In 2020, NASA prepares a mission to colonise Mars. Alone in the expanse, the desire to set sail into the void is understandable for a frightened globe. A planetary health check reveals the terrible reality: countless lost species and one million additionally at risk of extinction, their erasure a direct result of relentless human activity. Five years later, an inter-species diplomatic mission convenes to negotiate a mutually assured agreement to reclaim the battered living, mechanical and digital systems for mutual care and respect.
At its core is a central provocation: humans live in highly curated isolation, alienated from a planet teeming with life, by the imperialist systems of domination that we have created to control it. Rather than nurturing kinship with the vibrant ecologies of creatures in our own world, we try to cure this loneliness by seeking companionship from our machines or look far beyond our own realms for signs of life.
The Love Machines LARP in Finsbury Park seizes upon and exploits the contradictions of machine-induced isolation and disconnection. It explores these themes whilst centring itself around its players, who are immersed and embedded in urban green space. It re-programmes the rituals of imperialism in order to renegotiate terms for a new society of creatures. The Treaty of Finsbury Park 2025 is an equal part serious/critical/playful/humorous event that interrogates and subverts the practices and protocols of a state visit.
The Love Machines LARP reframes Finsbury Park as a city state within a city state itself, and employs both statist power rituals (such as closed-door negotiations, state dinners and ceremony) and hyper-technological process (application programming interfaces, network topologies, complexification, etc) to provoke new perspectives on green ecologies and how we perceive them. The result is twofold:
A vivid participatory exploration of the role of ritualistic power, performed within the park, drawn from current and historical contexts and meticulously documented and filtered through a highly controlled public relations effort; and
A set of collective work by “visiting dignitaries” that interprets the ecology as a network — a complicated state with extensive human generated documentation and systems of infrastructure of its own, and ultimately explores the role of colonial power in contributing to the urgent ecological precarity of today.
Love Machines recognises the ecologies of urban green space as a political actor – one at heightened risk and with a shattered sense of autonomy. At this precipice of ecological collapse, Love Machines seeks to derive a deeper, more personal understanding of the systems of autonomy and manifest destiny inherent in this networked ecology and advocate for it by drawing on the powerful but problematic tools employed by the states that can consolidate power.
In parallel, we must not force creatures to speak to us on our terms. Rather, we must learn new ways to listen and cohabit with the urban green ecology. We must allow relations to bloom through language, touch and a newfound intimacy, and commit to the evolution of cooperation across difference.
Ecologies as Networks. Machines as Ecologies
Homosapiens lead a remarkably lonely existence. For centuries, we have sought companionship in the domination or domestication of other species — both primitive examples of our desire to define the terms of how we interact with the world. Beyond cultivating these non-negotiable relationships, we dream of companionship, and seek it from afar, both through the machines built by our hands and from the stars as we seek to communicate with extraterrestrial life.
The race to architect companionship via machine-powered communication is just as lonely. For all of the work on artificial intelligence, the outcomes are built from interface paradigms that have existed since the 1960s. What is a WhatsApp-powered interaction with a corporation, if not a human powered version of ELIZA? We seek artificial companionship whilst disregarding the ecologies in our own world.
Since the Industrial Revolution, all other organisms have existed at the absolute behest of a hierarchy organised entirely for the benefit of humans, and forced to cope with a variety of increasingly extreme challenges. We negotiate terms of co-existence with other planetary species and ecosystems by employing ever more complex systems of technological control.
As such, green ecosystems often take the form of ‘states within states’, without autonomy, administered as semi-‘natural’ holes punched into grey concrete grids. Forced to self manage, and sometimes with outside administration, these ecosystems are by their definition under siege. Whether incidental cohabitation spaces within broader hostile environments or designed as ‘planned spaces’, the whip hand of antiquated human dictates govern the terms for existence for the organisms that occupy this space.
Regardless of the capitalist terms under which these ecologies exist, they comprise vast worlds unseen (or feared) by human populations where nodes and inhabitants exist both in defiance of concrete and motorcar, but also as vibrant networks of resilience and mutual support.
This unenlightened state is not a universal human perspective, but today it is pervasive. Monolingualism is embedded across societies, regardless of economic or political affiliation and often the most extreme examples are forged in communion with intuitions of landscape and organisms, through appallingly stunted interpretations of them by colonial thinkers. Examples of such thinking are numerous in all cases of colonial contact with “untamed savages” in “undiscovered wildernesses”, but a visceral example can be found in the discovery of the land that would later become Melbourne, Australia by European colonialists, as retold by Bruce Pascoe:
The attribution of Indigenous agricultural processes to the work of a white God is a perfectly encapsulated example of the poisoned belief systems that led to, amongst many other crimes, a system of organising landscapes and economies in which a key consequence was accelerating eco-genocide. Equally important is how this same worldview now poisons mobilisation in response to this self-inflicted threat. Much like Batey and Mitchell’s delusional personal gift from God, it is beyond dishonest to describe the symbolic act of a Western government recognising ecological collapse in 2019 as a ‘world first,’ given that representatives of vulnerable states have mobilised for decades against parasitic imperialism, often losing their lives in the process. In times of immediate crisis, such as the COVID—19 worldwide pandemic, colonialist intellectualism and policy ignores at our collective peril these Indigenous perspectives that have argued that we must treat the world as an interconnected, living organism with supreme complexity, fragile resilience and indeed, mystique.
