give shape. We will explore our theme – from the macro to the micro, from the comprehensive to the incisive, from the scientific to artistic.

As part of our studio we plan to visit Bear Island in Penobscot Bay off the coast of Maine; it was here that since early childhood Buckminster Fuller spent many summers and discovered an appreciation for nature and exercised his predilection for invention.