Gipsön (“Gympsum Island”)

The artificial island Gipsön, originally 15 metres above sea level and as large as 50 football fields but slowly shrinking, is what remains from the time when Landskrona provided the Swedish agricultural industry with fertilisers.

Gipsön from above during the early 1980s. Archival footage: Anders Hilding ©Landskrona museum (edited).

Fertiliser production in and around Landskrona extends all the way back to 1882 when, instead of the more recent phosphate rock, guano was imported and processed here. The industrial production of phosphate ended in 1992, yet huge amounts of phosphogypsum still had to be deposited and handled. This waste material contained high levels of e.g. lead, cadmium, chrome, fluoride, zinc, copper, arsenic, and radon. These are naturally occurring substances in the imported phosphate rock, but due to the fertiliser production process the pollutants have accumulated in the deposit.

A few nautical miles away from Gipsön, underwater islands can be found – a testimony of earlier attempts back in the 1960s and 70s to get rid of gypsum by silting it directly into sea water, a common procedure in Europe at the time. But instead of disintegrating, gypsum sunk and sealed the seafloor, leaving it barren and dead. This was eventually forbidden due to stricter environmental laws, and the construction of a deposit at sea began 1978, which would simply be referred to as Gipsön, the Gypsum island.

After the fertiliser production ended, and before handing the island over to the Landskrona municipality, the chemical company had to make sure that no water leaked out from the deposit into the surrounding sea, until the island could be considered “clean”. Water was circulated by pumps in a closed loop for many decades, not least thanks to rain and snow slowly washing the island. Lime was added to the very acidic water and excess phosphate and harmful components got encapsulated in sediments, preventing them from yet again leaking out into the water. It was calculated that the process would be finished after ten years. But thirty years later, in 2021, when the art collective (p)Art of the Biomass declared the island a post-industrial readymade sculpture and a Plantationocene monument, the island and the water were still not considered safe.

A surprising series of events would officially grant the island the status of artwork and naturalcultural heritage of national interest. In 2034, a well-known ecoart dealer decided to buy the conceptual and performative piece of art from (p)Art of the Biomass for the symbolic sum of 333 Swedish Crowns and donated it to Malmö Museer and Malmö Art Museum jointly. In turn, (p)Art of the Biomass donated the money to the foundation “The Gipsön Commons”, which for the same sum bought the actual island. The municipality of Landskrona agreed to the deal as the company offered to donate a large sum of money to the foundation so that the care work, research, art and community work carried out on the island could continue.

In addition the museums joined in partnership with the foundation to honour the contract that stated that “the owner of the artwork commits to support and care for the living multispecies natureculture the readymade sculpture continuously is becoming”. The island Gipsön and the artwork “Gipsön” – life and art – could thus be said to have merged. Around the same time, the introduction of a 10-year trial period of a universal basic income allowed people to engage in a wide range of volunteer work. Many happy coincidences and persistent work thus helped make Gipsön into the living monument, thriving commons and important ceremonial site it is today.

Less-well known is that it is said that (p)Art of the Biomass mounted a plaque on the island, below the water line with a quote from a famous eco-philosopher. But the plaque has never been found, arousing the curiosity of both Spotlighter and diving communities. It has most likely been completely overgrown by algae and mussels. The words though, are recited during the ceremony:

“In memory of the many shadow places in our biosphere, and as a gesture of gratitude to Val Plumwood who shone light on damaged lands and relations that ‘consumers don’t know about, don’t want to know about, and in a commodity regime don’t ever need to know about or take responsibility for’, we hereby declare this island a naturalcultural heritage site. This Plantationocene monument, a readymade sculpture formed by polluted gypsum, stands as a reminder of the multiple places that sustain our lives both materially and emotionally. Even the unwanted or disregarded ones need to be recognised as part of that which we call home.”

(You can read a special report by Elinna Fabelholm on the Multispecies Heritage and Reconnection Ceremony.)

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