In the present climate, around the world, almost everything that can be proposed as an alternative will appear to be either utopian or trivial. Thus our programmatic thinking is paralyzed.

Roberto Mangabeira Unger

A part of Lutyens’ ongoing work related to the effects of global warming, Island Ark is a project that seeks to remediate the issue of the loss of geographic nationhood due to sea level rise, happening to many island nations across the world, including the Republic of Maldives, Kiribati and Tuvalu. While these countries are considering international migration as an option for adapting to the sea level rise crisis, Island Arkproposes a utopian solution: an Inclusive Utopian Zone (IUZ). elevated island structures that place of atolls and islands that are partially or completely lost under the waves. These platforms, created out of repurposed oil rigs, become green livable spaces with housing, farming and fishing economies that preserve national identity status and benefits for its displaced citizens, as well as the important Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), a sea zone prescribed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea over which a state has special rights regarding the exploration and use of marine resources, including energy production from water and wind.

Presented in 2019 at Alberta Pane Gallery in Venice, Island Ark presents Lutyens’ vision for the IUZ. Lutyens proposes a range of 64 activities, including care for the elderly and children, mediation, training and maintaining sensory awareness, monitoring the surrounding sea environment, and practicing traditional fishing methods. Visitors of the exhibition are invited to imagine their own utopian solutions to sea level rise. Through the use of an inductive audio recording, guests are invited to draw on a table covered in salt, marking the paths that the unconscious takes as it searches for solutions. Along with the exhibition, Lutyens presented Means of Floatationa hypnotic performance in which participants experience an inductive narrative of rising waters. Together, the exhibition and performance represent a poetic jumping off point, from which a utopian future can be imagined. 

“Your article on Mount Analogue was illuminating to me,” he continued. “This place exists. We both knowit. Therefore we will discover it. Where? That’s a matter of calculation. I promise you that in a few days I will have determined its geographical position within several degrees. And we are ready to leave immediately, aren’t we?” (1)
René Daumal,Mount Analogue

In the next hundred years, sea levels are projected to rise up to six feet (2). It is expected that with this rise, coastal towns will be destroyed, cities will be flooded, and many islands will be entirely submerged. The ocean will have an increasingly visible presence as it presses further and further up the shores. Tides will no longer reach up beaches, but through neighborhoods and towns. For those living in Oceania, the island states in the South Pacific, especially the low lying nations of Kiribati, and Tuvalu, risings waters threaten to submerge their lands entirely. This physical loss of land not only produces a loss of habitable space, cultural identity, and homeland, but also the loss of fishing and mineral rights as well as the possibility to reclaim land if see levels were to recede one day.

Proposing a utopian solution, Marcos Lutyens’ Island Arkseeks to remediate this demise of habitability and subsequent loss of geographic nationhood due to rising sea levels. As existing atolls and islands become partially or completely lost under the rising sea levels, Island Ark envisions elevated island structures that might take their place. These structures are built out of decommissioned oilrig platforms, a “swords to ploughshares” gesture that looks toward the very structures that have contributed to sea level rise as a means of countering their effects. Lutyens’ explains, “The Norwegian artist Bård Breivik once compared oil rigs to giant cathedrals of medieval times. Perhaps these massive structures could be rehabilitated not just for refuge against cyclones, to aid in desalination and for agricultural cultivation while island nations are sinking, or as place-holder platform-states once the islands have vanished, but more especially as sites to recondition and regenerate what it is to be human in these times.”

The Utopian starting point for Island Ark was kindled by Surrealist author René Daumal’s Mount Analogue, in which a quest and subsequent journey is undertaken to reach a partially real, partly mythical island in the Pacific Ocean. The goal of the protagonists is to reach the highest parts of the island, equating elevation with spiritual, as well as mental and physical liberation, just as with Island Ark, elevation above sea level enables practical, as well as imaginal activities to thrive. Island Ark, like Mount Analogue, straddles a zone between what is simply a dream and what could and actually urgently needs to happen if resources are harnessed to resolve this all too real and life-impacting issue.

