For over 17 years, Furtherfield has been working in practices that bridge arts, technology, and social change. Over these years, we have been involved in many great projects and collaborated with and supported various talented people. Our artistic endeavours include net art, media art, hacking, art activism, hacktivism and co-curating. We have always believed it is essential that the individuals at the heart of Furtherfield practice in arts and technology and are engaged in critical enquiry. For us, art is not just about running a gallery or critiquing art for art’s sake. The meaning of art is in perpetual flux, and we examine its changing relationship with the human condition. Furtherfield’s role and direction as an arts collective is shaped by the affinities we identify among diverse independent thinkers, individuals and groups who have questions to ask in their work about the culture.
Here I present a selection of Furtherfield projects and exhibitions featured in the public gallery space we have run in Finsbury Park in North London for the last two years. I set out some landmarks on the journey we have experienced with others and end my presentation with news of another recently opened space (also in the park) called the Furtherfield Commons.
Running themes in this presentation include how Furtherfield has lived through and actively challenged the disruptions of neoliberalism. The original title for this presentation was ‘Artistic Survival in the 21st Century in the Age of Neoliberalism’. The intention was to stress the importance of active and open discussion about the contemporary context with others. The spectre of neoliberalism has paralleled Furtherfield’s existence, affecting the social conditions, ideas and intentions that shape the context of our work: collaborators, community and audience. Its effects act directly upon ourselves as individuals and around us: economically, culturally, politically, locally, nationally and globally. Neoliberalism’s panoptic encroachment on everyday life has informed Furtherfield’s motives and strategies.
In contrast with most galleries and institutions that engage with art, we have stayed alert to its influence as part of a shared dialogue. The patriarch, neoliberalism, de-regulated market systems, corporate corruption and bad government; each implement the circumstances where we, everyday people, are only useful as material to be colonized. This makes us all indigenous peoples struggle under the might of the wealthy few. Hacking around and through this impasse is essential if we maintain human integrity and control over our social contexts and ultimately survive as a species.
“The insights of American anarchist ecologist Murray Bookchin into environmental crisis hinge on a social conception of ecology that problematises the role of domination in culture. His ideas become increasingly relevant to those working with digital technologies in the post-industrial information age, as big business develops new tools and techniques to exploit our sociality across high-speed networks (digital and physical). According to Bookchin, our fragile ecological state is bound up with a social pathology. Hierarchical systems and class relationships so thoroughly permeate contemporary human society that the idea of dominating the environment (to extract natural resources or to minimise disruption to our daily schedules of work and leisure) seems perfectly natural despite the catastrophic consequences for future life on earth (Bookchin 1991). Strategies for economic, technical and social innovation that focus on establishing ever more efficient and productive systems of control and growth, deployed by fewer, more centralised agents, have been shown to be both unjust and environmentally unsustainable (Jackson 2009). Humanity needs new social and material renewal strategies to develop more diverse and lively ecologies of ideas, occupations and values.”  (Catlow 2012)
It is no longer critical, innovative, experimental, avant-garde, visionary, evolutionary, or imaginative to ignore these large issues of the day. Suppose we, as an arts organization, shy away from what other people are experiencing in their daily lives and do not examine, represent and respect their stories. In that case, we rightly should be considered part of an irrelevant elite and seen as saying nothing to most people. Thankfully, many artists and thinkers take on these human themes in their work in various ways, on the Internet and in physical spaces. So much so, this has introduced a dilemma for the mainstream art world regarding its relevance and whether it is contemporary.
Furtherfield has experienced, in recent years, a large-scale shift of direction in art across the board. And this shift has been ignored (until recently) by mainstream art culture within its official frameworks. However, we need not only to thank the artists, critical thinkers, hackers and independent groups like ours for making these cultural changes, although all have played a big role. It is also due to an audience hungry for art that reflects and incorporates their social contexts, questions, dialogues, thoughts and experiences. This presentation provides evidence of this change in art culture, and its insights flow from the fact that we have been part of its materialization. This is grounded knowledge based on real experience. Whether it is a singular movement or multifarious is not necessarily important. But, what is important is that these artistic and cultural shifts are bigger than mainstream art culture’s controlling power systems. This is only the beginning, and it will not go away. It is an extraordinary swing of consciousness in art practice forging other ways of seeing, being, thinking, making and becoming.
