Assembling a Moving Island

Curated Public Art Circuit 
Azores Islands, 2018

With: Nora Al-Badri & Jan Nikolai Nelles, Camposaz, Navine G. Khan Dossos, Luiza Prado & Daniel Rourke, Sascha Pohflepp & Chris Woebken, Shift Register (Jamie Allen + Martin Howse).


Assembling a Moving Island was a Public Art Circuit that comprised six public art commissions across the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores. The commissions took as their starting point Sao Miguel as an open model where material things draw together immaterial concerns. Each temporary, physical installation focused on what frictions are exerted on beings, objects, ideas, and information, as they pass in and out of island contexts and can be read as experimental models or acts of experimentation within established systems. 


In histories of art, science, and culture, the island has long been treated as utopia. From Ibn Tufayl's 12th-century fantasy island novel to the pristine nature and fragile ecosystems of the Galapagos, islands have occupied a peripheral zone in our imagination drawing fascination for their wholeness and separation from other landmasses. Over the centuries, expanding empirical frameworks and Imperialist powers have forced another form of containment on islands, existing as ideals as much as cultures or ‘natures’. Islands have been taken up as ideological and sociological laboratories impressed onto colonisers and islanders, playing an instrumental role in offshore expansion, the development of economies maintained through the designated flows of goods and exchanges, and as test sites and dumping grounds. Today, island states have had to enter into forms of specialised production. We often see islands used as military bases, exclusive processing zones and detention centres for migrants and prisoners, or offshore tax havens for deregulated flows of finance. Particularly, the Azores has defined its economy through farming, tourism, and now, as an 'innovation hub' for the commercial space sector.


But why do we buy into the island as a form of containment and as a microcosm cut off from the rest of the world? As scholars have long-reminded us, utopias aren’t places they are methods. Islands were not 'discovered' but continually remade through conquest, immigration, mass media, trade, science, and travel. In this sense, we should see the island as an assemblage of many things, compositions, compounds, streams, frictions, embodiments, fudged up, made-up, aggregated, and re-routed. Moving from the image of the island as a microcosm of containment to an expanded assemblage of many things passing through its borders and boundaries opens up a space for an island to be rethought and perhaps, even, remade.