On this aspect of the real world situation, Island Ark seeks to both address climate change and foreground indigenous knowledges and ways of being. In developing the project, Lutyens was inspired by the 2018 anthology, Titalectics: Imagining an oceanic worldview through art and science. Edited by the artist and curator Stefanie Hessler, the anthology centers around the ways in which “tidalectics” present an important means of understanding the changing world. Hessler looks towards the writings of the Barbadian poet, Kamau Brathwaite, from whom the title of her anthology is derived. “If dialectics describes how ‘Western philosophy has assumed people’s lives should be,’ then tidalectics delves into deeper layers of meaning, involving a variety of different readings and interpretations—for water is a transitory element and a ‘being dedicated to water is a being in flux’” (3). Hessler centers her anthology around this oceanic sensibility. Tidalectics is a fluid knowledge, of and through the sea. It is also a sensibility equipped for the changes caused by global warming. As Cresantia Frances Koya Vaka’uta, Lingikoni Vaka’uta, and Rosiana Lagi write in their essay on indigenous epistemologies of the South Pacific:

[In] Oceania, the violence of the colonial experience is perpetuated to this day by widespread Christianity and educational systems that marginalize indigenous knowledges. Dominant global development paradigms exacerbate this mindset, relegating indigenous ways of knowing the world and being in it to the periphery of discourse. Climate change brings to the fore the significance of indigenous knowledge systems, which are inherently about sustainability and balance—living in harmony with the rhythms and cycles of the planet, our known cosmos (4).

Expanding from a tidalectic sensibility, Island Ark presents repurposed platforms as a space in which art, science, and indigenous knowledge systems thrive together. Lutyens names this a Inclusive Utopian Zone (IUZ), extending from Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the 200 nautical mile radius surrounding the shores of all nations, reserved for fishing, power generation and mineral rights. A primary reason for the redesignation of the EEZ to the IUZ is that currently the EEZ’s are over exploited by international fishing fleets. As sea levels rise and land disappears underwater, EEZs that would otherwise be lost will be able to be maintained and repurposed through Lutyens’ proposed project. In the face of impending catastrophe, Island Ark appears as a utopian solution, reimagining both industrial structures and human spaces.

Growing out of many of the essays in the Tidalectics anthology, as well as Lutyens own conversations with residents of Tuvalu and neighboring islands, the IUZ is both an idealistic and poetic starting point of the project. Expanding the scope of possibility beyond simply reacting to existing and impending circumstances, the IUZ poses a utopian vision from which to build off of. Powered entirely by renewable energy, the IUZ uses solar and wind power. Fresh water is both collected from rain and created through desalination techniques. The platforms are also retrofitted with growing environments, living and working spaces, as well as activity areas. Once the islands have been completely abandoned due to sea level rise, existing trading networks and nationhood status are maintained through inhabitation of the platform, particularly in regards to EEZ rights. Displaced islanders in exile can come to visit the location of their ancestral domains, maintaining a cultural sense of belonging through the archive that is maintained on the platform.

In his 2019 exhibition at Alberta Pane Gallery, Lutyens presents Island Ark as Alberta Pane’s first solo exhibition. At the center of the gallery space visitors encounter a maquette of Island Ark itself. On the surrounding walls, Lutyens displays a series of drawings and sketches relating to the four quadrants of the structure. Color coded, these four quadrants each hold sixteen different activities, depicted in Lutyens drawings. The quadrants move outward, from relating to oneself to relating to the surrounding environment.

In the “Inductive” quadrant, Lutyens imagines activities that relate to memory, meditation, and healing practices. In the “Synesthetic” quadrant, we find activities relating the body to the world around it. There, residents are able to train and maintain the many body senses including, taste, smell, and touch, as well as sensitivities to navigation, temperature, presence, and orientation. In the “Radius” quadrant, Lutyens presents social activities. Within this quadrant are communal games and dances, as well as care for the young and old. In the final “Environ-mental” quadrant, activities relate individuals to the world around them. Activities include the preservation of fishing traditions, creating renewable power, and maintaining an awareness of the weather and surrounding tides.

