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Alex on top of the world
Alex Hartley standing on nowhereisland - the world's newest nation

By Laura Joint
BBC Devon

The world's newest and smallest nation has been born..and it is heading our way in 2010.

The island, to be called nowhereisland, currently sits in a spot in the middle of the Arctic Ocean, somewhere north of Norway and east of Greenland.

It was 'discovered' by Devon artist Alex Hartley on a climate change expedition in 2004.

The island - the size of a football pitch - is being brought to the South West as part of the 2012 Olympics.

Alex, from Dunkeswell, fought off all his competitors to win the race to the £500,000 commission from London 2012 and the Arts Council.

It is one of 12 arts projects nationally to represent each of the UK regions as part of the Cultural Olympiad to run alongside the sporting events in 2012.

Alex Hartley
Alex Hartley believes the judges liked the absurdity of his project

It was only when he was told he'd won that it dawned on Alex quite what a challenge he faces: "The celebration moment was a millisecond long and then I thought 'oh my God, I've really got to do it', he told BBC Devon.

"I can't duck it. I have adopted the Olympic spirit - a determination that I will cross the line."

Alex was the first person to set foot on the island in Norwegian waters, so under international law was able to claim it. It's currently called Nymark but the name will change to nowhereisland when it enters international waters.

The island only came into existence in recent years as a result of glaciers retreating because of climate change to release an island of moraine - rocks and stones. Alex found it while on an expedition with Cape Farewell, a climate change group.

It will be transported to Devon in the summer of 2010 for storage and will be towed to the Olympic sailing venues in Dorset during the competition in July 2012.

nowhereisland explores issues of climate change, land ownership, national identity and the exploitation of the earth's remaining natural resources.

Alex's aim is for the micronation to acquire enough citizens between now and 2012 for it to become bigger than the likes of Liechtenstein and Monaco (population 34,000).

The island already has over 300 citizens who have signed up at nowhereisland's website: "We are the smallest nation in the world at the moment," said Alex. "But we hope to overtake the Vatican very soon - it has 920 people there.

"It's all very democratic. You can post your ideas on the website - we'll be led by what people want. And you can vote on names."

During the sailing events at Weymouth and Portland in Dorset, the island will be towed into the harbours so people can witness it coming towards them.

A travelling 'embassy' will be set up on the mainland, in the form of a mobile converted library. Groups such as schools can visit the embassy and learn about the issues raised by nowhereisland.

Alex explains his project - watch BBC Spotlight's film

After the Olympics, the island will go on a tour of ports around the South West coastline, from Poole in Dorset, along Devon and Cornwall and up to Bristol.

"It will remain a work of art and not a performance space," explained Alex. "No-one will be going onto the island and I don't want to have people dancing on it, that's for sure."

However, to be a nation, it has to be inhabited. So at the very end of the tour, there will be an architecture competition and the winning design will be built on the island for Alex to live in for 'a period of time'.

Alex admits it's an 'absurd' project, but believes that's one of the things the judging panel liked about it: "There is an educational aspect and highlights climate change, but it's fun as well."

Chris Humphrey, South West executive director of the Arts Council, said: "nowhereisland is an extraordinary project.

It seems the right thing to do, to take it back where we found it
Alex Hartley

"The sight of an island approaching the shore will be an amazing spectacle for the people who are fortunate enough to experience it. Huge numbers of people will be able to get involved with the island and the ideas behind it.

"nowhereisland will provoke thought, create excitement and will help us to fulfil our ambition to make great art available for everyone."

So how does Alex and his team go about moving an island from the Arctic Ocean: "Well, it's only material and shipping firms are used to transporting material," said Alex.

Once the island has finished its tour, it will be taken back to its original location.

"It's largely grit and rock and is eroding - it will eventually be washed away.

"But it seems the right thing to do, to take it back where we found it. It has a certain poetry to it."

What do you think about the project? Use our messageboard at the bottom of the page.

