The Art of the Possible – Ruth Catlow

Founded by artists Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett, Furtherfield is a community arts initiative creating online and physical spaces for different kinds of people to get involved with contemporary arts and digital technologies. Here, Ruth Catlow explains to CSL how we can tap into new technologies to establish creative links between older people and the wider community to improve wellbeing.

Furtherfield specialises in cultivating new forms of collaboration in arts and technology – for people of all ages and backgrounds. Our programme focuses on finding ways for people to reflect and respond to the life we live today and we do this through new art forms that arise from digital culture. Central to this programme is an international network of artists that specialise in emerging technologies – they use these infrastructures as their materials, to create artistic interventions that open up alternative possibilities for people from all walks of life.

As new digital processes change the way we live it is essential for society and culture to evolve critical, aesthetic and ethical responses in parallel. Furtherfield’s response is to find ways to intertwine cultural innovation with these rapid technological developments – to demonstrate that an artist-led and critical approach to technology can enhance place-based cultural contexts and improve wellbeing to activate new economies.


Furtherfield is based in the middle of London’s Finsbury Park which provides a unique urban public setting for people of all ages to interact, explore and create. Artworks that start their life in Finsbury Park often go on to exist in many new settings which range from shopping malls to homeless centres or high streets. Through exhibitions, artist-led workshops or ‘labs’ we use new formats to find ways for people to create themselves and to feel more empowered in an increasingly digitised world. Our two venues located in the middle of Finsbury Park provide opportunities for diverse people to explore expanded possibilities for arts and technology – via exhibitions at Furtherfield Gallery and events and workshops at the Furtherfield Commons lab space.

Recent projects include establishing a new platform to support real-time remote rehearsal and recording for disabled musicians. Above shows an R&D jam session at Furtherfield Commons for disabled musicians and their support workers.


A focus on research-led partnerships with artists, technologists, scientists, and medical professionals informs new artworks and interventions to address health and wellbeing in a variety of contexts.

‘Are We All Addicts Now?’ is an artist-led enquiry into how the conditions of the digital are not just shaped by us but also shaping us. McLuhan’s maxim is that every new technology creates a new human environment. Emergent pathologies such as internet addiction and digital dementia are symptomatic of this new human environment. ‘Are we all addicts now?’ is led by artist Katriona Beales, in partnership with curator Fiona MacDonald, and in collaboration with Dr Henrietta Bowden-Jones, Vanessa Bartlett and Dr Mark Wright. The project builds on Katriona Beales’ video installation, ‘White Matter’ (2015), which responded to internet addiction, and was commissioned by FACT (Foundation for Art and Creative Technology).

‘Are we all addicts now?’ is intended as a provocation, seeking to initiate interdisciplinary conversations about the cultural and biomedical implications of our digital environments. During the research and development phase a series of workshops hosted by PEER will gather artists, biomedical scientists, academics, tech entrepreneurs and interested members of the public. These workshops will act as a testing site for the interrogation of the relationships humans have with conditions of the digital, and the cultural and biomedical implications. The workshops will provide a discursive context for the production of new work by Katriona Beales, which will be exhibited Sept-Nov 2017 at Furtherfield and accompanied by a publication and symposium.


This touring programme took high quality digital art to people and places with the least engagement including shopping centres in Sunderland, Leeds and Lewisham. The exhibition explored the notion that digital lives are being performed in public for each other, as if in a public zoo. The artworks demonstrated how our lives are shaped and our relationship to the natural world is changing through digital technologies. Physical installations and collaborative artworks involved drawing, tweeting and mobile phone treasure hunts.

This artwork invited people to contribute to a bestiary of animal idioms by scanning the animal barcodes to view the ones that had been contributed online and adding their own via the installation shown here.


Focusing on empowering homeless people with new tech and creative skills, this project opened up new possibilities in technology and creativity for homeless people. Participants were offered a recycled laptop that was given to them on completion of a course were they learnt valuable new skills, gained confidence and access to networks and online culture through creative workshops utilising Free and Open Source Software. Initiated in partnership with Access Space and St Mungo’s Broadway homelessness charity.


In Chalkwell Park, Southend on Sea – described as the world’s first digital art park, arts organisation – Metal have been working with people living with dementia, to give people living with low level mental health problems access to digital making facilities – creating a lasting legacy. Using the public park as a context, participants are given access to smartphones and digital technology to make recordings, take photos and films to make stories using digital processes increasing confidence and skills. A participant said of the experience that it was ‘like someone had switched something on and given him a purpose’.

Ruth Catlow is Co-founder and Co-director of Furtherfield. Find out more at furtherfield.org or on Twitter at @furtherfield.

All images provided by the author and used with permission.