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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Students protest against Israel-Hamas war with campus encampment
Dallas WiertellaApril 30, 2024

Artist exhibit illuminates untouched island

As a student in the Upper Peninsula, one can quickly grow accustomed to the area’s beauty, lending to a jaded familiarity that comes with living anywhere for an extended time.

Looking to overcome the advantageous perspective we, as humans, have on natural spaces, London-based artist Andrew Ranville has set out to experience an almost entirely untouched natural space without personifying it in any way.

The natural space where he conducted this mini-experiment was a small piling of land off the coast of the Keweenaw Peninsula called Rabbit Island.

The result of his time spent on the island is the current exhibit at the Devos Art Museum that Ranville has called “No Island is a Man.”

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The name was inspired by a 17th-century prose piece that regards nature as only as important as the human experience of it, but which Ranville hoped to contradict with his work from the past two summers.

“We try to really anthropomorphize or project human qualities on a landscape,” said Ranville, a Flint native. “The island is not necessarily an unforgiving place, but it’s indifferent to our lifestyle. It was like that before we got there and it will be like that after we’re gone.”

The idea of coming into a natural environment without influencing it with human perspective is the basis of Ranville’s influence, art and his plan to continue the artist residency on the island.

“We shouldn’t personify this ostensibly beautiful landscape; it’s a concrete, real place,” Ranville said. “So that was the initial working methodology: lets just respond to this place without trying to be poetic about it. Yet after two summers, (we realized) that human beings can’t help but do that. We project human qualities on things because that’s our way of dealing with the natural environment and relating to it.”

A walk through the “No Island Is A Man” exhibit, will find one surrounded by structures made as a result of this concept-driftwood structures, faded Polaroids of untouched island landscapes and a small mound of Lake Superior flattened sandstone.

Washed-up balloons dot the walls-some with cartoon characters, one in the shape of a whale, others just simply black or blue, but all clearly having allowed Lake Superior to work it’s abrasive magic on them.

A testament to what happens to our beloved possessions when forced to endure something as powerful as Lake Superior, the balloons also serve as a reminder that the reach of human influence is nearly unending, despite the remoteness of a place like Rabbit Island.

Framed balloons make up nearly a quarter of the exhibit, but per Ranville’s original goal, many artistic mediums are facilitated in the exhibit.

“There’s a real variety of mediums in this show,” Ranville said. “Hopefully it highlights that, as an artist, you should let your work dictate your medium. Artists shouldn’t say ‘I’m a photographer, I’m a sculptor,’ and only do that-they should be open to respond in any way (necessary).”

Yet his aim to encompass many different mediums is only the beginning of what Ranville has accomplished with his residency on the island.

His hopes to create a legitimate artist retreat on the 91-acre island in the future stems from his work there over the past two summers, which has amounted to charting the island, creating sustainable shelters for residents, and otherwise establishing an environment for creative minds-poets, artists, photographers and researchers.

“It’s really just exploring an unexplored area,” Ranville said of what is so stirring about the island. “It was inspiring to see the island as this very concrete, tangible place with very thick forests and Lake Superior, which is just an amazing, vast body of water.”

The island, which was acquired by Calumet native Robert Gorski when he saw it for sale on Craigslist back in 2010, is three miles off the coast of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Ranville hopes to continue the residency program next summer, which will allow three people at a time to use the island as a retreat for art or research.

The exhibit will run through Dec. 4, but is expected to continue in the future as a partnership between the island’s residency program and the DeVos museum for NMU students to showcase their work.

“It’s important that when artists do these residencies, that they can connect with their local communities (upon return),” said Melissa Matuscak, director and curator of the Devos Art Museum.

“And it’s not just a show, it’ll be a program as well, with lectures from the artists; that’s also important to our relationship with the residency.”

For more information on Rabbit Island and the ongoing projects, or to find out how to apply for an artist residency, visit

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