Monsters and Ghosts of the Far North: Towards an Inclusive Cartography

Andra Pop-Jurj and Lena Geerts Danau

The points of departure for this project are some of the spatial manifestations of the social, economic, and geopolitical conflicts in the Arctic region caused by environmental degradation.

 

The Arctic is a site of intense geopolitical and infrastructural intrigue, with incompatible and interlocking border claims rooted in colonial and cartographic history. Monsters and Ghosts of the Far North questions current notions of sovereignty and challenges the permanence of national borders and the primacy of the nation-state, thereby reconceptualizing the contested geopolitics of land ownership in the region. 

The scientific and cartographic artifacts encountered throughout our research have proven flattening and exclusive in essence and they often fail to capture the dynamic nature of the Arctic. The project thus searches for an alternative mode of engagement with the spatial manifestation of these fluctuations. We propose using a game engine to inquire into modes of multispecies cohabitation and negotiation of space following the development of extractive industries in the area. In doing so, the project employs transtemporal and interscalar worldmaking techniques. It uses both data and narrative to visualize global aspects along with the histories of several agents living in this environment. 

Throughout this practice, we place multispecies entanglements at the core of our research, and hope to challenge and refine the predominant narratives of the worlds we live in. Our understanding of what makes us human is rooted in the symbiotic relationships between and within species. The prototype proposal is an interactive experience in which one encounters a shift of perspective by impersonating nonhuman agents: an Ice island, a methanobacteria, an Arctic tern, an Arctic cod, a reindeer, a crater, and a machine. We are interested in these monsters who live in landscapes haunted by the violence of modernity, which we refer to as ghosts. 

The entangled narratives of these characters form a framework to think with as part of Monsters and Ghosts of the Far North. Ultimately, the game’s purpose is to be driven by these environmental changes as they happen in real life. The Arctic environment is the narrator of events and the player is rarely in charge inside the game space. The game environment is thus an alternative cartography that serves as a testing ground for existing and emerging forms of multispecies cohabitation in a time of geological and geopolitical transformations.

Character – Methanobacteria
Large amounts of soil carbon sequestered in permafrost are becoming available for microbial degradation as permafrost thaws. Its fate is unclear; will it remain stably stored in the soil, or will it be metabolized into methane, capturing up to 80 times more heat than CO2 in our atmosphere?

Character – Reindeer
Fossil fuels that have taken millions of years to make are being extracted in the course of a decade. The disruptions of these infrastructures trigger the reindeer migration patterns.

Existing and emerging forms of multispecies cohabitation
The time frame of the narrative allows for future speculation and worldbuilding, but also grounds each character’s story in reality via a collection of data. Combined, these characters show the existing and emerging forms of multispecies cohabitation.

Map – Arctic tern migration patterns – Natural resources
Map showing how extractive processes can harm other than human agents living in this environment – data categorized into migration and breeding areas of the Arctic tern as well as oil reserves, and oil infrastructure.

Character – Arctic cod
The overexploitation of the Arctic cod in the marine regions forced international organizations to map out and divide the dynamic landscape by political borders to limit the harm done to the ecosystem.

Character – Methanobacteria
Large amounts of soil carbon sequestered in permafrost are becoming available for microbial degradation as permafrost thaws. Its fate is unclear; will it remain stably stored in the soil, or will it be metabolized into methane, capturing up to 80 times more heat than CO2 in our atmosphere?

Character – Reindeer
Fossil fuels that have taken millions of years to make are being extracted in the course of a decade. The disruptions of these infrastructures trigger the reindeer migration patterns.

Existing and emerging forms of multispecies cohabitation
The time frame of the narrative allows for future speculation and worldbuilding, but also grounds each character’s story in reality via a collection of data. Combined, these characters show the existing and emerging forms of multispecies cohabitation.

Map – Arctic tern migration patterns – Natural resources
Map showing how extractive processes can harm other than human agents living in this environment – data categorized into migration and breeding areas of the Arctic tern as well as oil reserves, and oil infrastructure.

Character – Arctic cod
The overexploitation of the Arctic cod in the marine regions forced international organizations to map out and divide the dynamic landscape by political borders to limit the harm done to the ecosystem.

Andra Pop-Jurj and Lena Geerts Danau are graduating with a Master of Architecture from the Royal College of Art (RCA), London.

Pop-Jurj’s interest lies at the intersection of architecture, spatial politics and environmental degradation. Born in Romania, she studied at the Technical University of Munich and the National University of Singapore prior to her experience at the RCA. Having gained work experience at several architecture studios in Germany and at Sergison Bates architects in London, Pop-Jurj currently works as a freelance architectural designer while expanding her practice as a researcher. Her international and multidisciplinary background, coupled with her experience as part of ADS4: Plots, Props & Paranoia: How Architecture Stages Conspiracy, have stimulated her interest in the expanding definitions of architecture and her research into speculative design and the role of architecture in social, environmental and geopolitical conflicts, identity and nation-building.

Geerts Danau completed her BA Architecture degree at the University of Antwerp in 2018 and went on to Norway where she studied for one semester at the Bergen School of Architecture. In 2019 she came back to Antwerp and worked at the architectural practice B-architecten. At the RCA, Geerts Danau studied in ADS7: Politics of the Atmosphere, where she focused on the geopolitical influence of data distribution. Geerts Danau is particularly interested in geopolitical and geographical influences — concerning the climate — that create new territorial situations.

Pop-Jurj and Geerts Danau are currently pursuing their mutual yet complementary interests with a focus on digital technologies and environments as part of  the architectural design studio 8 (ADS8: Data Matter — The gaming edition). Their current research draws on the spatial manifestation of social, environmental and geopolitical conflicts in the dynamic landscapes of the Arctic region. Through their work, the duo aims to define a critical spatial practice with an environmentally constructive agency that operates across scales and media.

 

Project Credits

Game Development and Prototype Engineering
Dr Thomas Deacon

Soundscape 
Chingis Enkhbaatar

Acknowledgments
Dr Dubravka Sekulic and ADS8 tutors