The Treaty of Finsbury Park 2025 is an immersive fiction that looks at what it would be like if other species were to rise up and demand equal rights with humans. It forms an ambitious multi-year project by Furtherfield to promote biodiversity by reimagining the role of urban humans in greater collaboration with all the species of the London-based Finsbury Park. It features Live Action Role Play (LARP)* games where participants join Interspecies Assemblies to play as the species of Finsbury Park and plan a major collaborative event for the future: The Interspecies Festival of Finsbury Park. It is designed to explore new ways of building empathy pathways to non-human lifeforms through play. It is a critique of colonialism as expressed through the human domination of all living creatures and systems.
*Live Action Role-Play, or LARP, is a form of game where participants play characters who interact to pursue goals within a fictional setting.
The Treaty project represents a major undertaking to do long-term work exploring how an arts organisation based in the heart of an urban green space can support a deeper understanding of that green space and ALL its inhabitants.
“In The Treaty of Finsbury Park 2025, we are catapulted several years into the future where all the species of the park have risen up to demand equal rights with humans. After much unrest, it has been agreed that a treaty will be drawn up, designating these rights, but first humans must learn to better relate to and understand non-humans so they can cooperate better together. Thankfully there has been a new invention – The Sentience Dial – which allows humans to tune into all the flora and fauna of Finsbury Park.”
– Ruth Catlow, Artistic Director of Furtherfield
The project depicts a new era of equal rights for all living beings, where all species come together to organise and shape the environments and cultures they inhabit, in Finsbury Park (and urban green spaces across the UK, the world, and beyond). Like many urban parks, Finsbury Park is fraught with environmental issues from noxious gases and traffic noises to governance struggles and financial sustainability. If colonial systems of dominance and control over living beings continue, we all face an apocalypse.
Based around a set of interspecies assemblies and LARPs, the Treaty of Finsbury Park 2025 is played from more-than-human perspectives to encourage the blooming of bountiful biodiversity and interspecies political action. Players act and think like a dog, bee, or even grass and help change the way we all see and participate in our local urban green spaces and significantly alter community relations with local biodiversity.
There are 4 parts to the story and the wider project which are as follows:
- Part 1. The Interspecies Assemblies – these are games where everyone gets to plan the Interspecies Festival of Finsbury Park 2023 – an event that will celebrate the drawing up of the treaty itself.*
- Part 2. The Vote – once artists have had a chance to gather everyone’s input they’ll present 3 proposals for the Interspecies Festival and everyone will be invited to choose the one they want to participate in.
- Part 3 – The Interspecies Festival of Finsbury Park – all the species of Finsbury Park will be invited to join the festival in Summer 2023.
- Part 4 – The Treaty is drawn up and signed by park stakeholders in Summer 2025.
*The first part of the story is realised as part of the CreaTures Laboratory and has resulted in long term local, national and international partnerships.
The Interspecies Festival is a gathering for all species to showcase their cultures, their interests and talents. Like a World’s Fair or an Olympic Games, it is a place of discovery, marvels and broadened horizons. But it can only be planned if we help all the species of the park present their ideas. By planning the Interspecies Festival together, human people from the locality and around the world build empathy pathways to other beings. They learn about what matters to them and their habitats. They explore what it would mean to acknowledge the equal rights of more-than-human beings to the same range of freedoms they expect for themselves. Later, they will draft the Treaty and they will decide how to connect even more deeply with all the species of the park through a festival for all. From September 2022 scannable hoardings wrap the Furtherfield Gallery in Finsbury Park with an exhibition featuring stories about the new knowledge and relationships formed by assembly members for the benefit of biodiversity locally and worldwide.
In the Interspecies Assemblies game (in-park and online), human players are matched with a mentor representing one of 7 species based in Finsbury Park. These include a tree, a bee, a goose, grass, a squirrel, a stag beetle and a dog. Players tune into the mentor’s needs and experiences and then represent them at a series of online assemblies being held to choose the events and the location in the park for the first-ever Interspecies Festival of Finsbury Park. By planning the Festival together, human people from the locality and around the world build empathy pathways to other beings. They learn about what matters to them and their habitats. They explore what it would mean to truly acknowledge the equal rights of more-than-human beings to the same range of freedoms they expect for themselves. Together they think about what it would take to prioritise biodiversity and take actual steps to achieve this.
