120 Days: The Carnivalesque Island of Crabs
by Emma LAU Si Ying
Christmas Island’s prominence as colonial and mineral extraction territories, and more recently, as Australia’s appointed detention island, has severely side-lined its natal identities. Yet, the island is known above all for its annual Christmas Island red crab migration. By weaving the iconic spectacle of the red crab around native practices and myths, the thesis creates a temporal architecture of festival that celebrates the island’s cultural, civic and historical identities.
It engages a coast straddling two sites – the sea goddess’ temple and the earth god’s cemetery, reflecting contradictory but complementing perspectives about the island’s ecological future. The architecture comprises two coastal systems: a floating mobile worship procession, and a sea wall columbarium with soil-stabilising pandanus tree groves. Space is re-examined through the body of the crab. Architecture is designed around its rhythms, movements and physiology. Further, crabs play practical, symbolic and mythical roles in the festivals of veneration.
Through the spaces, rituals and spectacle of these mytho-natural festivals, the abstract matter of climate change is tangibly manifested, with Christmas Island reimagined at the frontiers of culture-climate activism. The evocative architecture examines the mediated relationships between human, animal, environment and place, raising questions on the politics of sustainable human inhabitation. In addition to increasing tourism and national ecological responsibility, the architectural proposition creates new political conversation around the island that may re-position its significance in Australia’s political portfolio.
Tutor's Notes // Emma’s interest in Christmas Island, a place she had not visited, results in 120 days, a thesis which explores architecture’s relationship with remote sites and subjects. The distinctive spectacle of the island’s red crab is leveraged in a temporal and shape-shifting architecture – festival- and time-based – centred around the crabs’ mating and migratory schedules. The challenges of reading a site from afar, coupled with the balancing of fact, fiction and speculation, are intriguingly demonstrated in the weaving of the biological crab narrative with two island-specific mythical rituals. The thesis advances significant ideas about remote research, while obliquely critiquing architecture’s relationship with its non-human others.