Thousands become ‘citizens’ of ideal nation

An arts project is offering the public an opportunity to dream up the constitution for their ideal nation

Nearly 17,000 people have signed up to be ‘citizens’ of a small island nation, as part of an innovative arts project visiting the south west coast of England this summer.

The nation, known as Nowhereisland, is a real island, 44 by 9 metres in size, from Svalbard, an Arctic region of Norway.
Alex Hartley, the artist behind the initiative, excavated the island after it was discovered from within the melting ice of a retreating glacier during an expedition. With permission from the Governor of Svalbard, in 2011 Hartley’s team towed the island into international waters where Nowhereisland was declared a new nation.

Hartley is one of 12 artists asked to create a public art project for the Artists Taking the Lead initiative – part of the Cultural Olympiad. Behind the Nowhereisland project is a key question: “If we were to start a new nation, how might we begin?”

Many of the islands new citizens have given their ideas for the constitution of the nation. Some of the ideas include paying less tax if you walk or cycle and that every citizen should get two days a month to follow their dreams.

Fifty-two resident thinkers for the project, including artist and musician Yoko Ono, ethical food chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and founder of the Eden Project, Tim Smit, have joined members of the public in putting forward ideas on how a fictional idyllic island could be run. Views have been offered on environmentalism, peace activism, politics, art, sustainable farming, human rights and more.

The Nowhereisland embassy. Photo: © Max McClure

Nowhereisland will not be inhabited, but is being towed around the south west coast during the summer. Having left Weymouth on 25 June, the island is visiting ports including Exmouth, Torquay, Plymouth, Mevagissey, Newquay and Ilfracombe, before arriving in Bristol harbour on 7 September.

Events and activities will take place on land at each location where the island is moored, including with the involvement of local schools. The team has created an embassy for the island – a mobile museum of documents and objects explaining the story of the project, which is travelling on land to each location.

The island will be dispersed between its citizens when the tour ends.