Satellites have completely mapped our planet and there doesn’t seem to be a square inch left on it’s surface that isn’t claimed by governments and/or individuals. But nonetheless there are still many unknown, deserted, lonesome and mysterious places for us to discover and to enjoy. These places don’t carry their hearts and histories on their sleeves. It takes effort, both physically and mentally, to discover and reach them.
Around 300 uninhabited islands can be found in the European regions of the Mediterranean sea and the members of DESERTMED, a group consisting of artists, writers, architects and theoreticians, have taken a closer look at 40 of these islands. They have visited them, archived them and newly contextualized and defined them, while always remembering the specific political, economical and historical conditions that have shaped these places.
The NGBK (New Society of Fine Arts) in Berlin has just presented the results of this fascinating ongoing project. The video installation “Deserted Typologies” gives an overview of the different kinds of uninhabited islands. They range from deserted prison islands, who’s former inmates after the closing of the prison decided to keep living in and around it’s premises, industrial islands, nature reserve-islands and islands with military bases and border patrol bases. Except for a short text about each specific island, it’s name and coordinates, the different videos remain mostly without further explanations and while they visitors virtually jump from one island to the next, they are being left alone with their questions concerning the history or ownership claims of these solitary rocks that are surrounded by the vastness of the sea. These islands are not only blank spots on the European map, they are also blank spots in the collective European memory and even for the visitors of the exhibition they remain gray areas in every respect.
The monumental installation “The deserted Islands of the Mediterranean” follows this concept visually as well as in terms of content. On a long white table the visitors can take a look at a large number of books that allow them to take strolls over these islands without ever leaving the exhibition space. Again the only pieces of information that the visitors are being presented with are the names and coordinates of the different islands and again the same questions come up. Every island is different but in their core they are similar. They are all far from easily accessible and they remain that way. It almost seems as if they resist being found and stepped on but now at least their existence is no longer a secret.
The installation “Untitled” consists of a completely dark room and an audio loop playing wind and water sounds as well as other undefined and delicate sounds. The idea of a black room without any light source is nothing new but it’s effects are intense and almost aggressive every time. The black installation is the optical counterpart of the otherwise white documentary pieces presented in the exhibition but it’s effect is the same. The visitors feel lonesome, lost, dissolved almost.
Even though “Desertmed” has a strong documentary feel to it, it still manages to engage the visitors on an emotional level. The intentional omission works in it’s favor and is really the exhibition’s strong suit. It creates awareness but still doesn’t take every last bit of mystery from these places. If you want to find out more about the DESERTMED project check out desertmed.org and have a look at their extensive online portfolio: