From above, an island
James Newitt’s solo presentation premieres the large-scale three-channel video installation HAVEN (2023). This newly commissioned piece, around which the exhibition revolves, is a poetic reworking of a bizarre story about an abandoned World War II gun tower located in the North Sea. It has been occupied since the 1960s by a British family, who claim the artificial territory as their property, independent from all state powers.
The family originally intended to broadcast pirate radio from the tower, but in the early 2000s they worked with two cyber-libertarians to establish the world’s first data haven—what they described as being like “pirate internet.” The data haven promised the only truly safe place in the world to keep information. HAVEN considers the tower as a paradoxical site: at once promoting sovereignty and data autonomy while being controlled by a closed and isolated family unit.
HAVEN also introduces other utopian and neoliberal ventures, such as the libertarian Seasteading project, which aims to build floating communities that they describe as ‘start-up countries’, and Microsoft’s Project Natick, the world’s first undersea data center. Newitt uses these examples to reimagine the possibilities the sea provides for individuals to encounter extraterritorial places—spaces beyond the territory of the state—while looking critically at the often capitalist and colonialist ideologies behind such projects.
HAVEN uses found material, archival film, and animation to reimagine an autonomous man-made island and a claustrophobic family structure. Newitt deals with similar intriguing topics and narrative strategies in his previous works, some of which are on display in the exhibition. These recurrent interests arise from Newitt’s fascination with the conflicting existential position of an islander who perceives the deserted island both as an escape from society and as a form of conquest, burdened by all the desires and restrictions of the colonialist mind set.
Throughout his research-based practice, Newitt carefully reedits and rewrites found material, turning these documents into a form of fiction. He then incorporates the speculative and semi-fictional texts into each project to allow the stories to unfold.
James Newitt is the 2022 recipient of the Media Art Grant from the Foundation of Lower Saxony at the Edith-Russ-Haus. He is an artist from Tasmania, Australia, who works and lives in Lisbon, Portugal.
Curated by Edit Molnár & Marcel Schwierin.
The info booklet on the exhibition with brief descriptions of all exhibited works can be downloaded free of charge as a PDF. The use is exclusively for private purposes, other uses must be coordinated with the Edith-Russ-Haus. Download here.