Up close and personal with Furtherfield

If there was any doubt about intimacy in the telematic embrace, you just need to experience it for yourself. As Annie Abrahams pointed out – who led us in a telematic happening last Friday – it’s not really a theoretical question, it’s experiential. The simplicity of her thesis is staggering. You can question, analyze, and research this problem until the cows come home, but put twenty people in front of a webcam via video-conference, and well, the proof is in the pudding. All that was required to complete the moment was to be there, even though “being there” in the virtual space poses yet another theoretical can of worms.

Our collective portrait was part of the Global Concept Exchange, an extraordinary discussion with the mercurial Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett, founders of the London-based Furtherfield, who for the past fifteen years have challenging the far-reaching possibilities of what it means to be an alternative arts organization in the age of the Net. As part of our ongoing series of Open Source Studio gatherings, the event brought together a group of new media artists who are actively part of the Furtherfield family of net practitioners. Or, as Annie remarked, rather than a family, this is a band that rocks: Helen Varley Jamieson, Andy Deck, Nathaniel Stern, Annie Abrahams. Each in turn spoke about their work with Furtherfield, how they have been supported by the opportunity to exhibit and perform in Furtherfield’s London gallery, write about their work on the Furtherfield site, and participate in a form of collective agency: Furtherfield as a platform and catalyst for socially engaged cultural production and experimentation.

It seems to me that Furtherfield is the embodiment of the original intent of the alternative arts, which sprang up in the 1960s and 1970s as bottom-up, artist-driven enterprises to support the kinds of artists and projects that museums wouldn’t have dared touch. In the 21st century challenge of arts funding, when so many small arts organizations have been swallowed up by the institutions they sought to subvert, Furtherfield continues to press forward to connect artists and audiences in participatory acts of art, technology, and social change. And inasmuch as theory plays a significant role in contemporary artistic commentary on cultural conditions in an increasingly technological world, there is nothing like pressing your eye or your nose or mouth against a Webcam to give proof that our networked society is (at least potentially) connected and engaged.