Maybe the idea is to stimulate debate about the environment and the organisers have calculated that the environmental damage actually caused by the event is minimal and worth it to raise awareness? Maybe it needs to be slightly controversial to achieve that aim? Maybe the 'art work' itself will be inspirational to some? If we stopped all art based projects because there are better things to spend money on (which there always will be) the world would be pretty dull surely?
Rob, Bristol, 28 October 2009

Art or not this is in the eye of the beholder. What I think is outrageous is that the `artist' is using a load of fuel to tow an island from the fragile Arctic Circle to the South West. Why?, is the issue we are all wondering but in these supposedly enlightened times of energy saving measures to protect the planet this project is absolutely absurd. What about the ecology of the Arctic it is being towed from. He states it is eroding away but surely towing it that distance is not going to help it. I really cannot understand what these people are thinking of. Leave the island where it is....
Concerned of Planet Earth, Devon, 28 October 2009

For the Arts Council to Spend £500,000 on a floating island in the present financial crisis is absolute madness as is spending money on road crossings for Bats. I wonder who exactly is bats?
Barbara, Paignton, 25 October 2009

Whoever sanctioned this stupid idea should be named and required to explain publicly why it is a work of art and why it is worth the monumental sum of money allocated to it. We are still awaiting a similar explanation for the slabs of slate and rusting iron placed at huge cost in the centre of a round-about in Barnstaple. The government minister Jim Knight's comment that half a million pounds is effectively peanuts simply demonstrates the thinking that has put this country so deeply into the mire of debt.
Tony, South Molton, 24 October 2009

I saw this story whilst on Holiday and I found it absolutely ludicrous that this project is even being funded let alone going ahead. Mankind has spent thousands of years ruining the world and now a special island has appeared due to a freak of nature and someone wants to transport a football pitch worth of it hundreds of miles in the name of 'art'. This the worst case of mindless vandalism I have ever come across, not to mention having a carbon footprint the size of the UK!
Kate, Kidderminster, 23 October 2009

What with "bat bridges" and then this, I had to check the calendar to make sure I hadn`t slipped through a time warp to 1st April. I was shocked when the Arts Council Rep. suggested that the money was "a drop in the ocean". I can think of many worthwhile community projects where a fraction of £500,000 would make an enormous difference to the lives of many people in need of social care. The Minister for the Southwest merely took the opportunity to try to make political capital at the expence of other parties in a totally unrelated way. These people just don`t live in the real world.
Peter, Redruth, 23 October 2009

Not surprised to see so many kneejerk reactions but if we as a society never spent money on art there would be no music, no museums, no cathedrals. Art is needed more than ever in these difficult times, without art there is no joy, no hope and no future.
Alex, Ashburton, 23 October 2009

Only one of the messagaes so far is in favour. The Arts Council has gone MAD. What is the point of this? I can understand we want something slightly different rather than conventional art - but this project for £500000 is ridiculous, and transitory. If we are going to spend that much we want something that will last as a memory of 2012 for the population at large - not just for a few pretentious and pompous individuals who call it "art".
John, Exmouth, 23 October 2009

This is the cost of a years saleries to 20 nurses. Absolutely obscene, we must all do what we can to stop this project. Perhaps a few redundancies at the Arts Council are required.
Rob, Exeter, 23 October 2009

has anyone considered the environmental & ecological risks attached to this mad idea, as well as the waste of public money.Do the Arts Council recognise the word recession?
Eileen, Totnes, 23 October 2009

The whole point is that this is not art !!! Art is a beautiful painting, a fine sculpture or an entertaining play. This is just some bloke who's blagged a small fortune of taxpayer's money to damage the environment.
Roger, Honiton, 23 October 2009

The caption to the articles photgraph sums this up "Alex Hartley believes the judges liked the absurdity of his project" That`s exactly what this is absurd. With child poverty, destitute pensioners, the NHS and education system suffering through lack of funds How on any sane person condone this folly.
John, Plymouth, 23 October 2009