Furtherfield is proud to have stuck with this experimental and visionary culture of diversity and multiplicity. We have learned much by tuning into this wild, independent and continuously transformative world. On top of this, new tendencies are coming to the fore, such as re-evaluations and ideas examining a critical subjectivity that echo what Donna Haraway proposed as ‘Situated Knowledge’ and what the Vienna-based art’s collective Monochrom call ‘Context Hacking’. Like the DADA and the Situationist artists did in their time, many artists today are re-examining current states of agency beyond the usually well-promoted, proprietorial art brands, controlling hegemonies and dominating mainstream art systems.
Most Art Says Nothing To Most People.
“The more our physical and online experiences and spaces are occupied by the state and corporations rather than people’s own rooted needs, the more we become tied up in situations that reflect officially prescribed contexts, and not our own.” 
To start things off, I want to refer to a past work that Heath Bunting (co-founder of irational.org) and I were involved with in 1991. The above image is a large paste-up displayed on billboards around Bristol in the UK. At the time, as well as being part of other street art projects, pirate radio and BBS boards, Heath and I and others were members of the art activist collective Advertising Art. The street art we made critiqued presumed ownership of art culture by the dominating elites. The words “Most Art Says Nothing To Most People” have remained an inner mantra ever since.
Furtherfield is inspired by ideas that reach for a grassroots form of enlightenment and nurture progressive ideas and practices of social and cultural emancipation. The Oxford English Dictionary describes Emancipation as “the fact or process of being set free from legal, social, or political restrictions; liberation: the social and political emancipation of women and the freeing of someone from slavery.”
“Kant thought that Enlightenment only becomes possible when we are able to reason and to communicate outside of the confines of private institutions, including the state.”  (Hind 2010)
Well, a start would be getting organised and building something valuable with others.
As usual, it is up to those people who know that something is not working and those feeling the brunt of the issues affecting them who end up trying to change the conditions. It is unlikely that this pattern of behaviour will change.
To expect or even wish those who rule and those serving them to change, challenge their behaviours and seriously critique their actions is as likely as winning the National Lottery, perhaps even less.
Art critic Julian Stallabrass proposes that there needs to be an analysis of the operation of the art world and its relation to neoliberalism. 
In the above publication, Gregory Sholette argues “that imagination and creativity in the art world thrives in the non-commercial sector, shut off from prestigious galleries and champagne receptions. This broader creative culture feeds the mainstream with new forms and styles that can be commodified and utilized to sustain the few elite artists admitted into the elite. […] Art is big business: a few artists command huge sums of money, and the vast majority are ignored, yet these marginalized artists remain essential to the mainstream cultural economy serving as its missing creative mass. At the same time, a rising sense of oppositional agency is developing within these invisible folds of cultural productivity. Selectively surveying structures of visibility and invisibility, resentment and resistance […] when the excluded are made visible when they demand visibility, it is always ultimately a matter of politics and rethinking history.”  (Sholette 2013)
Drawing upon Sholette’s inspirational, unambiguous and comprehensive critique of mainstream art culture in the US. I want to consider examples closer to home blocking artistic and social emancipation avenues that also need an urgent critique. And this blockage resides within media art culture (or whatever we call it now) itself. Recently, I read a paper about ‘Post-Media’ – said to “unleash new forms of collective expression and experience” - which featured in its text-only established names. Furtherfield is native to ‘Post-Media’ processes, a concept that theorists in media art culture are just beginning to grasp. This is because they tend to rely on particular theoretical canons and the defaults of institutional hierarchies to validate their concepts. Also, most of the work they include in their research is shown in established institutions and conferences. They assume that because a particular artwork or practice is accepted within the curatorial remits of a conference theme, the art shown represents what is happening, thus more valid than other works and groups not included. This is a big mistake. It only reinforces the conditions of a systemic, institutionalised, privileged elite and enforces a hierarchy that will reinforce the same myopic syndromes of mainstream art culture. The extra irony here is that many supposedly insightful art historians and theorists advocate a decentralised, networked culture in their writings or as a relational context. However, many do not support or create alternative structures with others. The real problem is how they acquire their knowledge. Presently the insular and hermetically sealed dialectical restraints and continual reliance on central hubs as official reference is distancing them from the actual culture they propose to be part of.
