SUBLIMINAL KID PRODUCTIONS
The Nauru Elegies is included in the
2011 Gwangju Bienniale, curated by
Ai Weiwei and Seung H-Sang
The Nauru Elegies:
The Idea of an Island
'As Man stands to Nature, so stands Art to Man.’
Richard Wagner, Das Kunstwerk der Zukunft (The Artwork of the Future) 1849
The Republic of Nauru is a small island in the South Pacific Ocean. It is the world's smallest independent state and, at its core, represents a place at the most remote extreme of the planet. Its seemingly utopic geography and landscape stages a dystopic economy and society. It was, by consensus of several “Great Powers”, used as a raw resource until there was literally, nothing left. Nauru has been mined throughout the last two centuries for its phosphate deposits, which occupied 90% of the island. In the 1980s, phosphate exports briefly gave Nauruans one of the highest per capita incomes in the Third World. It is anticipated that the phosphate reserves will be completely exhausted before 2050. Despite this, the unemployment rate currently stands at 90%.
As a small territory with no exploitable resources, in the 1990’s Nauru turned to off-shore financing, and the creation of “virtual banks” as a way of earning sorely needed foreign currency. As such, it mirrors the off-shore island economies of The Cayman Islands, and continental havens like Luxembourg and Switzerland. As the Soviet Union collapsed, hundreds of billions of dollars “vanished” through the digital networks of the global financial system through places like Nauru, to re-appear in banks all over the world as “clean money.” For further information, view Jack Hitt’s December 10, 2000 article in the New York Times “The Billion-Dollar Shack”
The Nauru Elegies project looks at the combination of unique qualities that make a remote place like Nauru a core member of the 21st century global economy: It explores an island in a state of environmental collapse caused by deep seated financial irregularities, and how they affected the landmass of the island to the point of devastation. The Nauru Elegies posits that Nauru is a reflection site of many of the issues facing our contemporary information economy. The music component of the Nauru Elegies reflects colonial and postcolonial issues facing the digital economy of the 21st century translated into a string quartet, composed by Paul D. Miller/DJ Spooky, while the literary and multimedia component of the project spatializes and formalizes otherwise invisible economic flows and irreversible ecological devastation. Based on Miller’s explorations of the island, and his readings of texts like the economist Raj Patel’s economic treatise “The Value of Nothing,” Jared Diamond’s “Collapse,” Aldous Huxley’s last novel “Island,” Michel Houellebecq’s novel “The Possibility of an Island” (La Possibilité d'une île, 2005), Paul Virilio’s “The Aesthetics of Disappearance” and other historical texts, Miller has fashioned an “acoustic portrait” of the island. At heart, the Nauru Elegies is an art installation that explores the linkages between music composition, information structures based on economics, and new forms of GPS based locational media (architecture and design are also components) in collision with local infrastructure of an island in radical environmental collapse. The “Nauru Elegies” explores the uneasy tension between local versus global financial markets, and how they translate into aesthetics. In the “Nauru Elegies” a new digital media architecture reclaims an “autonomous zone” in the hyper-networked systems of global finance that contemporary life calls home.
Tax and data havens are black holes in the global financial system, and Nauru represented a place where a vast amount of finance “disappeared” into the mega-structures of the global financial markets. Nauru Elegies represents a virtual territory at a culmination of global currents, and creates music compositions that reflect that kind of virtuality.
The poet Goethe and the philosopher Schelling both once wrote: “architecture is nothing but frozen music.” The Nauru Elegies asks what happens if we reverse engineer that process through on-site recordings and footage translated through the prism of music and architectural form? The end result is an installation and music composition that blur the lines between what an artist creates and how a composer engages the 21st century’s information economy.
'The Nauru Elegies' is a technical synthesis of a live string ensemble, projected high-definition video footage, digital animation and live internet feed of GPS coordinates of specific aspects of the island and its physical and financial infrastructure. It is an orchestration of content retrieved and processed in multiple localities including research in New York City and documentation in Nauru. The “Elegies” are a statement of technology and media processes in the 21st century that is exponentially progressing to a more dematerialized and delocalized state.
(above) Isometric sequence/parametric rendering of Nauru Pinnacles (mathematically averaged)