Copyrighted to Australian Stage
Clipperton is a remote island in the Pacific Ocean but it is also, as the byline suggests, ‘an idea’.
It is a site that offers individuals an opportunity to engage not just with the physical space of the island itself but the resulting community-based spatial dynamics that evolve over time.
“Islands are almost always fantastical in our consciousness,” explains Bonfiglio, “They always start of off as a paradise of some sort and end up by descending into an abyss – but it’s the kind of narratives that accompany these islands that’s interesting.”
An acclaimed writer, director and producer, as well as an organic agricultor of olives and almonds, Bonfiglio is currently in Australia to give a series of talks and workshops exploring how we can rethink and review our role as individuals so as to be able to respond actively to the development of our time.
“The workshop is an exploration of the unknown,” he says, “We sometimes refer to it as the ‘museum of what we don’t yet know’ or the place we might reach out to. It’s about aspiring towards the infinite and navigating unknown spaces – essentially this is really about the journey.”
While it’s easy to see why The Clipperton Project is often tagged as an arts and/or science project, its arguably more useful to examine how this multidisciplinary initiative functions as a catalyst in the development of active citizens, individuals who are eager to challenge the ossified notions of what is to be expected in a world dominated by a desire to succeed.
“So many of us are comfortable to reside in the known and making known spaces, but our measure of risk is to openly talk about risk and failure. We always say failure is fine but not trying, not attempting – that’s not fine.”
Bonfiglio, who has just arrived in Melbourne after presenting workshops in Fremantle and Hobart, is keen to emphasize that the sense of community is embedded in realizing that that the journey “enables us to revaluate and rethink our own space – it allows us to think of ourselves as community and in doing so it is inevitable that the binaries of arts and science break down, as they should.”
Run as professional development workshops for those from across a range of disciplines the risk Bonfiglio asks the public to take is “to do something you’ve never done before without worrying about failure.”
“If you’re a scientist it might mean allowing your self to risk being in a room with a group of artists without ego or prejudice,” says Bonfiglio, “And to do so its so important that the space is without those expectations, so that participants realize that there are no pre-requisites here, the space is open.”
This notion of unmarked territory links back to the idea of engaging with island spaces such as The Clipperton Project in new and challenging ways. Each ‘floating lab’ with its own sense of conceptual and physical space is (as a consequence of identification as an individual unit) a link, establishing a greater sense of community and connectivity that encourages people to be more than mere “passengers in their own journeys”.
“It really is about being in front of a moment and our key aim is to empower different people to act themselves (and therefore for themselves and their community). You could be a global citizen and just buy goods from China but to be an active citizen you would have to recognize the global implications of your citizenry.”
It is about realizing that “islands don’t exist and everything is related to everything else. That invariably may mean that there is plastic on the oceans but equally that an artist is learning about science or vice versa.”
Irrespective of what profession we are engaged in (whether as doctors, lawyers, engineers, scientists or artists) Bonfiglio argues that basically we are all just “folk trying to make sense of the world around us. But the ability to communicate that understanding to others requires us to give ourselves permission to take that risk, to have that epiphany and then share that knowledge with others.”
The project and the passion that simmers beneath Bonfiglio’s endeavours is suitably “quixotic” as he himself acknowledges.
“We are ambitious, atypical and our key is to empower different people to act themselves – our emphasis is that we ‘did’ rather than ‘can do’. We’re never going to access all knowledge and ultimately, sure we’re going to fail; but while the thing itself must be inarticulable the drive and the search need not be.”
“I would prefer an active citizen getting things wrong and still being an active citizen rather than having a blinkered acolyte. It’s all about doing it in an active open and intelligent way.”
The overwhelming motivation of works such as The Clipperton Project and individuals like Jon Bonfiglio (and those who work alongside him) is to present the “possibility of exploration and journey; to engage and empower and to energize people”. This ideal is inexorably bound to the desire to strive towards that which certainly can not be achieved; but in the very act of seeking crosses over into the satisfaction that something has been engaged, has been activated.
Bonfiglio aptly concludes with a quote from Douglas Dunn which eloquently summarizes The Clipperton Project’s underlying tenet – that even if the result is a ‘film that always comes out blank/[a]painting the artists can’t get shapes to fit/[a]poem that shrugs off every word you try/music no one has ever heard’ it is here that there is most satisfaction for here ‘life flickers on the frame like beautiful hummingbirds.’