“We must allow all human creativity to be as free as free software”  (Steiner, 2008)
Furtherfield comes from a cultural hacking background and has incorporated into its practice ideas of hacking not only with technology but also in everyday life. Furtherfield is one big social hack. Hack Value advocates an art practice and cultural agency where the art includes the mechanics of society as part of its medium and social contexts with deeper resonances and a critical look at the (art) systems in place. It disrupts and discovers fresh ways of looking and thinking about art, life and being. Reclaiming artistic and human contexts beyond the conditions controlled by elites.
Hack Value can be a playful disruption. It is also maintenance for the imagination, a call for a sense of wonder beyond the tedium of living in a consumer, dominated culture. It examines crossovers between different fields and practices concerning their achievements and approaches in hacking rather than as specific genres. Some are political, and some are participatory. This includes works that use digital networks, physical environments, and printed matter. What binds these examples together is not only the adventures they initiate when experimenting with other ways of seeing, being and thinking. They also share common intentions to loosen the restrictions, distractions and interactions dominating the cultural interfaces, facades and structures in our everyday surroundings. This relates to our relationship with food, tourism, museums, galleries, our dealings with technology, belief systems and community ethics.
Donna Haraway proposes a kind of critical subjectivity in the form of Situated Knowledges.
“We seek not the knowledges ruled by phallogocentrism (nostalgia for the presence of the one true world) and disembodied vision. We seek those ruled by partial sight and limited voice – not partiality for its own sake but, rather, for the sake of the connections and the unexpected openings situated knowledges make possible. Situated knowledges are about communities, not isolated individuals.”  (Haraway 1996)
Furtherfield had run [HTTP], London’s first public gallery for networked media art, since 2004 from an industrial warehouse in Haringey. In 2012 the gallery moved to a public location at the McKenzie Pavilion in the heart of Finsbury Park, North London.
However, we are not just a gallery; we are a network connecting beyond a central hub.
“It is our contention that by engaging with these kinds of projects, the artists, viewers and participants involved become less efficient users and consumers of given informational and material domains as they turn their efforts to new playful forms of exchange. These projects make real decentralised, growth-resistant infrastructures in which alternative worlds start to be articulated and produced as participants share and exchange new knowledge and subjective experiences provoked by the work.”  (Garrett & Catlow, 2013)
The park setting informs our approach to curating exhibitions in a place with a strong local identity, a public green space set aside from the urban environment for leisure and enjoyment by a highly multicultural population.
We are simultaneously connected to a network of international critical artists, technologists, thinkers and activists through our online platforms, communities, and wider networked art culture. We get all kinds of visitors from all backgrounds, including those who do not normally visit art spaces. We are not interested in pushing the mythology of high art above other equally significant art practices. Being accessible has nothing to do with dumbing down. It concerns making an effort to examine deeper connections between people and the social themes affecting theirs and our lives. We don’t avoid big issues and controversies and constantly engage in a parallel dialogue between these online communities and those meeting us in the park.
We feature works incorporating local people’s contributions, bringing them closer to the art and engagement of social dialogue. For instance, London Wall, N4 by Thomson and Craighead, reflected a collective stream of consciousness of people all around Finsbury Park, gathering their Tweets to print out and paste onto the gallery walls. By retweeting the images of the tweet posters, we gathered many of the original authors in the gallery to see their words physically located among others made in the vicinity.
