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Folkestone Triennial: A Million Miles from Home. 25 June-25 September 2011

“A Million Miles From Home will explore “Folkestone’s relationship with the wider world by recognising the town’s geographic position close to continental Europe, and its location on the edge of Britain.” and “articulate the sense of being between worlds, of displacement and separation, of transience and orientation. It alludes to a sense of unease as well as wonder.” Andrea Schlieker

The 2nd Folkestone Triennial is a public art / space project presenting commissions by 19 international artists who use the town as a conceptual studio. Folkestone, on the south-east coast of England, is a mixture of formerly well-to-do 20th century seaside town – redundant ferry terminals, docks and workforce – new international refugee communities – and a London creative extension. As the capital increasingly becomes an exclusive gated-financial community, satellite towns within an hour of London are developing new roles as extra-Metropolitan suburbs. Around the coast of the UK there are currently around 25 significant art projects in seaside towns competitively reinventing themselves through a triumvirate of art / marketing / tourism to attract economically viable communities and new forms of cultural and leisure tourism. In the last twenty years this was seen as a positive force of economic-led regeneration with iconic architecture and art programmes leading a revolution through social engineering. In the 21st century where predictions for regular employment are perceived as spasmodic at best this was always going to be a limited option. The iconic utopia model has peaked and the current strategy, which has been developing in parallel, is for growth based around the energy and specificities of local communities and issues – the immediate future is a cultural toaster of ground-up, pop-up, hot-buttered creative activity.

The Triennial promises to “reflect issues affecting both the town and the wider world” and “to engage and inspire the communities of the town while also finding a fresh way of bringing contemporary art to the fore”. Well, yes and no, some projects have been carried as indulged artists’ dreams until they find a space in the Triennial, while others are fresh win-win ideas for both orthodox art viewers and the non-specialised public. A determined effort to see the works involves a serious day-long investigative ramble, and while the stencilled yellow seagull marker near the sites is a nice locating touch the maps and signage are inadequate for the one day-tourist. The 19 works are perhaps best revealed and discovered one-by-one by locals over three months. Many of the projects are generic international curatorial exhibits, relating to genres of film and installation found in the professional art world calendar from Bolzano to Basle and from Miami to Münster and only peripherally relevant to Folkestone. The multi-media films and installations are fairly enigmatic / impenetrable from a casual encounter. 50-minute long split-screen films on the desolate travails of stateless refugees, induce guilt, misery and helplessness and are a form of aesthetic bullying. They are for the specialist. Art engagement is, however, not obligatory and the real value of the Triennial is the dynamic sense of identity and worth brought about through a media and cultural focus on the town, which in turn generates self-belief and sustainable long term reinvention. The ‘New’ Folkestone is only ten years old and, optimistically and subject to destiny, it will take another decade or two, beyond the grasp of short term solutions, before inspiration becomes a destination.

Of the 19 commissions some will remain and in time Folkestone will host an interesting archaeology of 21st century contemporary art. The media centrepiece is Cornelia Parker’s The Folkestone Mermaid, a Folkestone conceit on Copenhagen’s ‘Little Mermaid’, realistically modelled by a life-sized bronze cast of local resident and 38 year old mother of two Georgina Baker. Much fuss has been made of the community involvement in inviting a citizen to participate as the democratic representative of Folkestone.

A K Dolven: Out of Tune. Reminiscent of the lost bells of the drowned town of Dunwich in Suffolk. A 16th-century ‘Tenor Bell’ is suspended from a steel cable at a height of 20m, between two steel beams placed 30m apart, sited on the littoral between a loveless beach and the bleak tarmac wasteland that was recently the Rotunda amusement park. The artist proposes a relationship with the eight-bell carillon of St Mary and St Eanswythe. The bell can be rung by visitors using a rope, which should be fun but it is a sombre and isolated wind-torn sound rather than a call to the spirit.

Hew Locke: For Those In Peril On The Sea. An installation of around 100 model ships forming a votive collection – warships, trawlers, steamers, liners, coasters, whalers, brigs, rafts, as well as dhows and junks  – common in coastal churches throughout Europe. These were collected from around the world, purchased on ebay and from charity shops, as well as made of cardboard and balsa wood, suspended from the nave of the 12th century St Mary and St Eanswythe Church. The colourful and joyful boats re-introduce elements of the catholic and baroque and for the artist evoke personal memories and universal themes of migration, colonialism and trade.

Paloma Varga Weisz: Rug People. On the rusty tracks of the disused Folkestone Harbour Railway Station a group of five bronze heads on an awkward skewed plinth with faces reminiscent of Ensor, Munch and Redon are placed on an oriental carpet. The figures suggest a fateful destination that might be a WW1 trench or a refugee or concentration camp. The station, now derelict and weed-blown, was the point of departure for British troops in the First Word War and and more recently a terminus for the Orient Express.

Ruth Ewan: We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted To Be. Ten traditional-style public clocks, in locations from the town hall to a local taxi, indicate French decimal revolutionary time. In 1793 France abandoned the Babylonian time-keeping system and the Gregorian calendar in favour of the French Republican Calendar. For thirteen years the system of 10 hour days, each made of 100 minutes, and 100 seconds was the norm. The clocks are “a metaphor for changing, restructuring and challenging systems” and imply a discussion on “ideas of rights and democracy”.

 They blend into the townscape, disguised as urban clocks, and at a glance it is easy to ignore the philosophical significance and to merely think of them as symbols of an unregenerated Folkestone showing the wrong time.

