Furtherfield: from virtual to physical
The People's Serpentine Gallery of North London
Furtherfield, a pioneering digital arts organisation describing themselves as ‘for art, technology and social change’, have set up a gallery space in an unlikely location- the middle of Finsbury Park, in North London.
The McKenzie Pavilion, renovated for use as a gallery space in 2007 but long out of use , has been made over into a compact, but well laid-out gallery showcasing work that engages with ‘local and global, everyday and epic themes in a process of imaginative exchange and collaboration.’
Furtherfield, founded by artists Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett in 1997 opened HTTP, London’s first dedicated gallery for networked and new media art in 2004.
Online networks, offlines spaces
Their lively website is a ‘living, breathing network’ packed with articles, interviews, links and audio-visual pieces plus a ‘community’ section which, with contributions from over 26,000 people, operates as a platform for artists, amateurs and technologists to exchange ideas and co-create. This element of community, of creating and interacting with a public through harnessing the power of networked media, has clearly carried over in to their first show, Being Social.
The show explores how digital technology, particularly social and mobile networks, are transforming our personal and political lives.
The opening drew a large crowd of people, not just art lovers but also, many members of the park-going public. The work in the show reflected on the changing notion of what it means to be social in a networked world; 'Angry Women' by Annie Abrahams, 2011, for example invited women of different nationalities to express anger over their webcams, with the individual videos forming a wall of vented frustration. Their private expressions of anger are projected both into the public space of the internet and into the public space of the gallery
Another work, by Thomson and Craighead, responded directly to the Finsbury Park site as both a virtual and physical location, by collecting local residents’ tweets and pasting them up on the gallery walls. The texts create a collective stream-of-consciousness snapshot of the everyday musings of local, yet anonymous residents, transferred out of the virtual realm and into physical space.
The question of who constitutes a gallery’s public is especially relevant to Furtherfield, as its location means that curious passersby without specialist art knowledge are going to be a large part of their public. Does this change the sort of work that gets shown? And why should digital art be seen in a gallery context since many of the works in the show could be exhibited in online formats?
Ruth Catlow explains:
“Our gallery exhibitions are selected for their ability to connect with many different kinds of people on many levels. We want to create an art experience that people can get involved with. Social media changes the way we relate to each other, it also has many other hidden political effects. However the artworks address fundamental human concerns about identity, trust, privacy and freedom. These things effect most peoples' lives regardless of their previous experience of art or technology.
And a physical gallery space offers a public place for people to come together to share the ideas presented and exercise their imaginations. Gallery visitors – art lovers, dog walkers, mothers with children - can find themselves together by chance, having unexpected conversations or getting involved with unusual activities. “