National Geographic Island
On undivided, uninhabited, undeveloped Rabbit Island, described as “a 90-acre speck amidst 3, 000, 000, 000, 000, 000 gallons of fresh water, ” a revolving ensemble of artists is contemplating our modern connection to nature in the Great Lakes country of Michigan. Photographer and climber Ben Moon recently brought his own artist’s eye to the island to create this short film. “My intent was simply to start a conversation with the film—about preserving our backyards to create change and keep pristine spaces to share and inspire others, ” notes Moon, whose own story was told in the beloved recent film There are no mountains to climb or feats to achieve, there is only time to think about the society you can barely glimpse on the horizon, regardless of what Lake Superior has in store that day, ” says Rob Gorski, Rabbit Island’s creative genius and owner. Below Moon and Gorski share how and why Rabbit Island came to be—and it has nothing to do with rabbits.
Ben, we see you in a few frames of the film, surfing and taking a Polaroid. What brought you to tell this story of landscape and art and living wild?
Ben Moon: I first heard about Rabbit Island through my talented artist friend Emilie Lee, and she is who connected me with Rob Gorski. During my first conversation with Rob, I was immediately intrigued by both his description of the place and his philosophies on preserving its wild nature for future generations, while also inspiring the artists who spend time on the island. I traveled to Rabbit Island that summer with a simple intent to document the place, either through photographs or a short film… and this five-minute short was the result of my six-day residency on the island.
Having grown up in the Great Lakes, spending time in the midst of Lake Superior was an incredibly nostalgic and fulfilling experience. I also had the unique opportunity to pioneer an unsurfed point break on the island with Rob, and slipping into those saltless freshwater waves was a surreal experience that I won’t soon forget. After our surf, he named the point Moon Break.
Are there in fact a lot of rabbits on Rabbit Island? Where does the name come from?
Rob Gorski: Nope, no rabbits. At least since the bald eagle family moved back to the island in the 90s, after the Silent Spring era passed. Rabbit Island’s name is a reference to the closest mainland community, Rabbit Bay. The handful of year-round residents historically looked out over the horizon to the east and saw… Rabbit Island.
How do the artists living on the island get food and supplies? Is it a “supported” experience or “unsupported”?
RG: Artists are given a stipend of approximately $1, 500 to cover the expenses of their stay, but are responsible for outfitting themselves on the mainland prior to departure. Basic open shelter, a small sauna, cooking supplies, and a library compose the infrastructure of the island. This means different things for different artists. Some arrive with experience in the wilderness and are comfortable fishing and foraging, and wing it a bit with general camp staples. Other artists meticulously plan each individual meal prior to leaving. Some utilize various modern technologies to make work. Occasionally artists will pick a calm day and take a small dingy back to the mainland to resupply. All clothing and materials are up to the artists to provide for themselves. Artists are asked to leave the island as they found it upon completion of their residencies.