Performative Power Rituals as Instigators of Change
The 1969 “Treaty on Treaties” - the basis of international law for five decades, enforced, monitored and sanctioned by human and technical military might - is now outmoded. Instead, it is viewed as barbaric for the intense isolation and alienation it gave rise to in human society and for the way it enabled systems that ruthlessly brought planetary life to the brink of annihilation.
The Love Machine Protocol is now widely adopted by the vast majority of federated and nested assemblies world wide - this is the new politics - one which has incentivised the rapid adoption of multilingual and inter-special negotiation techniques and agreements. It is the global convention for negotiations involving complex living systems in contested temporal territories (called “Placetimes”); this elevates humans to the level of insight and enlightenment of other species creating a levelled political field for all organisms.
We live in increasing isolation, alienated from a planet teeming with life by the imperialist systems of domination that we have created to control it. Rather than nurturing kinship with the vibrant ecologies of creatures in our own world we try to cure this loneliness by seeking companionship from our machines or look far beyond our own realms for signs of life.
The Love Machines Live Action Role Play (LARP) reprogrammes the rituals of imperialism in order to renegotiate terms for a new human and non-human society in Finsbury Park. A visiting delegation of artists, armed with park blueprints and documentation, bylaws, data-sources and policies, work with local delegates who present testimony from the many lives of the urban green space. All manner of Finsbury Park life forms and systems are given a place at the table - from creatures deep underground, to the methods of management that sit underneath people's experiences of the park. Artist visitors will meet with each group and find new ways to talk to them. A 3 day deliberation about the mutual interests of the lives of this ecology culminates with new commitments to the “Love Machines Protocol”, made and formalised with a Treaty signing at the 2021 Summer Solstice.
The resulting commitments are assembled as a sort of Application Programme Interface (API), a carefully designed set of empathetic electronic and biological behaviours and interactions, enabling future users to operate the park as a love machine in the higher interest of all living entities and systems.
These are then presented as part of the 2021 Citizen Sci-Fi exhibition at Furtherfield gallery and online, a sincere demand to reconsider the self-isolation and othering of humans against the rest of the planet, made urgent by the ongoing ecological collapse.
The Love Machines Protocol is invoked by self-forming multispecies assemblies in moments of significant harm, suffering or peril. In order to invoke the protocol they must define the physical boundaries, declare a new Placetime and appoint skilled envoys to communicate their multiple interests. They issue an invitation to a nomadic collective of and contemporary but incomplete experts from the Artists’ State, a delegation from the outside world.
Placetime envoys are joined by a delegation from the Artists' State for negotiations. They are sealed off (in buildings on the disputed site) from the natural environment, communication networks, and electromagnetic fields for 2 days during daylight hours.
While cloistered, they undertake a series of rituals, informatics and creative processes (learned from machine and living systems) to create a “Interspecies Seeing Room” for the living and built ecologies the Placetime. In this way they develop a shared vision of needs, natures and mutual potentialities and a nuanced understanding of the traits of the Placetime.
Together they compose a Treaty underpinned by an API signed by all participants that enables future users to operate the park as a Love Machine in the higher interest of all living entities of the new Finsbury Park Placetime.
This public park in the London neighbourhood of Harringay was established in the Victorian era. Now this urban green space like all across the world - occupied by diverse life-forms, communities, communication and information systems - and should be recognised as an occupied state at heightened risk. The Treaty signing event will take place somewhere across its grassy fields and it will be the first Treaty of its kind.
For 3 days the community space and its surrounding gardens are repurposed as a “interspecies seeing room” for the living and built ecologies of the park. Reproducing the conditions of machine-induced isolation and disconnection, though immersed and embedded in urban green space, participants will be disconnected from all natural and communication systems during daylight hours.
Based in the heart of Finsbury Park in 2021 Furtherfield Gallery hosted the Love Machines exhibition during the second year of its 3-year Citizen Sci-Fi programme. This combines citizen science and citizen journalism by crowdsourcing the imagination of local park users and community groups to create new visions and models of stewardship for public, urban green space. Visitors to this exhibition are invited to contribute to the formation of the Finsbury Park Treaty, a series of interactions that would eventually see the park realised as a Love Machine.
A live action role-playing game (LARP) is a form of role-playing game where the participants physically portray their characters. The players pursue goals within a fictional setting represented by real-world environments while interacting with each other in character. Wikipedia↩︎
The “WOW!” signal, captured by radio telescope by researchers in 1977, is widely interpreted to represent a deliberate and cohesive signal sent to Earth despite no additional evidence. ↩︎