James Newitt’ solo exhibition From above, an island premieres the large-scale, three-channel video installation HAVEN (2023). This newly commissioned project, around which the exhibition revolves, is a critical and poetic reworking of the bizarre story of a tiny, unrecognized micronation located on an abandoned World War II gun tower in the North Sea. The tower has been occupied since the 1960s by a British family, who claim the artificial territory as their own, independent from all state power.
The family originally intended to use the tower to broadcast pirate radio, later they worked with two cyber-libertarians in the early 2000s to establish the world’ first data haven—hat they described as “irate internet.”The data haven promised to be a refuge for unregulated data—he only truly safe place in the world to keep information. HAVEN explores the tower as a paradoxical site: at once promoting sovereignty and autonomy while also being inaccessible, exposed to the elements, and controlled by a closed and isolated family unit.
HAVEN’ experimental narrative approach speculates on the rift that occurred between the family and the data haven’ founders. It also touches on other failed utopias and neoliberal ventures, such as the libertarian Seasteading project, which aims to build floating communities described as “tart-up countries,”and Microsoft’ Project Natick, the world’ first undersea data center. Newitt incorporates these references to interrogate the possibilities the sea provides for extraterritorial places—paces beyond the territory of the state—hile critically analyzing the often capitalist and colonialist ideologies behind such ventures.
Throughout his research-based practice, Newitt constructs a complex network of subjects and narrative strategies— selection of which are included in this exhibition. These recurrent interests arise from Newitt’ fascination with the conflicted existential position of an islander who perceives the deserted island as an escape from society, as a trap, and as a form of conquest—ne burdened by the desires and limitations of the colonialist mindset. Through his work, Newitt carefully revisits and rewrites found material, such as personal correspondence and media articles, turning these documents into a form of fiction. He incorporates these semi-fictional texts into expansive filmic installations, allowing space for stories and memories to reappear and mutate.
Previous projects also take inspiration from island stories, such as the installation Delay, which revolves around a film titled I Go Further Under (2018). In 1971, seventeen-year-old Jane Cooper arrived in the Tasmanian capital of Hobart from Melbourne and began asking local fisherman to transport her to a remote, uninhabited island off the southern coast, known locally as the Big Witch. Jane intended to live permanently in total isolation on the island. She traveled with basic provisions and did not reveal the motivation for her desire to withdraw from society. Delay is informed by anecdotes and oral history; the Tasmanian government’ legal proceedings against Jane; media articles; and a collection of personal letters written to Jane by people from around the world who absurdly romanticized her isolation. For Newitt, revisiting Jane Cooper’ experience represents a conundrum: What does it mean to create a film about a character who wanted to withdraw from representation?
Also featured in the exhibition is Fossil (2019), a filmic installation that intimately follows two characters who occupy an environment that appears to be either a hospital or a prison. Newitt developed Fossil from his novella of the same title, whose story is informed by the artist’ close experiences with memory loss and aphasia. As the main character’ capacity for communication and memory gradually disintegrates, so too does the materiality of the film itself—n approach that Newitt further explores in HAVEN.
From above, an island brings together a broad overview of Newitt’ work in film, installation, and writing made over the last ten years. The exhibition celebrates minor histories and obscure personalities to focus on gestures of refusal, resistance, and withdrawal, encouraging a reflection on how such acts resonate today.
James Newitt is the 2022 recipient of the Media Art Grant from the Foundation of Lower Saxony at the Edith-Russ-Haus for Media Art. He is an artist from Tasmania, Australia, who works and lives in Lisbon, Portugal.
James Newitt: HAVEN(still), 2023. Courtesy of the artist.
Exhibition 20 April -11 June 2023.Edith-Russ-Haus for Media Art, Katharinenstraße 23 - 26121 Oldenburg (Germany). T +49 441 2353208. Hours: Tuesday–Friday 2–6pm, Saturday–Sunday 11am–6pm