A few weeks ago, I returned from my expedition to the Faroe Islands with The Clipperton Project. The trip was an inspirational and wonderful experience with a very interesting and exceptionally creative group of people. In the time since I returned, I have been developing the thoughts I Identified from my observations and conversations whilst in the Faroes, especially those around the concept of remoteness. Remoteness was something we spoke about often during the trip and is one of the main reasons The Clipperton Project choose their expedition locations.
I grew up in a “remote” place myself, the islands of Orkney in the very north of Scotland, yet it is only since I left that I have really been able to consider how this has impacted me. On an island, everything is limited by the water’s edge. This results in a compression of all the things that people need to survive within a limited area. This is something that writer Adam Nicolson explores in his book “The Story of the Sea, a Man, and a Ship”, calling it “the fulfilment of everything that is latent in the idea of an island“. It is because of this that I’ve never really felt that Orkney was remote at all, we’ve always had everything we need just a short distance away. Remote is defined as “distant” from something yet we are almost the complete opposite, we have everything we need just there.
On arriving in the Faroes, I immediately knew that they feel even less remote than the people of Orkney. Although they are politically a part of Denmark, the distance from Copenhagen; their unique language; and their equally strong links with the other northern countries around them mean that the Faroes consider themselves almost an independent country. Even within the islands you are seldom more than an hour or two’s drive from anything you need due to their extensive network of tunnels under the sea fjords and mountains.
I added these other two quotes from Adam Nicolson’s book to a photograph I took on Borðoy, one of the northern Faroese islands,. He was describing the reaction of someone he met on the West Coast of Scotland when asked what it felt like to live somewhere so remote.
Since my return from the trip, I have met with Graham Hogg of Glasgow architecture firm Lateral North to learn about their opinion of northern Europe, in particular their project Possible Orkney. Throughout Orkney’s history it has often been the complete opposite of remote, it has been “the cross roads of the sea” – a perfect point between the Atlantic and the North sea, the north and the south. Possible Orkney is an exploration of taking advantage of Orkney’s location to build a shipping hub for Europe. Although the scale of the this project is quite terrifying, it made me really think about the significance of islands. Water is a medium to connect people much more efficiently than land.
“Bundin er bátleysur maður”
This old Faroese proverb can be translated to “a man without a boat is tied up”, a prisoner. The sea is the highway of the past and the future.
The Clipperton Project director, Jon Bonfiglio, once mentioned to me that we can see “islands as alternative models for society”. I see now that islands’ fulfilment of everything mean that we can learn from them about the self sufficiency required of society on this finite planet and the sustainability of our system. It is the element of scale which is interesting about this: islands are on a much smaller scale, the scale of humans.
Scale is something that fascinated me throughout the trip. We were travelling on a beautiful old fishing boat called Johanna that had worked for almost a century before being restored by hand, and she now spends her days taking people on trips around the islands. Comparing the fishing that would have historically been done by Johanna, with the huge industrial trawling ships that we saw was quite terrifying. The massive amount of damage they do to fish stocks and the marine environment reflects the increase in scale that technology has brought – our impact on the planet is no longer limited by the human scale.
What started as a journey exploring the “remote” turned into gaining a better understanding of our whole society. To me, the Faroes represent the community based, human scale and I know now that this is what we need to preserve and learn from for the future of our planet.