feel sorry for the inhabitants of Socotra

Socotra is a unique island archipelago off the coast of Somalia. It has a hot dry climate and a particulary distinctive flora and fauna. Situated as an entry point into the Indian Ocean it has a long history as a trade magnet and strategic military centre.

But what happens when the inhabitants of Socotra (human and nonhuman) become the subject of a speculative environmental art project? American engineer, businessman and artist* Peter Fend has made a proposal “This Can Happen Now” detailed at Triple Canopy  http://canopycanopycanopy.com/18/this_can_happen_now. I sometimes wonder at these planning-based environmental projects. They all seem to begin with a Google map and include elaborate engineering solutions. Fend writes

“Cooperation is social. For Socotra to become a model biology economy, its 40,000 inhabitants must want the change. Progress depends more on our personalities, our ability to bond with unlike peoples, than our technologies. We must be ready to negotiate (particularly when it comes to property rights). So Ocean Earth** would first make site visits, armed with images, plans, and write-ups, not knowing what the outcome might be.”

It’s a good thing that Ocean Earth is open to showing the locals their “images, plans, and write-ups”. But I sometimes wonder whether I should be interpreting this kind of rhetoric as satire? Or is it just well-intentioned internationalist eco art paternalism? At least the Socotrans are not called stakeholders. Whilst I commend the general principles of positive solution-thinking rather than apocalyptic despair, I can’t help thinking it’s like a Helen-Mayer-and-Newton-Harrison-gone-wrong. When does Utopian planetary eco-design fall flat? Is there something else underlying this genre of environnmental art that makes me feel so uncomfortable?


Your thoughts please?

* As described here http://canopycanopycanopy.com/contributors#fend_peter. ** He is also the founder of Ocean Earth Development Corporation (OCEAN EARTH) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_Fend).


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