Visitors of Island Ark are also invited to imagine their own utopian solutions. Sitting around a blue circular table covered in a layer of salt, guests put on headphones to listen to a hypnotic induction. As they slowly enter a trance state, they are asked to draw their visions for the future into the salt. Running their fingers through the grains of salt, guests engage their sense of touch, forming new means of relating to the often-times seemingly disembodied and enormous issue of global warming. In a dream-like space, the mind is opened up to new connections and possibilities that are unavailable to the conscious mind. Sitting at the table, guests engage in an exercise in imagining the future. As the artist Susanne M. Winterling writes, “Considering the persistent structural violence in the living and nonliving world, dreaming may be the best way to train ourselves in world making” (4). As their inductive session ends and new visitors sit down, these dreamt worlds dissolve as new hands explore their own solutions. On the walls near the table, Lutyens hung reflective “portals”—inductive patterned designs, each corresponding to the four quadrants. Using different shapes, these images become a kind of poetic means of mapping a path forward as well as a path inward.

Along with the exhibition, Lutyens presented Means of Floatation, an inductive hypnotic performance. The performance makes direct reference to Lutyens’ performance, Antemnesia, at the Università Iuav di Venezia in 2000. Antemnesiameans “anticipated memory,” and nearly twenty years later, Means of Floatation and Island Ark return to these ideas. No longer anticipating sea level rise, Means of Floatation engages participants in a hypnotic search for unconscious solutions to its reality. When the project started, sea level rise was a much more distant issue. Now, rising waters no longer exist solely in the realm of the imaginary. For both residents of Oceania and of Venice, sea level rise is a serious pressing threat. Within this context of urgency, Means of Floatation presents participants with a narrative of rising waters. Submerged in the waters of their own unconscious, guests become inventors and engineers. At the 2000 performance, Lutyens invited guests to wear yellow rain boots and draw on them while in a hypnotic trance. For Means of Floatation these boots become an inductive tool—as visitors encounter a ceramic version of the boot, a kind of fossil of a previous search for solutions.

Through this combined use of hypnotic performance, sculpture, and inductive activities, Island Ark is a space of creativity and innovation, within which visitors learn about and develop their own means of addressing sea level rise. Prior to its display in Venice, a preliminary version of Island Ark was presented in Hawaii at Artropocene: iBiennalewhere local visitors helped ideate activities for the IUZ. It is essential for the Island Ark project to grow and develop along with continued conversations with communities from island nations at risk of sea level rise. In this respect, a creative dialogue is currently being held with students and others from Tuvalu and nearby islands. The IUZ is thus presented as a kind of kit, from which different ideas and or proposed activities may be adopted in dialogue with and by island nations under threat. Some elements can be changed or retrained, while others discarded. A utopian plan for a not-so-distant future, Island Arkoccupies its own space between the imagined and the doable. The project presents a means forward that is unstable and at sea. And yet within that space, it imagines a future in harmony—individually, socially, and environmentally—floating on the water that swirls below.

In the words of Chus Martinez:

Think about the oceans as an organ, not as a place or a medium, but as a fantastic addition to sensation and therefore to affection and therefore to the future of science and technology and art but also to the future of love. Think of the oceans as you might think about philosophy, as an infinite substance intended to provide us with an experience so radically different from the commonsensical that it will insulate new life to life(5).

1. René Daumal, Mount Analogue (The Overlook Press, 2010) 44.


3. Stefanie Hessler, “Tidalectics: Imagining an oceanic worldview through art and science,” in Tidalectics, ed. Stefanie Hessler (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2018), 33.

4. Cresantia Frances Koya Vaka’uta, Lingikoni Vaka’uta, and Rosiana Lagi, “Reflections from Oceania on Indigenous Epistemology, the Ocean, and Sustainability,” in Tidalectics, ed. Stefanie Hessler (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2018), 127.

4) Susanne M. Winterling, “Solidarities and Alliances in Times of Toxic Sovereignties,” in Tidalectics, ed. Stefanie Hessler (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2018), 177.

5) Chus Martínez, “Fishes Should Not Be Taken from the Deep!,” in Tidalectics, ed. Stefanie Hessler (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2018), 185.

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