Workshop / Exploratory Walk
Kirkenes - Pechenga / Norwegian-Russian Border
Planned 2017
Matthew Ashton


Borders of Negotiation


The Map and The Territory

The short story “On Exactitude in Science” by Jorge Luis Borges explores the discrepancy between the representation of territory in the form of a map and the actual territory itself, recounting the story of a fictional empire whose desire to map their lands eventually culminated in the production of a map the size of the empire itself; a one to one representation of the world.1 The colossal map eventually became so cumbersome to future generations that it was destroyed, leaving behind only “tattered ruins” in a distant part of the land. In our current empire (of global consumer capitalism) it could be argued that we in fact live our lives within the map, where representation of the world takes precedence over reality, which is slowly breaking apart around us. As Jean Baudillard states, ”it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map.”2

In the Northern extremities of Europe this conflict between the map and the territory, between representation and reality has long been an ongoing struggle, with the map-makers aggressively delineating this wild landscape with fictional lines of control and conformity, bending the terrain and its people toward distant sites of power to the south; Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, and Moscow. The North has always been viewed in relation to the south, and thus perceived as a periphery, an edge, a frontier, a land to be developed and exploited, divided and made useful, made productive. The region’s rich natural resources have long lured southerners to these high latitudes; first it was the wealth of the sea that attracted Norwegian fishermen, Russian Pomar traders and later Dutch and Basque whalers. Attention soon shifted back to the land as surveyors and geologists began mapping the vast mineral wealth hidden below the arctic tundra, leading to the establishment of Finnish, Norwegian and Russian mining operations which fed the hungry emerging industrial cities of the south. Today attention is once more focused on the sea, or rather the vast hydrocarbon reserves hidden deep below its icy waters, invigorating a fresh interest in the disciplines of geography. 

The implementation and enforcement of these fictional,  yet very real lines of delineation in the form of nation state boundaries has had profound consequences for the original inhabitants of the region, the Skolt Sami. What was previously an open terrain became transformed into the closed space of a map; actual territory transformed into representational space. Previously porous natural boundaries became impenetrable walls, lined with electric fences and guard towers, disrupting centuries old migration routes and displacing thousands from their traditional lands and ways of life. A process compounded by the encroachment of extractive industries into reindeer grazing lands, and the associated toxic runoff which has severely polluted natural water bodies, and decimated fish stocks. While border relations between Norway and Russia are now thawing after the tension of the cold war years, the greatest threat to the Skolt Sami way of life is actually coming from these two countries mutual cooperation in pursuing oil extraction in the Barents sea. Global warming may be a great business opportunity to some in Kirkenes, especially the multinational energy and shipping companies who are set to make billions from a future ice free arctic, but it will be catastrophic to the fragile arctic ecosystem upon which the Skolt Sami depend, not to mention the rest of the planet. 


Walking as an Act of Negotiation

The word ‘negotiate’ is generally defined as the process of trying to reach an agreement or compromise by discussion with others, but it can also refer to the act of finding a way through, around or over a difficult path or obstacle. Walking can be understood as an ‘act of negotiation’ where the body is in constant dialogue with the earth; every step is a negotiation, a compromise with the landscape. Sometimes reaching agreement is easy, and the path is straight and flat, but at other times the territory may make tougher demands - a river, a mountain, a ravine, a road, a wall, a building, a quarry.  Walking is a creative process which can liberate the body from the confines of the map, from the fictional lines we draw around ourselves. 


“Borders of Negotiation” is a project which aims to challenge what it means to be in residence in the north through a nomadic exploration of the actual territories existing simultaneously beside the representational space of the map. Over a period of four days a small band of walkers (architects, artists, mechanics, musicians, fishermen, poets, philosophers, activists, filmmakers, photographers, reindeer herders, miners, etc) will navigate a digressive path across the landscape, beginning at the harbour of Kirkenes in Norway and ending at the estuary of the Pechenga River in Russia, near the Monastery of St. Tryphon. The approximately 100 kilometre walk will cross a complex and diverse landscape where local particularities are intertwined with elaborate global networks of extraction, production, energy, trade and migration. Various borders and boundaries, including the very real line separating Russia from the European Union, will be experienced, challenged and transgressed. After belonging comes a confrontation with the unknown; a rediscovery of the really existing spaces of our world which we have forgotten how to perceive, and this intensified awareness of territory creates the possibility of imagining alternative futures.  



1. Jorge Luis Borges, On exactitude in Science( First published in the March 1946 edition of Los Anales de Buenos Aires, año 1, no. 3 as part of a piece called “Museo” under the name B. Lynch Davis)


2. Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994)