Art is “an experience, not an object,” says London gallery owner

Art is more about social relations rather than being a single object, according to Ruth Catlow, co-founder of Furtherfield, a London based arts organisation that critically evaluates digital culture.

“Both culture and art is something that happens between people- between the thing you do, the people you engage with and what happens around that,” Ms Catlow explains.

She continues by saying that Furtherfield, based in London’s Finsbury Park, promotes this idea of “art as a collective endeavour” by letting artists and their respective audiences communicate and connect. Ms Catlow refers to this approach as “Do it with Others” (DIWO), with the emphasis being put on shaping culture together rather than on the craft itself. “It´s about collaboration, not individual genius”, she says.

An example for art work that can be seen as representative of this principle was featured within Lincoln’s Frequency Festival, held from October 23 to November 1. The piece, named ‘A Charge for Privacy’, was an iPhone docking station which let people charge their phones for free in exchange for downloading all the images stored in their mobiles and projecting them on to a nearby wall.

‘A Charge for Privacy’ also seems to illustrate what Ms Catlow refers to as Furtherfield’s mission – namely, making the arts more inclusive and attractive for a diverse range of people.

“People should know what goes on in their devices and the effect it has on politics and life in general. It’s about understanding the relationship between culture and democracy,” she says.

An article in the online edition of the New Scientist (Oct 28), however, described the exhibition “as nothing more than a demonstration of how a USB cable works”. Ms Catlow, who defines the work undertaken by the arts organisation as being of a more experiential nature, does not agree with said criticism. According to her, reviewers are primarily interested in technical innovations that are “faster, brighter and stronger”.

“He isn’t seeing the 17-year-old volunteer who plugged in her phone ten minutes before going into a hysterical fit, realizing that she’s too late [to stop the transmission]”, she says. Asked if she believes digital culture will be pre-dominant in the future, Ms. Catlow asserts that both forms can co-exist in their respective places.

“The real threat to creative culture are political forces who fear a critical mass of people paying attention to society and look for art to have that role,” she concludes.