TheMeta Haven: Sealand Identity Project is to conceive a national visual identity for the Principality of Sealand. Sealand is a mini-state, situated on a former anti-aircraft tower in the North Sea. The fortress was built in World War II to help defend the British Isles against an upcoming German invasion. By 1946, the tower was abandoned by the British armed forces. The structure was squatted in 1967 by an Englishman, Roy Bates. He and his wife proclaimed themselves Prince and Princess of Sealand. Since then, the Principality of Sealand has issued its own passports, currency and stamps. At various stages in the project, results and draft proposals will be proposed to the Sealand government.
In the community of new country ventures, Sealand is regarded as a highly succesful project. Especially since, in 2000, Sealand became associated with Internet service provider Havenco, offering secure and secret data storage and traffic from its Sealand-based servers, turning the fortress into a so-called ‘data haven’; a safe harbour for information. One can ponder endlessly about the historical notion of an autonomous mini-state, an industrial-age sea fortress and the worldís most secure data servers united in one physical location. However stable the fortress might be in its appearance, its actual use as a ëdata havení transforms Sealand simultaneously into a network phenomenon. In this combination lies Sealandís cultural relevance. In my opinion, a data haven potentially entails a true Ark of Noah of network society. The data haven is linked to contemporary manifestations of the archive and its extensions into the world of surveillance and control; it is linked to phenomena like secrecy and cryptography and to the idea of preservation, regarding the data haven as an immense info survival-box in mid-sea.
Graphic design & network society
By designing its national visual identity and proposing it to the Principality of Sealand, I am hoping to tackle a number of subjects which are relevant to the field of graphic design. Sealand has issued passports, money and stamps, has its own flag and a national heraldic sign. Although I am certainly not aiming for an ‘upstyling’ of this existing context, destroying its Beaux Arts-appearance for the sake of modernity, I do believe that it would be interesting if Sealand would possess a challenging and experimental national identity. Such a programme would allow for graphic design’s much needed coming to terms with network society in its fullest sense. Whereas traditional governments are slaves of their physical address (‘The White House’; ’10 Downing Street’), Sealand is no longer dependent of such linear space-place relations and can explore this new freedom in full. The nature of Sealand and the data haven allows for an unprecedented embrace of the ambiguity and complexity of network society by graphic design – with an end goal that surpasses incrowd communications because it self-consciously seeks a relation to the field of corporate identity. In The men who would be kings, an article about the visual identities of emerging internet states, Canadian writer Frédéric Lasserre has pointed out that
‘instead of expressing the desire for a new kind of political community, the web sites of these online nations convey very classical territorial images rather than developing this new concept of virtual state’.
He is right, and although the installation of the Principality of Sealand preceded the emergence of a public Internet by decades, also for Sealand it is true that the images chosen for its visual representation recall a feel of history – even if there is no such history. Sealandís heraldic sign and flag express a set of conventions about the representation of nations without taking into account that the concept of Sealand and the surrounding communications environment has rendered part of these conventions themselves past tense. At least, Sealand’s identity should come from new starting points to deal with the visualization of ‘history’. Sealand’s coins and stamps are heartwarming declarations of self-faith rather than real props in international and political exchange; they are the first and – in part – naïve ‘proof’ that there really is a nation out there.
We are tempted to think of Sealand as one of Hakim Bey’s Temporary Autonomous Zones, In any case, the graphic design research for Sealand will have the character of visual, textual and structural detective work put into form. Let’s imagine a designer working like a detective – not basing his work on the a priori truths about the organization that conventionally form the starting point for corporate identity projects. Let’s imagine this detective position coinciding with the ambition to write an epic story about Sealand and the ‘data haven’. Let’s imagine all this with the underlying notion of the Internet as a fictional world, in which Sealand fullfills a unique role, extending that role to its national visual identity. I would like the (corporate) identity to be a digesting machine, embracing an infinite amount of possible Sealand definitions and stories, multiplying and re-ordering them by self-defined principles into an identity of unprecedented richness.
Project relevant web links
Principality of Sealand official web site
Meta Haven web site
Article in Wired magazine, 2000
HavenCo official web site
Article by Frédéric Lasserre: ‘The men who would be kings’
Warning page of suspected frauds in the international community of micronations