In each game format (in-park & online) players wear costumes in the form of masks and face filters. For this purpose, meticulously researched mentor species provide the basis for beautifully original artworks placed on backgrounds made of lidar scanned habitats and SnapChat Lens face filters to fully immerse human players in deep nature.
The first Interspecies Assembly took place at the IAM Weekend 2021 Festival – Planet Earth edition and was hosted by Ruth Catlow & Bea Xu – full recording is available here. The Assembly was followed by a conversation among the Treaty co-authors Ruth Catlow & Cade Diehm and the CreaTures researcher Dr. Lara Houston, exploring the ideas and motivations behind the project. A live in-person Assembly in Finsbury Park was organised in January 2022; three online Assemblies followed in May – June 2022. Each online Assembly included a rehearsal session that took place a few days in advance, to help participants attune to their non-human roles.
The Sentience Dial as a Cultural Device
In the fictional world of our characters, there are a number of cultural devices, rituals and props to support emersion and world-building. The Sentience Dial is a new fictional technology that supports communication between all living entities. It is deployed in the context of the Assemblies Games to allow humans to tune into all flora and fauna, to match them with a species mentor, and to then represent them in the game.
In 2019 with a planetary health check revealing over a million species on earth at risk of extinction because of humans, Furtherfield decided to explore new ways of developing systems for mutual care and respect on earth. We want to ask: How do we care? Who or what do we care for first? And who cares for the carers in a world ravaged by political crises and climate emergency?
The UK has lost more biodiversity than any G7 country, and is in the worst 10% globally. Yet it plays a crucial role in tackling climate change and signals the health of any environment. It provides life sustaining services such as clean air and water, and is essential to health and well being, learning and relaxation. It defines our cultural heritage and identity, and provides us with raw materials for food, shelter medicine, fuel and clothing. There is more nature and biodiversity in cities than we often realise and urban nature is now more diverse than cultivated rural areas. So what better place than a city park for humans to discover more about what role we can play in growing our understanding and promoting biodiversity where we are.
The Game invites players to reflect on a range of realities and proposals
- Biodiversity plays a vital role in climate change resilience.
- The greatest biodiversity is found in urban settings, so urban parks now play a vital role in all our futures.
- But what part do all the different species play in a thriving urban park?
- How could our parks be differently managed?
- And how can we better care for everyone?
About the connection between biodiversity and justice
- What would it mean to consider more-than-human rights at two levels: 1) basic (or intrinsic) rights (not to be terrorised or killed), and 2) membership/citizenship rights which grant access to services like food, sanitation, security, education, culture and participation in political decisions.
- What is the role of culture in social justice?
Larping as a format
Since 2016 Furtherfield has developed a specialism in the creation of Live Art Action Research Role Play (LAARRP) games for engaging diverse people in playful experiences that perform deep and rigorous research. Larping was chosen as a creative format as it creates a prefigurative experience for players. By taking part, they literally contribute to the design and staging of an interspecies festival in Finsbury Park. This format uses a conscious bleed between fiction and reality. By playing a game in which they conceive of a festival that celebrates multi-species justice for bountiful biodviersity people contribute to a real-world public event.
“Players are dramatic performers and inventive gamers who inhabit characters and act out events that commemorate, prefigure or even shape histories – real, fantastical or futuristic. Players improvise new forms of potentially deeply strange situated social cooperation. Cos play, sets and props, audio-visual and digital augmentations, food, and unexpected external story elements and rituals are all used to deepen engagement in a new constructed reality. Together players create the atmosphere and the drama of the collective experience. They shape the narrative and the outcomes.”
– Ruth Catlow, Artistic Director of Furtherfield