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.
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. Yet, cities are more biodiverse than we often realise, and urban ecosystems engender more species diversity than some 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 live?
The Treaty invites participants to reflect on a range of realities and proposals concerning biodiversity and its role in climate change resilience. Highlighting the often ignored biodiversity found in urban settings, and the vital role that urban parks play in our futures, it raises questions about the role that different species play in a thriving urban park: How could our parks be managed differently? How can we better care for everyone? What is the role of culture in social justice?
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. Larping was chosen as a creative format as it enables prefigurative experiences, utilising a conscious bleed between fiction and reality.
The Treaty project represents a major undertaking in a 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
There are 4 parts to the story and the wider project:
- 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 Assemblies and Voting
In the public game of Interspecies Assemblies, human players are matched with a mentor representing one of seven non-human species found in Finsbury Park – a tree, a bee, a goose, grass, a squirrel, a stag beetle and a dog. The selection of these seven species as representatives of the park’s wider biodiversity was informed by Furtherfield’s extensive research and consultation with local experts including Finsbury Park’s own Park Ranger, Ricard Zanoli.
Following the LARP format, Assembly players perform a ritual to enter their mentor species characters and tune into the mentor’s needs and experiences. Throughout the whole Assembly, players only ever play as representatives of another species, wearing either digital or cardboard masks – no human face (or identity) is ever present in the game. This anonymity serves as an important tool for disinhibition and immersion of players.
In order to achieve this immersion, a narrative device called the Sentience Dial was created to allow human players to tune into the experiences of another species. The Sentience Dial is a new fictional technology that supports communication between all living entities and allows humans to tune into all flora and fauna, to match them with a species mentor, and to then represent them in the game.
At the Assemblies, players learn about the different biodiversity habitats of Finsbury Park – the new forest, the old forest, the wildflower meadows – and represent their species to collaboratively plan the first-ever Interspecies Festival of Finsbury Park. This involves choosing the Festival venue (a specific biodiversity habitat in the Park) as well as the activities that the Festival will feature.
At online Assemblies, the planning happens in Zoom breakout rooms, where players discuss the obstacles they face and how they are overcoming them together. Later, they vote for the festival proposal they would like to see further developed and discuss Festival logistics. The session ends with de-roling, debriefing, and reflection on how biodiversity can be best supported in urban green spaces. Minutes of the Interspecies Assemblies are then circulated with an appendix that documents the discussions and players are invited to continue to participate via a discord channel.
By planning the Interspecies Festival together, humans from the locality and around the world have a chance to 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 – to the level they expect for themselves – the equal rights of more-than-human beings. Together, they think about what it will take to prioritise biodiversity and take actual steps to achieve this.
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 Interspecies Festival and the Treaty drafting
The Interspecies Festival is a gathering for all species showcases 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, players 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, nearer to Summer 2025, project authors and participants will draft the Treaty and decide how to connect even more deeply with all the species of the park through the Festival. A treaty was chosen as a universal format for establishing agreements between conflicted societies, and for the formation of new configurations of human social relations. It resonates with historic agreements that go back millennia worldwide, while also speaking to the negotiations and signing of more recent climate change agreements. Centering the game on plans to sign a treaty also led to the creation of a scenario in which different species would need to extravagantly exhibit and share their different cultures as a route to multispecies understanding and justice.
Treaty online portal and Interspecies Meditation
To support the recruitment of players and circulate the project widely, Furtherfield created a call-to-action video providing the Treaty’s context:
The recruitment is further facilitated via a project website with detailed information. On the website, players enter the gameworld where they meet mentor species, discover the Sentience Dial, learn about the Interspecies Assemblies, and are able to access information about technical requirements. They can read FAQs and are directed to Eventbrite to sign up for an Assembly event. On acquiring a ticket, players fill out a Mentor Species Matching form via the Sentience Dial. In this way, they learn about the species who they will represent in the Assemblies, in preparation for the struggle for interspecies justice and more-than-human equal rights.
As part of The Treaty of Finsbury Park 2025 roleplay, Ruth Catlow of Furtherfield developed the engagement format of Interspecies Meditations to help build empathy pathways to other life forms. Meditation is used as a tool for character development and immersion: participants use their imaginations and engage in a bonding ritual guiding them to (metaphorically) enter the body and consciousness of a different species, to reflect on the nature of their existence.
Via the ritual, they get transported to the interspecies multiverse where they sit for a guided meditation. The meditation is followed by a sharing circle where everyone describes their experiences of their new bodies and sentience. Listening to each other, participants have the opportunity to learn and understand more about their place in webs of life.
The Interspecies Meditation was performed by Ruth Catlow at the CreaTures Festival in Seville, Spain (June – July 2022) and at the Uroboros 2022 festival in Prague, Czech Republic (October 2022).
The Treaty project will have an extended afterlife. The Haringey Council London: People need Parks has asked to partner in the longer term on utilising The Treaty as a way to improve and measure impact on the biodiversity of Finsbury Park. After extending the project through 2023, largely due to Covid-19 related delays, it has been decided to run it until 2025 in order to keep up with growing local interest and give time to develop an actual treaty signing element. Haringey Council would then like to invite local residents to sign a treaty of cooperation with park biodiversity and monitor its impact.