Art in the Elements supported by Yoma Sasburg - Winner 2015
For many years Alex's work has involved travelling to some of the world's wild places. The artworks he has produced often revolve around the inherent contradictions of his need for isolation, a desire to inhabit these places and the impossibility of preserving them as wilderness.
From the utopian starting point of ‘Nowhereisland’ (2012) or the isolated hermit’s viewing platform of ‘Vigil’ (2014), these works created a place outside, removed and separate. ‘Vigil’ was a fragile encampment built outside the 13th floor window of a hotel in Folkestone. A single occupant maintained a watch over the sea, harbour and the town below keeping an hourly log throughout the nine-week occupation.
Nowhereisland, Hartley’s most ambitious artwork to date, began in 2004 in the Arctic when Hartley searched for and discovered an island revealed by the retreating ice of a melting glacier. Alex was the first person to set foot on the island, a utopian vision, which took 6 years from discovery to completion. Hartley devised idealised scenarios for the occupation of this remote and isolated island. Awarded Arts Council funding in 2010 as one of the major works of the Cultural Olympiad, Hartley negotiated and moved the island material into International Waters to declare a new nation. Whilst all the countries of the world were gathering in the UK for the London Olympics, this newest nation arrived in the UK and journeyed around the South West coast visiting ports and harbours along the way. The island was accompanied on land by its travelling embassy, a converted 7.5 tonne horse-box that functioned both as embassy and museum, holding objects, documents and ideas from the multiple strands of the work.
The island accrued citizens as it travelled, eventually numbering over 23,000 people from 135 nations. For a full year, fifty-two Resident Thinkers including Yoko Ono, Marcus du Sautoy, Tim Smitt and John Tusa, addressed the population with weekly online letters, with expertise ranging from the arts, education, linguistics, history, science. Nowhereisland’s citizens wrote their own constitution as a collaborative and evolving document. At the end of its epic journey, the island was broken up and distributed amongst its citizens with a small piece even being sent into space. A book is in production and Nowhereisland’s website remains live.
Hartley's work continues to navigate wild places. In 2015 he has been invited to accompany an expedition to Antarctica, and to make a return trip to the remote island of St Kilda. He is also collaborating with oceanographers working on deep-sea photography of uncharted areas of the ocean floor.