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

Elbow Island drifts between city + nature, land + river, public + private, camouflaged + forgotten. Situated in the Elbow River’s floodplain, the island is threatened on one side by land, on the other by water, and always by the encroachments of the city. Intended to create ‘slow art’ for the primary audience of wildlife and wanderers, The Wandering Island draws conceptually from ‘the floating island,’ a metaphorical device used in literature as a 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, and other stories are an analogy for shifting boundaries and unknown landscapes. At once utopian and frightening, floating islands speak to the “multifariousness of the contemporary world,” (Stephanides and Bassnet).

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

Isolated islands can create micro-habitats over time, allowing rare creatures 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 can create an artificial perceptions of strength. When islands are infiltrated, organisms find themselves confronted by invasive species or noxious weeds. These habitats are delicate, often in need of protection. Whether biologically, ecologically, culturally, or interpersonally, islands can be vulnerable spaces to call home. But they can also be nourishing, protective, and powerful.


Socially, the effects of ‘island’ communities (micro-societies) sometimes allow progress to happen more quickly than in more densely populated areas. When the United States’ first openly transgender Mayor was enthusiastically elected in a conservative town in rural Oregon, a journalist observed that “under the right circumstances, a small town can be the most progressive place on earth,” (Scott). Like any other insulated contexts, a small town can become an island – a micro-habitat where social development may occur faster than elsewhere.


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?


Artworks created for The Wandering Island reflect Elbow Island Park as a micro-habitat situated in the imaginary interspace between complex realities. Viewers and artists alike must approach the island with patience, allowing their perceptions to flex and swell with the river. Time moves differently on Elbow Island Park, sometimes faster, sometimes slower than elsewhere. The name ‘The Wandering Island’ is gently instructional, inviting a certain type of viewership – a slow and meandering approach, without specific route or aim; an invitation to explore gently, without crushing the magic already present on this strange island in the Elbow River.

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.



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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