some notes from the author

Fernando Amorsolo, »Manila Bay Sunset«

30.06.2016 / 20.44 +08.00
Metro Manila / Philippines

The dry months of 42°C have passed, and tonight it is a pleasant 30°C in Manila. There are many people at the village park, languishing in the relaxed darkness amidst the overgrown vegetation, their forms made vaguely visible by the warm light of the occasional street lamp.

I settle down at my favorite café (closing their doors on June 30th 2016) which then starts playing some mild reggae music. It sends me into a nostalgic mood, since I had spent the last two summers—the official summer months in the Philippines being March, April and May—reading about tropicality, at this spot. This was where, in my suburban tropical solitude, I planned half a year's worth of research trips for »The Island Project«. Tomorrow, it will be gone.

In Naomi Oreskes' climate fiction book »The Collapse of Western Civilization«, a fictional historian speaks of 2023 as »the infamous ›year of the perpetual summer‹ [which] lived up to its name, taking 500,000 lives worldwide and costing nearly $500 billion in losses due to fires, crop failure, and the deaths of livestock and companion animals.«(1) This amuses me, because I always describe the Philippine climate as a year-long summer; it isn't very accurate, but it's intriguing enough to excite the imagination.

The Philippine economy relies greatly on tourism, perhaps banking on what the temperate world since the 1920's has perceived as the positives of tropical life: inertia, alcohol, and sex.(2) British writer Alex Garland's 1996 novel »The Beach« (which has been adapted in 2000 into the slightly raunchier cult classic movie of the same title, directed by Danny Boyle) is rumored to have been based on Garland's stay in Palawan. In the book and the movie, a band of travelers lives out a sociological adventure-drama on a forbidden, paradaisical island in Thailand, closed off by the majestic karst cliffs of the Sunda Plate, floating in the womb of a pristine lagoon, and completely oblivious to the local population, immigration laws, and climate change.



image on the right: John Webber, »Poedua, the Daughter of Orio«

In photographs from Samoa in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, one can find images of ›dusky maidens‹ — young, ›available‹ females embodying the idea and ideal of the paradaisical tropical island.(3) Accommodating and agreeable, these dusky maidens seem nothing like the ticklish but indifferent Gaia, the ›living planet‹, whom Isabelle Stengers imagines as an irritable mother who should not be offended, who intrudes, but »asks nothing of us«.(4)

In a rare essay, Deleuze writes, »Dreaming of islands—whether with joy or in fear, it doesn't matter—is dreaming of pulling away, of being already separate, far from any continent, of being lost and alone—or it is dreaming of starting from scratch, recreating, beginning anew.«(5) One would readily risk everything to start from nothing.

But where does one go, when even the farthest islands are at the brink of disappearance? Flat islands in the Maldives are becoming completely inundated, and entire island populations are forced to move to higher ground or migrate completely. Island nations are vulnerable to flood inundation and sea level rise, and also to erosion from severe wind storms. Many uninhabited islands change their shape seasonally, the sand shifting according to the winds and waves, some even disappearing completely at high tide—the original tropical desert islands, at the mercy of sea and sky.

Despite these threats, a conflict over island territories continues in the South China Sea. The question of whether these banks, islets, rocks and islands are even capable of appropriation is a tricky one, and the answers may even be subject to change as time goes by. Monique Chemilier Gendreau writes, »to be capable of appropriation an island territory must apparently present at high tide a surface of land clear of the water which is large enough to be habitable in practice... Article 121 of the Montego Bay Convention of 10 December 1982 uses a geological criterion, ›a naturally formed area of land‹. Artificial islands are thus excluded.«(6)

Perhaps, in the tropical Anthropocene, we would have to build our own desert islands.

3D visualization of L'Gau Island

01.07.2016 / 05.56 +08.00
Metro Manila / Philippines

Today I will no longer be able to hang out at the village café. I am also thinking that my future grandchildren might never see nor enjoy the handful of islands that I've been to, among the 7,107 that the Philippines claims.

In 2007, Australian philosopher Glenn Albrecht created the term ›solastalgia‹ to describe a form of melancholia brought about by a lack of solace and the sense of isolation connected to the present state of one's home and territory.(7) For me, this solastalgia comes with an anticipated nostalgia. The islands are still beautiful—but will they be gone tomorrow too?

Maybe not. According to a study by New Zealand coastal geomorphologist Paul Kench and his colleagues, reef islands change shape and respond to shifting sediments by growing in size, and less developed islands with few permanent structures may actually survive the rising sea levels.(8)

Perhaps these ›dusky maidens‹ will endure the sea and sky after all.





Mica Cabildo
Paranaque City, July 2016
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Mica Cabildo is a visual artist based in Metro Manila/Philippines.
Her recent works are about storms and islands.

REFERENCES

(1) Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway, The Collapse of Western Civilization (Columbia University Press, 2014).

(2) Peter Hulme, »Dominica and Tahiti: Tropical Islands Compared« in Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire, ed. Felix Driver & Luciana Martins (The University of Chicago Press, 2005).

(3) Leonard Bell, »Eyeing Samoa: People, Places and Spaces in Photographs of the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries« in Tropical Visions in an Age of Empire, ed. Felix Driver & Luciana Martins (The University of Chicago Press, 2005).

(4) Isabelle Stengers, In Catastrophic Times: Resisting the Coming Barbarism (Open Humanities Press in collaboration with meson press, 2015).

(5) Gilles Deleuze, »Desert Islands« in Desert Islands and Other Texts 1953—1974 (Semiotext(e), 2004).

(6) Monique Chemilier Gendreau. Sovereignty Over the Parcel and Spratly Islands.

(7) Glenn Albrecht, et al., »Solastalgia: The Distress Caused by Environmental Change« in Australasian Psychiatry, February 2007.

(8) Kennedy Warne, »Will Pacific Island Nations Disappear as Seas Rise? Maybe Not« in National Geographic, published February 13, 2015. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/02/150213-tuvalu-sopoaga-kench-kiribati-maldives-cyclone-marshall-islands/