How the public park can help you handle your complex life, by Furtherfield and Metal Culture
The public park sits at the heart of our communities - more important than we realise.
In a life overly defined by production and consumption, where do we go that costs us nothing; that hints at the entanglement with nature we deeply crave; where we can encounter people at leisure, relaxed in their bodies and relations; where we and individuals can simply sit, walk and possess ourselves? And all this provided by a community agreeing that its taxes should go to subsidise and protect these spaces?
There is of course an argument for defending the classic public park against all and any contemporary developments. Our post earlier this month on riverhunting in suburbia takes the power of greenery amidst suburbia to a delightful, even mystical extreme.
Yet could we go to an equally intense but different extreme - where the nourishing resources of the public park become a platform for new thoughts, new practices, new tools for living? An ideal, contemplative space to test how we might become masters of our ideas-laden, complex, technologised lives, rather than subject to them?
This is what two projects we're highlighting - Furtherfield and Metal Culture here are trying to do. Here's how Furtherfield define themselves:
Furtherfield’s Gallery and Lab are located in the middle of London’s Finsbury Park. Adventurous digital arts experiences radiate from these venues, transforming the urban park into a platform where people can explore how they want live in our globally connected world.
Furtherfield connects people to new ideas, critical thinking and imaginative possibilities for art, technology and the world around us. Through artworks, labs and debate people from all walks of life explore today’s important questions.
History: In 1996 artists Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett initiated an online platform for collaboration and experimentation, informed by community arts, pirate radio, activism and street art. Inspired by free and open software development they challenged notions of the individual genius artist. A grassroots network and programme emerged which continues to thrive and to engage diverse people with arts, technology and social change.
“There is no other gallery like Furtherfield. Situated in the middle of Finsbury Park they attract people from all walks of life and focus on contemporary technology and how it affects the lives of people and the world we live in.” Liliane Lijn, artist
In their editorial this week, "Platforming Finsbury Park", the founders of Furtherfield link to many of their projects - Poetry for Animals, Machines and Aliens: the Art of Eduardo Kac, Let’s Fill the Park With Rabbits! (by using GPS), Playbour – Work, Pleasure, Survival. It also including this amazing community tech initiative:
Here you can read an interview with designer Ling Tan about the SUPERPOWER wearable technology workshops at Furtherfield Commons last summer in Finsbury Park. Ling tells us about how a group of young women from All Change Arts worked with her to devise activities and to learn about creating and interpreting data to themselves shape attitudes and behaviours. Dani Admis, curator of Playbour, continues this work later in the summer, exploring with local young women how they might effect change on their own terms, using the conceptual power tools of neuroscience.
Another project mentioned in the editorial is Metal Culture's Netpark, based in Southend. Here's their blurb:
Ten engaging and playful artworks and stories take you different journies around the park that are in turn, surprising, funny, informative and thought-provoking.
Designed for a variety of audiences, the range of works ensures that there is something to enchant all ages and allows for a shared experience or individual contemplation.
All the works are GPS located and experienced through a smart device, either iPad, iPhone or Android. All are best experienced with a set of headphones.
The inaugural collection has five artworks created by artists and five site-specific stories created by Southend school pupils working with writers and illustrators.
“In all the years I have lived in the area – including the years I lived practically opposite the park – I’ve never just sat there in such a mindful way as that.”
There's a real and urgent politics of the public park, and there always has been - and these are only offered as examples that can enhance and defend their status, and not instrumentalise them to some other end than supporting the flourishing of communities.