"The island, and all the more so the deserted island, is an extremely poor or weak notion from the point of view of geography. This is to its credit. The range of islands has no objective unity, and deserted islands have even less.The deserted island may indeed have extremely poor soil. Deserted, the island may be a desert, but not necessarily. The real desert is uninhabited only insofar as it presents no conditions that by rights would make life possible, whether vegetable, animal, or human. On the contrary, the lack of inhabitants on the deserted island is a pure fact due to circumstance, in other words, the island’s surroundings. The island is what the sea surrounds and what we travel around. It is like an egg. An egg of the sea, it is round. It is as though the island had pushed its desert outside. What is deserted is the ocean around it. It is by virtue of circumstance, for other reasons than the principle on which the island depends, that ships pass in the distance and never come ashore."

— Gilles Deleuze, Desert Islands and Other Texts, 1953-
, Semiotext(e), Los Angeles, 2004.

“Die Insel, erst recht die einsame Insel sind aus der Sicht der Geographie äußerst arme oder schwache Begriffe, sie haben nur einen geringen wissenschaftlichen Gehalt. Das gereicht ihnen zur Ehre. In der Gesamtheit der Inseln gibt es keinerlei objektive Einheit. Noch weniger bei den einsamen Inseln. Zweifellos kann eine einsame Insel einen extrem kargen Boden haben. Als einsame Insel kann sie eine Einöde sein, aber nicht notwendigerweise. Wenn die wahre Einöde unbewohnt ist, dann insofern, als sie nicht die Bedingungen aufweist, die das Leben ermöglichen, sei es pflanzliches, tierisches oder menschliches Leben. Daß dagegen die einsame Insel unbewohnt ist, bleibt ein Faktum, das allein von den Umständen, d.h. von der Umgebung abhängt. Die Insel ist das, was vom Meer umgeben ist und was man umrundet, sie ist wie ein Ei. Ei des Meeres, sie ist rund. Alles sieht so aus, als hätte sie ihre Einöde um sich herumgelegt, außer- halb ihrer.Was einsam ist, ist der Ozean ringsum. Nur infolge der Umstände, aus anderen Gründen als dem Prinzip, von dem sie abhängt, fahren die Schiffe in der Ferne vorbei und legen nicht an. Eher wird sie alleingelassen, als daß sie eine Einöde ist.“

— Gilles Deleuze, Die einsame Insel: Texte und Gespräche
, Suhrkamp, 2003.

Desertmed is an ongoing interdisciplinary research project. The "blind spots" on the European map serve as its subject matter: approximately 300 uninhabited islands in the Mediterranean Sea. A group of artists, architects, writers and theoreticians traveled to forty of these often hard to reach islands in search of clues, impartially cataloguing information that can be interpreted in multiple ways.

A pool of photographs, drawings, and audio and video recordings was the result. It is an inquiry into or an attempt to create something akin to maps through sound recordings and images. Such maps examine the myriad ways in which the individual islands are used and, accordingly, their significant political, economic and historical interrelationships. The notion of the deserted island as a place of retreat still functions today as the quintessential vacation dream and myth for those seeking refuge from society —a place of yearning, of the production of desire, which has little to do with reality. Desertmed attempts to confront this mythos with an unsentimental cataloguing and factual description of the mostly unknown islands of the Mediterranean.

As it turns out, the reality of the islands is much more a reflection of the forms and concepts of state- and non-state-based land use, according to which the islands can be divided into various groups or typologies —although the distinctions are fluid.

Artist's statements

Desertmed began as a collective in 2008. Its objective was to study, conduct research on and catalogue the deserted islands of the Mediterranean. The islands have different levels of “desertification” that have been identified and divided by degree. At times the islands have specific uses for human beings but no regular residents. There are islands that are deserted in keeping with a romantic sense of the term, namely uninhabited or abandoned; these are found mostly in Greece and Croatia. There are islands that are deserted for strategic and military reasons, in Tunisia and Spain, for example. Others cannot be accessed by visi- tors because they are used as prisons, due to their remote location. Others are still conserved in a natural state, as nature parks, like museums. There are also “exclusive” islands that are private property, and industrial islands inhabited only during labour shifts, by the workers. From time to time exceptions arise that make Desertmed’s the work of cataloguing less systematic but perhaps more interesting. A private but abandoned island, for example, or the island where a failed attempt at settlement on the part of a tourist village has left only bungalows that have been swallowed back up by the desert.

