Floating Islands


“The island, a territory separated from other lands by water, lends itself easily to fantasy and mythologizing. Folklore abounds with tales of magical islands, places where heroes go to rest and from which they may one day return, islands that draw people in and never let them leave, islands that appear and disappear.”

  • Stephanos Stephanides and Susan Bassnet, Islands, Literature, and Cultural Translatability

Intended to create ‘slow art’ for the primary audience of wildlife and wanderers, The Wandering Island is a project intending to transform Elbow Island Park into a multidisciplinary, environmental installation for 10 seasons. The Wandering Island draws its name from ‘the floating island,’ a metaphorical device used in literature as an unpredictable, constantly transforming context.

Floating Island by Whendell
‘Mysterious Lands’ by Whendell

Untethered from consistencies of place, floating and flying islands (found in The Odyssey, Gulliver’s Travels, comic books, video games, and other epics) are an analogy for shifting boundaries and unknown landscapes. At once utopian and preternatural, floating islands speak to the “multifariousness of the contemporary world,” which itself is ever-shifting, complex, and continually changing (Stephanides and Bassnet).


Elbow Island Park drifts between contexts: city + nature, land + river, public + private, camouflaged + forgotten. Located in the floodplain of the Elbow River, the island treads a fine line between existing and not existing, threatened on one side by land, on the other by water, and always by the encroachments of the city.


Should our intended seasonal programming be approved, it too will walk this narrow divide; viewers and artists alike will need to approach the island with patience, allowing their perceptions to flex and swell with the river. Time moves differently in natural spaces – sometimes faster, sometimes slower than elsewhere. As a name, ‘Wandering Island’ is gently instructional, inviting a certain type of viewership – a slow and meandering approach, without specific route or aim.


Isolated islands can create micro-habitats over time, allowing unusual critters to flourish without predators: the lemurs of Madagascar, the quokkas of Rottnest Island, and the komodo dragons of Indonesia share the commonality of island homes. However, isolation creates artificial perceptions of strength – any position on the food chain is tenuous, and (in an era of international trade and globalized travel) many organisms have found themselves confronted by invaders.

Rottnest Island, home of Quokkas, tiny marsupials extinct in all other regions of Australia

Theories of biogeography suggests that equilibrium is reached when a “balance is struck between immigration and extinction” (MacArthur and Wilson, 176). While Darwin explored evolutionary implications of island ecosystems on plants and animals, the effects of isolated communities on micro-societies are equally fascinating. When the United States’ first openly transgender Mayor was elected in a conservative town in rural Oregon (the last place anyone expected), a journalist observed that “under the right circumstances, a small town can be the most progressive place on earth,” (Scott). Like any other removed context, a small town can become an island; a micro-habitat where adaptations accelerate faster than would be expected. Mico-societies can make leaps that would be difficult or impossible in the mainstream.


The Wandering Island floats between a series of questions: can a temporary art space create a metaphorical island? Can a literal island create a lush philosophical context? What are the implications of ‘occupying’ a public space? How can art interact with nature (without merely invading)? What role can artists play in infrastructure? Is it possible to genuinely make art for the audience of birds, bats, beaver, and fish?

Within the complex realities of a contemporary city green space “the island that travels” is indeed “far more representative of today’s world than is the island fixed,” (Stephanides and Bassnet). Elbow Island will wander, float, and fly, and artworks + artists will influence its voyage.


MacArthur, Robert and Edward Wilson. Theory of Island Biogeography. Princeton University Press. 1967

Scott, Aaron. “Radiolab.” http://www.radiolab.org/story/91695-new-stu/ New Normal? WNYC Studios, 2009.

 Stephanides, Stephanos and Susan Bassnet. “Islands, Literature, and Cultural Translatability.” Transtext(e)s Transcultures:

Journal of Global Cultural Studies. 2008, 5-21. https://transtexts.revues.org/212

Copyright Statement - Wandering Island

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