The Clipperton Project

Clipperton is an uninhabited island located 1250km from the Mexican coast. It has recently become the focus of a new project, whereby scientists and artists will collaborate to improve public understanding of environmental issues.

In March 2012, internationally acclaimed writer/producer Jon Bonfiglio will lead a unique team on an expedition to the forgotten island of Clipperton, 1250km off the coast of Mexico. Why? To engage and empower the international general public to face social, environmental and political issues by inspiring an international response to the challenges facing the world today.

The Clipperton Project is a bold venture, taking 20 participants from 9 different countries and from various scientific and artistic disciplines to one of the most hostile places on earth: a place that has seen discovery, exploitation and tragedy, and has been left to poisonous crabs, seabirds and sharks for over 90 years. Clipperton is an island, but it is also an idea.

It is an inhospitable paradise lying directly in the path of dangerous weather systems and fiercely guarded by sharks. However, Clipperton is also a relatively unexplored “oceanic laboratory” (Jim Holm, The Clean Oceans Project) that may hold the answers to a variety of scientific questions, particularly how Climate Change is impacting upon marine ecosystems. The project sees climate change as an opportunity rather than as a threat, and it aims to demonstrate the inspiring possibilities of change instead of simply the daunting challenges. Clipperton, like any other Pacific island, is predicted to disappear into the rising oceans due to man’s apathy towards his environment. It is essential that the knowledge present on the island is studied and used to raise awareness of environmental protection before it is too late.

The merging of the arts and sciences is an important and distinct element of the project. The collaborative nature of the journey and encampment on the island is intended to push the traditional boundaries of these practices in order to excite new and broader audiences across the world and expand each participant’s practice. As such, this project heralds a new era in exploration: one that challenges how we perceive the presentation of information and implores us to consider the multi-faceted nature of today’s most threatening social issues.

For me, the most fascinating part of Clipperton was its ill-fated colony of 1917. The island was mined for guano deposits from 1906 onwards and under the orders of then president Porfirio Díaz, a lighthouse was erected. By 1914, the island was home to around 100 people and they were resupplied with food and medicine every two months by a government ship from the mainland. The Mexican Revolution however changed this and the island’s population was largely left to their own devices as the authorities concentrated on holding on to power back home.

By 1917, all but one of the island’s men had died from either scurvy or trying to swim through the dangerous shark infested waters. The true tragedy, however, came when lighthouse keeper Victoriano Álvarez proclaimed himself king and began an orgy of rape and murder of the island’s remaining 15 survivors before being killed by one of the women. Almost immediately after Álvarez’s death, the last eleven survivors were picked up by the US Navy gunship Yorktown on July 18, 1917. Since this date, the island has never had any permanent inhabitants, however on occasion the island has seen ship wrecks, film crews, French navy patrols and scientific researchers.

In order for the project to achieve its impressive objectives, participants will produce work based on the history of the atoll and its ecological, geological and human history upon their return, creating a cross-cultural portrayal of this unique island. Their work will be displayed at some of the most important forums in the world between 2012 and 2014. This includes the Institute of the Americas in London, Glasgow Sculpture Studios in Scotland and Universum in Mexico City, amongst many others across the globe. The project will also be presenting a documentary film about the expedition and publishing a book about the project, written by Jon Bonfiglio and co-produced by The Ofi Press. My role on the project will be to edit the final product, bringing together all of the artwork, essays and scientific discoveries into one artefact: a book.

This remarkable journey is charted on their website and Facebook page so you too can share their excitement about Clipperton, the 2km wide strip of sand that has an unusual story to tell. As the diverse team disseminate their various findings, what we can safely assume is that The Clipperton Project will ensure that their messages, and this fascinating island, will never be forgotten again.

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