The Clipperton Project

Media Release
February 2011

The Clipperton Project
7 international artists, 7 international scientists, 1 expedition to an
astonishing, abandoned island in the Pacific with a strange history and unique biosphere.

Situated around 800 miles west of Acapulco, Clipperton (or as the French style it, Ile de la Passion) is an abandoned island with a strange history, a unique biosphere and an obscure lagoon filled with ancient marine life. Later this year an expedition of 7 international artists and 7 international scientists will set sail from the West coast of Mexico on a 3-week expedition to the island. The participants will produce work based on the history of the atoll (specifically Mexico’s “damned” colony of 1917) and its ecological, geological and human history in order to create a cross-cultural portrayal of this unique place. The work produced will then be shown at scientific and cultural institutions across Europe and the Americas, including Glasgow Sculpture Studios (Glasgow, Scotland), Universum (Mexico City, Mexico) and Institute of the Americas (London, England).

Unveiling details of the project at Glasgow Sculpture Studios, Expedition Leader, Jonathan Bonfiglio, said:

“I’d heard about this strange island of Clipperton a few years ago and it soon became clear that it could offer a very interesting jumping off point for discussing many different topics of importance to contemporary society.”

“The idea of an international arts science expedition came about as offering a way to explore areas such as global warming and environmental issues through cross cultural dialogue. By linking these two broad areas of endeavour it would bring something new to the fore and hopefully reach new audiences.”

“There are so many aspects of Clipperton that are fascinating for me as an artist from its strange history to its unique biology,” says British sculptor, Charles Engebretsen, who is one of only seven international artists to be taking part in the expedition. “I have collaborated with many artists in different environments, but not had close interactions with scientists before,” he adds. “The opportunity to work with the oceanographers, biologists and medical scientists will inform my practice, and the chance to display the work we make in scientific establishments as well as art galleries is particularly exciting as it will hopefully break down the perceived barriers between art and science.”

“We are thrilled to be a partner in the Clipperton Project which will see the artists and scientists not only bring their unique perspectives to issues of importance to contemporary society, but enable some fruitful dialogues to be set up between the two fields,” says Amy Sales, Programme Development Manager at Glasgow Sculpture Studios. “We know that many of the participants already have some ideas about the topics of interest for their research, but we are sure other exciting things will emerge once the group arrives at the island which will lead to an important body of research and intriguing artworks to be shown across Europe and the Americas in 2012. “

The 7 artists taking part in the expedition are expedition leader, writer
Jonathan Bonfiglio; Mexican photographer Naim “El Libanes” Rahal Manzanilla; Norwegian Dancer/choreographer, Mia Habib; British filmmaker, John Dickie; British designer/visual artist Nicola Dobrowolski; Mexican Writer, Jimena Gorráez Belmar and British Sculptor, Charles Engebretsen. The scientists taking part in the expedition are experts in the fields of Environmental Geoscience, Oceanography, Biomedicine Hydrogeology, Biology, Medical Investigation, Industrial Engineering, Molecular Biology and Genomics.

Further information on the Clipperton Project can be found at:


Notes for Editors

Clipperton (Ile de la Passion)


The island of Clipperton has had an incredible history, from rumours of hidden treasure left by the British pirate John Clipperton, to the struggles between Mexico and France over its ownership (including the horrific and tragic events there in 1917) in the early twentieth century to the little known fact that President Roosevelt visited there twice during the Second World War with a view to establishing it as a military base for the United States. Today Clipperton is a French territory and provides us with one of the most isolated ecosystems in the world, one which might reveal not only the extent of current climate change through study of its coral reefs but also a place in which a consistently invaded body of water in the lagoon somehow remains drinkable, a factor of major interest to participating scientists.

The Island

Apart from the forgotten Mexican colony that inhabited the island at the start of the last century, Clipperton has seen very few humans in its history, and even the small number who have recently visited have failed to provide wholly accurate documentation of what the island holds. Some accounts talk of the substantial problem provided by rats – now the apex predator on the island - left over from sinking ships; others describe the coral reefs around the atoll as making access to the island almost impossible; still others disagree about how long it takes to walk around the entire island (accounts vary from 2 to 7 hours).

All in all, this means that it is very difficult to know what will be found on arrival at the island, although little shelter and plenty of poisonous orange crabs are a certainty. Clipperton Island may look like paradise from a distance, but close up it is a unique hybrid of an ecosystem in which odd creatures have somehow managed to survive alone at the ends of the earth.

At an average height of 3 metres above sea level, with rising sea levels Clipperton Atoll will soon no longer exist. This is not just an island which will disappear forever, but all manner of highly evolved and unique bacteria, fungi and algae from the lagoon, and along with them all the genetic make-up which has allowed them to survive in such a hostile environment. It is estimated that only 10% of species on earth have been genetically documented, and species that inhabit the outer, more extreme reaches of the planet are more genetically unique than those found in the more common usual environments. This means that they must be studied now before that genetic information – a genetic information which harbours the strongest survival instincts and abilities at its core – is lost forever.

With the relatively new field of metagenomics, preservation of the genetic material allows the identification of biodiversity of microscopic species and of bioprospecting (which refers to the finding of new genes, enzymes and proteins). This is a field of massive growth and interest for universities, organisations and drug companies focusing on medical investigations, as these are currently leading to previously unthought breakthroughs in biotechnological and medical science.

The Coral Reefs

The oceans – the lungs of the earth - are becoming increasingly acidic, meaning that organisms within these vast fields of life are finding it harder and harder to reproduce and regenerate, thus radically altering what used to be a perfectly balanced ecosystem. The coral reefs around Clipperton were once pristine, and even though reports suggest that they have suffered from man’s influence – even here on one of the most isolated islands on earth – studies undertaken even in a few days will reveal how their capacity to regenerate has been affected by reduced ocean salinity.

The Lagoon

Despite regular saltwater incursions, Clipperton’s lagoon somehow remains freshwater and drinkable, and is therefore one of the most important centres of investigation for the Clipperton Project, which will be collecting samples from all areas and depths in the lagoon, with these being refrigerated and delivered to the Institutes of Biotechnology and Genomic Science at the National Autonomous University of Mexico and the University of Morelos, where the samples will be isolated, catalogued and studied.

Lesley Booth
New Century PR
Tel: +44 (0)141 649 9621/+ 44 (0)20 8677 6741
Mobile: +44 (0)779 941 4474

Recent/Current projects include:
Bard in the Botanics Festival; British Art Show 7 (Glasgow); Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland; Cultural Enterprise Office; Deveron Arts; Edinburgh Art Festival, Finefunds; Glasgow Sculpture Studios; Old Royal Naval College, Greenwich; Scottish Flute Trio; Scottish Youth Theatre; sound Festival of New Music; Stavanger - Cultural Capital of Europe; Vanishing Point Theatre Company; Y-dance.

Source: Oliver Basciano