— Giovanna Silva

Desertmed’s research is horizontal. The forms of movements design the space that divides occupied from empty, civil from natural, identity from anonymity. Desertmed gathers and measures this gap, tries to bridge it, to organize without being an informer. It looks for anomalies in the predictable edification of social structure. It is research that does not rely on sociologisms or ethnic, behavioural codes. Instead, it records the state of a permanent, almost meteorological flux, of the appearance of the void, the desert, the social gap, the ungoverned zone, as a place of the soul, where the games are interrupted for a while. For Desertmed, I imagine the distance, I cal- culate the trajectories, I draw what I like, I walk in one direction, I sleep, I follow the animals, I try to belong to this suspension for all the time required for my interference.

— Amedeo Martegani


The deserted island is the stereotypic place of every utopia, the cradle of every (im)possible new beginning. It is not structured by any social organisation, there is no culture, and therefore there can be no misunderstandings. It is the ideal tabula rasa on which to set up new social theories; the imaginary of the deserted island is a heavy burden with which to come to grips. The true utopia, for our imagination, is the desert as such. The sounds we have gathered on deserted islands sound and feel differently than the sounds of other places. This is not just for technical or aesthetic reasons, but is rather because the sounds of the islands do not produce any kind of narrative. In the desert narration becomes pure superstructure. The force of the sounds lies in their independence, their way of being splendidly useless, and their clarity.

— Giuseppe Ielasi & Renato Rinaldi

I work on research for Desertmed. Geographical research, first of all, to identify topographical amnesias: deserted islands are zones overlooked by navigation courses, half-forgotten by geopolitics, lacking in interest for history, considered voids in the middle of the sea that require no coverage, no reporting. Desertion seen as absence of the human species is joined by the “disciplined” desert where the human race is only admitted on a temporary basis: the prisoner of an island penitentiary leaves when his sentence has been served, rangers leave island reserves at the end of a day’s work, and lighthouse keepers will soon be replaced by automated devices... To visit the controlled, disciplined desert you need a pass, issued by ministries, environmental protection agencies or local administrations. Often, there is confusion on the authorities involved, even for the same island. Deciphering the politics of the inaccessible and obtaining authorisation to visit islands is the second part of the research. Another aspect I have investigated is that of geopolitics. In 2008 representatives of 43 countries of the Mediterranean area met for the Mediterranean Summit in Paris, to attempt to launch a process of regulation for this sea, including future projects such as the creation of maritime highways to shift freight traffic from the land to the water. This process will inevitably create new courses of navigation for shipping, and will progressively increase the number of ships in the Mediterranean. As a result, the deserted islands, perhaps, will no longer be so deserted.

— Giulia Di Lenarda

Desertmed comes from the desire to observe places that are considered useless, non-existent and boring because nothing happens there. Places —deserted islands— that are somehow connected to our romantic imaginary of distance, or the nostalgia for vacations of bygone days. Their “emptiness”, almost impossible to document and grasp, always has specific geographical, geopolitical or social reasons behind it. With photographs and video I try to record this non-spectacular emptiness, where it only seems as if nothing ever happens. These deserted or abandoned places represent an indicator of major transformations taking place in the Mediterranean Sea that connects Europe, Africa and Asia. As you gradually approach the theme of the deser- ted island, the romantic vision shifts into a geosocial outlook. Desertmed’s research is also a work on the theme of contemporary geographical representation, in an era in which new technologies are redefining our perception of space, and identity is constructed through this perception. 

— Armin Linke

Museo d'Arte Contemporanea, Genova

Le isole deserte del Mediterraneo
Museo di Arte Contemporanea di Villa Croce, Genova
12 December – 2 February 2014

Info: museidigenova.it
Download: press release, poster, photos

Photos: Nuvola Ravera

NGBK, Berlin

In 2012 an exhibition was held at NGBK, Berlin, with a mixed-media installation and a video installation, together with additional contributions from external artists.

The Deserted Islands of the Mediterranean Map Installation, 2012 (Mixed-media installation)

Developing lengthwise, the installation shows an abstract map of the over 300 deserted islands of the Mediterranean aligned according to their longitude. This “table-map” displays books about the 39 islands visited so far. Conceived as a single catalogue, the books show photographs and video stills of the islands, compiled without editing and without any precise narration. The islands are portrayed both on the micro level of geological matter as well as from the macro perspective that indicates which “types” they belong to.

Deserted Typologies, 2012 (7-channel video installation)

The video material shot during the field research was first catalogued according to the categories in which we subdivided the visited deserted islands. For each type, a narrative was then created to reconnect it to the idea of a “macro-island”. In each video, despite being a collage from different islands, the resulting landscape conveys the illusion of one unified place. The videos are part of a catalogue of materials that expands further as the Desertmed research proceeds.