I protest strongly at this total waste of our money when elderly people have to sell their own houses to pay for eye treatment and there are various other cutbacks looming this is an appalling waste, why dosn't he just go to bed and save us all some cash and the world some pollution. My wife puts it stronger than i can write on here but basically this is a mad harebrain thing to do and the sanity of those in favour of this has got to be questioned.
Tom, Copplestone, 22 October 2009

This project is not even original - try Robert Smithson 'floating Island' despite the fact that Cape Farewell is a neo-colonial enterprise that pays little attention to the indigenous population and seeks to just turn climate change into a celebrity culture fest, rather than addressing the very real ethical relations that this raises.
Shackleton, Cornwall, 22 October 2009

Where is our sense of value. Thousands of families inc children,pensioners etc are needing help to maintain basic needs and yet we can spend £500,000 or more on a publicity stunt. Please can someone explain this travesty to me?
David, South Brent, 22 October 2009

absolute pretencious tosh! What a complete and utter waste of public money.
Dickie, Cornwall, 22 October 2009

What planet are these guys living on? A joke and a complete waste of taxpayers money.
Rodders, Plymouth, 22 October 2009

This expenditure by the Arts Council is MADNESS and sheer profligacy of public funds. Especially at times like these where so many people are suffering major hardship one can only assume the Arts Council representatives live in the "Land of the Fairies". Well spent ? - NOT in my name it isn't
Colin, Sidmouth, 22 October 2009

rilliant idea - just a pity that the BBC plays the philistine card by implying it's a waste of money on the 10 PM news. It was accompanied by more cynicism by questioing the need for bat bridges in Cornwall. This is especially ironic on the day when the BBC has wasted a lot of tax payers money (on policing) by inviting the BNP leader onto Question Time - which the BBC news lead on - a publicity stunt?
Steve, Plymouth, 22 October 2009

I feel sick with anger at this ridiculous use of money. There are far better uses for this money than these crazy 'Art' projects.
Mr Toad, Ivybridge, 22 October 2009

I can think of better ways to spend half a million pounds. Police, schools, roads immediatly come to mind.
Jim, Barnstaple, 22 October 2009

What absolute rubbish,and waste of money.My daughter is trying to raise a mortgage. give the money to her and people like her.
Mike, Penzance, 22 October 2009

We cannot believe that so much money is being wasted on something so ridiculous when people are losing their jobs and money is needed by the NHS. If you need to see an island what`s the matter with looking at Drakes Island, Lundy,or many of the other islands dotted around our coastline.
The Hurrell Family, Plymouth, 22 October 2009

To name, claim and change something which has been around for millions of years, gives the wrong message. It emphasizes the usual mindless activity that is destroying the eco system in the first place.
Bob, Redruth, 22 October 2009

Moving a piece of rock from one location to another is simply "transporting a piece of rock". There is no poetry, beauty or artistic merit in a thing unless it's been shaped by the skill, discipline and emotions of the artist.
Robert, Redruth, 22 October 2009

This is utter madness, the country is bankrupt people are losing their jobs every day. Perhaps Alex Hartley should invite a group of newly unemployed people aboard his island, but I suspect he would be unable to face the real world. It is an insult to all those people who are struggling to make ends meet. WE CANNOT AFFORD THIS, IT IS A WASTE OF TAXPAYERS MONEY, WHERE HAS COMMON SENSE GONE!!!
Anida, Plymouth, 22 October 2009

If it hadn't been October 22nd I would of thought this was a BBC April Fools Day Joke !!!The panel who awarded the grant for this should should be disbanded and their wages used for genuine needy Cornish causes.i.e schools and healthcare.
Joanna, Liskeard, 22 October.

Complete and utter waste of tax payers money.
Janet, Cullompton, 22 October 2009

How can anyone justify that as art? and at a time when people are in such need; children are going without food and the basic of needs; our older population are fearfull of what the winter will bring,,,why in Gods name are they throwing money?
Pam, Barnstaple, 22 October 2009

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