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Jonathan P Watts
Conquering the Island (Apparition Number 2)

11-26 September 2010



An island always pleases my imagination; even the smallest, as a small continent and integral to part   of the globe. – Henry David Thoreau.

Beginning four miles inland from the port of Great Yarmouth, at the heart of a network of waterways known as the Norfolk Broads, Haddiscoe Island is a two-thousand acre marshland surrounded on all sides by water. Unlike a typical offshore island or archipelago, this unique place is entirely landlocked. Yet it has not always been this way.

Three miles down from the confluence of the rivers Yare and Waveney a canal, to this day known as New Cut, was engineered in 1832. The inorganic form of New Cut short-circuited the two rivers, capping off the funnel of land, doing away with the necessity of navigating up the Yare to its confluence in order to enter the Waveney. New Cut limited the continuity of land southwards, in turn manufacturing an island where before there had been none.
For two years I have explored this island, walking, running, cycling and boating around and across it, sleeping there and getting to know those that live and work on it. Work made in response to the island – using diverse materials such as video, textiles, performance, sound, writing etc. – will manifest in a series of ten public exhibitions for a variety of sites. Together they make up Island Stories.

At a glance, the idea of an island is rich in meaning. The island holds the promise of pulling away, of being lost and alone away from the continent. Otherwise it is the ideal laboratory, with the promise of starting from scratch, of imposing cultural order onto an environment that can be strange and even threatening. “European voyagers,” the geographer David Lowenthal writes in his article Islands, Lovers and Others, “until recently thought of islands in terms of paradise or utopia, either an ideal inhabited island or else an empty island on which to start again.”

In what ways does Haddiscoe Island confirm or confound  utopian conceptions of the island? It is against this backdrop that my work on Haddiscoe Island projects or sinks into relief.

Conquering the Island consists of artefact and documentation. The flag was assembled from many other scraps of flags collected from a boatyard on the southern tip of the island over several months. In its centre is a cross-stitched letter ‘I’. ‘I’, of course, is the letter at the beginning of the word island, but is also the way we refer to our unified self.  The video was shot on the island and shows me raising the flag on a pole, also of the island. Soundscape in this video is important not only for its evocation of place, but for the way it introduces an audio-spatial ecology.


Jonathan P Watts, East Norfolk, 09/10.