Giulia Di Lenarda, lives in Milan, photographer and researcher. 

Giuseppe Ielasi, lives in Vimercate, musician. Co-curator of Senufo Editions.

Armin Linke
, lives in Berlin, artist, works with photography, video, and various media; professor for photography at the HfG Karlsruhe.

Amedeo Martegani, lives in Milano, artist, works with various media.

Giovanna Silva
, lives in Milano, architect, photographer, artist. Co-founder of the magazine San Rocco.

Renato Rinaldi, lives in Cividale, musician, works with soundtracks for theatre and radio dramas.


Daniele Ansidei, Aristide Antonas, Elina Axioti, Giulia Bruno, Angelo Boriolo, Antonia Dika, Laura Fiorio, Stefano Graziani and Franck Leibovici.

Desertmed would like to thank in particular

Flavio Albanese, Johannes Ammler, Daniele Ansidei, Aristide Antonas, Roberto Badoglio, Elina Axioti, Fabian Bechtle, Paolo Berto, Angelo Borriolo, Milena Brambilla, Nina Brambilla, Damien Bright, Giulia Bruno, Alice Bulgari, Pierluigi Cacioppo, Renato Cafiero, Giuseppe Calabrese, Gennaro Carducci, Aurora Ciardelli, Massimiliano Cipriano, Paolo Colombo, Sandro Cortis, Lieven De Cauter, Antonia Dika, Diego Domenico, Luca Fais, Laura Fiorio, Carlo Forteleoni, Kurt W. Forster, Stefano Graziani, Leon Kahane, Wilfried Kuehn, Els Hanappe, Kevin Helms, Franck Leibovici, Simona Malvezzi, Iginio Marson, Mauro Martino, Romina Mastellone, Salah Matmati, Francesco Mattuzzi, Carlo Alberto Mazzerbo, Daniele Milani, Giulia Nomis, Raja Noomane, Viviana Panaccia, Francesca Pennone, Franco Pennone, Alessandro Petti, Valerie Pihet, Giulia Pireddu, Simona Pompilio, Sarah Poppel, Carlo Ratti, Donato Ricci, Valerio Rosano, Luca Rotondo, Tassos Sakellaropoulos, Alessio Satta, Salvatore Schiano di Colella, Stella-Sophie Seroglou, Atman Shanoun, Lazarus Siakos, Francesco Siddi, Alessandro Silva, Laura Silva, Paolo Soravia, Marina Sorbello, Benedetta Spalletti, Angelika Stepken, Onofrio Storniolo, Andrea Tamburini, Elisabetta Terragni, Sasha Toma, Mario Tozzi, Silvio Vetrano, Angela Vettese, Luca Vitone, Antje Weitzel, Daniele Zorzini, Edmond Zhupani.

Desertmed would like to thank for their support

Albanian Ministry of Defense / Albanian Ministry of Tourism / Benaki Museum, Athens / Commissariat National du Littoral d’Algérie / Commissariat Regional au Tourisme, Bizerte / Comando Generale Capitanerie di Porto - Guardia Costiera, Roma / Conservatoria delle Coste della Sardegna, Cagliari / Corpo Forestale dello Stato, Roma / Direzione e Amministrazione Penitenziaria del carcere di Pianosa e Gorgona / Ente Parco Nazionale Arcipelago Toscano / Ente Nazionale Tunisino per il Turismo, Milano / Galleria Vistamare, Pescara / Istanbul Museum of Modern Art / Istituto Nazionale di Oceanografia e Geofisica Sperimentale, Trieste / IUAV Università di Arte e Design, Venezia / MAXXI Museo Nazionale delle arti contemporanee, Roma / Science Po Media Lab, Paris / Ministère de la Communication d’Algérie / Ministère de l’Environnement d’Algérie / MIT Senseable City Lab, Boston / NavionicsTM / NGBK Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst, Berlin / Parco Nazionale dell’Asinara / Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Athens / Stiftung Deutsche Klassenlotterie Berlin / Telespazio, Roma / University of Thessaly, Department of Architecture, Volos / Villa Romana, Firenze / ZKM Museum für Kunst und Medien, Karlsruhe.

The visit to the Albanian Island of Sazan was made possible with the kind support of IFA — Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen e.V., Stuttgart.

The printing and binding of the photo-books in the exhibition has been supported by Graphistudio, Italy.

Website by Lamb and Lamp