Antarctica World Passport Delivery Bureau (Nansen Initiative / COP21 Paris)

Date: 2015
Ref: 5079.05
Materials: Bureau construction in reclaimed materials, chairs, various found objects, Antarctica World Passports, iPads, passport stamps, ink pads
Dimensions: 300 x 315 x 450 cm
Exhibition history: 2015 Nansen Initiative, Geneva; COP21 Grand Palais, Paris, France
Courtesy: Lucy + Jorge Orta

The Antarctica World Passport project is a powerful example of Lucy + Jorge Orta's participatory and engaging work, which has evolved from the artists seminal expedition to Antarctica in 2007. The participatory aspect focuses on the question of what it means to be a world citizen today in the age of cross-frontier communication and invites audiences to become active members of an exponential interconnected virtual community. This project could not be more relevant as we witness the increase of nationalist tendencies, the building of walls and closing of borders around the world.

Antarctica World Passport is part of a much larger body of work - Antarctica - which addresses issues relating to the environment, politics, autonomy, habitat, mobility and relationships among peoples. The Antarctic continent has the earth's most hostile climatic conditions, its ice-desert is the world's largest and temperatures can drop as low as -80° C. Yet, it is an immense nature reserve whose glaciers contain 70% of the planet's fresh water, today this unique ecosystem in serious danger due to global warming. As yet, no permanent human settlements exist and there is no native population, it is the only politically neutral region on earth not claimed by any country. The governing Antarctic Treaty, which unites over 50 nations, has decreed Antarctica a continent dedicated to scientific research with common pacific aims: to protect the environment and to encourage international cooperation.

For the artists, Antarctica embodies Utopia: a continent whose extreme climate imposes mutual aid and solidarity, freedom of research, of sharing, and collaboration for the good of the planet. The immaculate ice landscape is a filter for the kaleidoscope that make up our nations and identities, concentrating the colours into the sum of light and the purity of a hope. The Antarctica World Passport is a proponent of a 'no-borders' reflexion.

The Antarctica World Passport Delivery Bureau was first presented at Lucy + Jorge Orta's survey exhibition at the Pirelli Hangar Bicocca in Milan (2008). It exists in different sculptural formats and the participatory action is re-activated each time. The passport offices are generally constructed with reclaimed wood and found objects including boats, water recipients, suitcases, toys, that tower and bulge over rudimentary structures synonymous with the shanty town and border crossings that artists have traversed in some of remotest corners of the planet. 

The process of application for a passport - the participatory performative experience - takes just a few minutes. The passport office is manned by passport officers trained to mediate with the general public and to distribute the passport edition. The applicant (audience) is requested to agree to a set of passport obligations that are presented by the passport officers and their personal data is entered into an application pothole. For each passport registered, a unique identification number (UIN) is automatically generated to authenticate the edition. The UIN is inscribed on each passport and stamped by the officer. The symbolic transferal of one's individual national identity, to that of the collective world citizen, is part of the artwork's performative element and embodies the notion of Operational Aesthetics, by inciting the general public to take action.

The registered passport citizens populate a new interconnected world map, a potent visualisation portraying the ‘no-borders’ mass-mobilization across the globe, from Europe to the hardest hit environmental and political catastrophe zones including the Solomon Islands, Philippines, Alaska, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Four passport editions have been printed, totaling 55,000 copies: Ed. 10,000 Hangar Bicocca Milan (2008); Ed. 30,000 Southbank Centre London (2012); Ed. 10,000 La Villette Paris (2014); Ed 5,000 Frieze Projects London (2017).

This passport office was presented at the Grand Palais in Paris during the COP21 UN Climate Summit from December 4-10, 2015. Faced with the increasing numbers of refugees displaced because of climate induced disasters, and the predictions of yet more horrific conflicts due to the scarcity of resources, it was evident that the COP21 was the perfect forum to mobilise the audience to become world citizens.

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