NO-POLE imagines the Arctic as an algorithmic wilderness, experienced through a tourist expedition in a Chinese warehouse.

The project emerges as an unintended consequence of the ongoing territorial dispute in the Arctic, where data has become the currency of sovereignty. The scramble to claim the 1.1 million square mile area surrounding the North Pole, currently international waters, is fueled by the promises of global warming: access to troves of untapped resources below the seabed and control over new shipping routes through the thawing sea ice.

The Arctic remains one of the least accessible and least studied regions in the world, a continuously shifting landscape of water and ice. For this reason, we are increasingly outsourcing our understanding of the territory to algorithms. Piles of data and meta-data are autonomously harvested from the landscape and plugged into scientific models, which attempt to reconstruct the original territory. These models are inevitably an abstraction of the original: shaped by what is considered typical or atypical, important or peripheral. It is therefore dangerous to simply assume that more data equals more reality.

In spite of this, we rely on algorithms to navigate the Arctic and govern geopolitics; to map sovereign borders, chart untapped resources, monitor wildlife, and predict next year’s ice extent. In this process of outsourcing the unseen, territorial algorithms are granted a position of agency. Might alternate models of reality emerge: non-Western and post-human?

NO-POLE is part of the Mellon-funded Sawyer Seminar Series - Imaginative Mobilities, hosted by faculty at Parsons and the New Schol for Social Research (NSSR)