Crow_Sourcing by Andy Deck invited people to tweet animal expressions from around the world – illuminating the link between the formation of human language and our relationships with other wild webs of animal life. Gallery visitors illustrated their animal idioms, drawing directly onto the gallery walls, inspired by the ducks, crows, squirrels and dogs that inhabit the park.
We feature works dealing with networked and pervasive technologies’ human and social effects. Web 2.0 Suicide Machine by moddr_ proposed an improvement to our ‘real’ lives by providing a one-click service to remove yourself, your data, and your profile information forever from Facebook, Twitter and MySpace, replacing your icon (again, forever) with a logo depicting a noose. They also reflect on new forms of exposure and vulnerabilities they give rise to, such as Kay’s Blog, by Liz Sterry, which replicated in physical space the unkempt bedroom of an 18-year-old Canadian girl based only on her blog posts, to eerie effect. The intention is to reach people in a way that has people question their relationship with those technologies. This does not mean promoting technology as a solution to art culture but exploiting it to connect with others and critique technologies simultaneously.
Below: Selection of images from original slide presentation – exhibitions & events.
On the 23rd of November, we opened our second space in the park, ‘The Furtherfield Commons’. It kicked off with The Dynamic Site: Finsbury Park Futures, an exhibition by students from the Writtle School of Design (WSD) featuring ideas and visions for future life in Finsbury Park, coinciding with the launch.
This new lab space for experimental arts, technology and community explores ways to establish commons in the 21st Century. It draws upon influences from the 1700s when everyday people in England, such as Gerrard Winstanley and collaborators, forged a movement known as the Diggers, the True Levellers, to reclaim and claim common land from the gentry for grassroots, peer community interests. Through various workshops, residencies, events & talks, we will explore what this might mean to people locally and in connection with our international networks. These include free software works, critical approaches to gardening, gaming and other hands-on practices where people can claim direct influence in their everyday environments in the physical world, to initiate new skills and social change on their terms. From what we have learned from our years working with digital networks, we intend to apply tactical skills and practices into everyday life.
Furtherfield is a network across different time zones, platforms & places – online & physical, existing as various decentralised entities. A culture where people interact: to create, discuss, critique, review, share information, collaborate, build new artworks & alternative environments (technological, ecological, social or both), examine & try out value systems. “A rhizome has no beginning or end; it is always in the middle, between things, interbeing, intermezzo.” (Brian Massumi 1987)
DADA, Situationism, punk, Occupy, hacktivism, networks, Peer 2 Peer Culture, feminism, D.I.Y, DIWO, Free Software Movement, independent music labels, independent thinkers, people we work with, artists, activism, grassroots culture, community…
This comprises technological and physical forms of hacking. It also includes aspects and actions of agency-generation, skill, craft, disruption, self-education, social change, activism, aesthetics, re-contextualizing, claiming or reclaiming territories, independence, emancipation, relearning, rediscovering, play, joy, being imaginative, criticalness, challenging borders, breaking into and opening up closed systems, changing a context or situation, highlighting an issue, finding ways around problems, changing defaults, and restructuring things – Claiming social contexts & artistic legacies with others!
This text is a re-edited slide presentation first shown at the ICA, London, UK, on 16th November 2013 (Duration 25 min). Intermediality: Exploring Relationships in Art. Speakers Katrina Sluis, Peter Ride, Sean Cubitt & Marc Garrett.
Transdisciplinary Community (TDC) Leicester UK 27th Nov 2013 (45 min). Institute of Creative Technologies. De Montfort University.
Two projects Gregory Sholette is currently involved in:
It’s the Political Economy, Stupid. Curated by Oliver Ressler & Gregory Sholette
Matt Greco & Greg Sholette | Saadiyat Island Workers Quarters Collectable, 2013
All exhibitions, events & projects at Furtherfield – http://www.furtherfield.org/programmes/exhibitions