Spencer Finch: The Colour of Water. In a witty idea the artist has observed the ever-changing tone and colour of the English Channel over a number of weeks and has created a palette of 100 Pantone colours arranged on a Folkestone-specific colour wheel sited on the Leas Promenade overlooking the sea. The colours have also been dyed in a hundred flags. Each day an observer will use the wheel to choose flags that most closely reflect the colour of the sea, hoist at midday on one of four flag poles in the centre of the town.

Hamish Fulton: 31 Walks From Water to Water 1971–2010. The Kent based artist has created a 5×4.6m metal sign mapping the 31 water-related walks he has made across the British Isles and western Europe over his 40-year career, from coast to coast, river to river, and coast to river. An A2 poster with text-works about four Kent walks made for the Triennial are fly-posted around the town. A mass silent walk of one-metre over one hour will be made by a line of 500 people on Folkestone seafront.

Cristina Iglesias: Towards the Sound of Wilderness. An architectural intervention, approached by a bramble edged path, in the form of a belvedere structure composed of walls of reflective metal mirrors and resin panels of imaginary foliage on the ramparts of Martello 4, built as defense against Napoleonic invasion. In a dense green tropical setting, overlooking a moat and the ivy-clad tower, an open window frame offers a view of the overgrown tower, and the illusion of a secret entrance into the romantic tale of Rapunzel or Sleeping Beauty.

Tonico Lemos Auad: Carrancas and Reflected Archaeology. Almost incidentally placed and installed around Folkestone Harbour, and easily missed in passing, are a series of Carrancas boat figureheads, usually found on riverboats in northeast Brazil and used as symbolic talismans to protect sailors.

Films, Videos, Installations

Charles Avery’s The Sea Monster is a 20-foot long sea monster; a four-limbed, hoven, long-tailed beast that appears to be a hybrid of horse, snake, fish and wallaby, resting on the floor of a large room in Folkestone Library. It is part of the artist’s imaginary island.

CampThe Country of the Blind, and Other Stories. The Mumbai-based collective has collaborated with the National Coastwatch volunteers over a year to collect data, contributing to CAMP’s research into the shipping trade, tourism and fishing. This information will form the basis of a short episodic film script, to be acted out by National Coastwatch volunteers.

Martin Creed: Work No. 1196. Recorded with the Kent-based Sacconi String Quartet.
 An amusing incidental sonic work ascending and descending the scales to mirror the lifts’ ascent and descent for Folkestone’s Leas Lift. One of only four working water-balanced funicular lifts in the country. 

Smadar Dreyfus: School. Metaphor is the language of art under totalitarian regimes. A de-sensorising audio-video installation in a suite of seven rooms in a former office building in Folkestone’s town centre. The viewer is immersed in a maze of near blacked-out rooms with screens projecting simultaneous text and sound of a series of lessons, including citizenship, history, bible studies, arabic, history, geography and biology, recorded in schools in her native Tel Aviv. The experience is tortuous and it is impossible to remain in the stroboscopic, schizophrenic space. The artist suggests that the work is a reflection on the meaning of ‘Teaching in the dark’, maybe as a metaphor for contemporary Israel.

Hala Elkoussy: Al-Khawaga and Johnny Stories. An atmospheric archive / reading room in an empty high street shop, filled with framed historical documents, photographs, maps, music and books to browse. A film is concerned with a love story of a relationship between an Egyptian grandee and a French aristocrat which resulted in the introduction of French architectural styles into Cairo. The central female character of Sein (x in arabic = x in algebra as a symbol of the unknown) relating to Cairo’s urban, political, colonial past. Khawaga is an Arabic colloquialism for foreigner that mixes pejorative connotations of being rich and useless with those of envy and respect. Johnny is the generic name used by Egyptians for British soldiers. The whole is obscure yet charming.

Nikolaj B. S. Larsen: Promised Land. A 50-minute, three-screen video installation in a disused cinema on the seafront, featuring a number of migrants living in camps near Calais on the last leg of a long and dangerous journey from their war- and poverty-ridden home countries, including Iran and Afghanistan, to Britain. Larsen’s piece counterpoints the extreme difficulties of their existence with their utopian vision of a Britain they are trying to reach.

Erzen Shkololli: Boutique Kosovo. A collection of Kosovan folkloric and ritual clothes, disappearing as the country modernises, collected by the artist over a period of two years travelling in deepest Kosovo.

Strange Cargo: Everywhere means Something to Someone. A collection of observational texts and photographs, memories, whimsies and facts about Folkestone have been collected in an postcard sized, 554 page pocket book. The outcome of a lengthy collaboration with the people of Folkestone producing alternative local information, opinion and reflections on hidden sites  and landmarks. Two hundred of the texts have been printed on acrylic plaques and fixed in the related locations.

Olivia Plender: Crown and Sceptre Are Dreams Hallucinations During Sleep or Hallucinations Waking Dreams? Performance, video and graphic novel and installation of related objects in the Masonic Hall’s Great Lodge Room. A video installation of a filmed workshop features local amateur dramatic groups and professional actresses exploring mysticism and colonialism in Folkestone.  

Zineb Sedira: Lighthouse in the Sea of Time. A multi-screen film documentary installation shown in a large hall carved into the cliff face high above the sea, locked up for many years, once used for storing deck-chairs and open to the public for the first time. The films concerns two 19th Century French-built lighthouses in Cap Caxine and Cap Sigli, Algeria through the recorded recollections of the lighthouse keepers.

The Folkestone Triennial is curated by Andrea Schlieker and managed by The Creative Foundation, and receives financial support from The Roger De Haan Charitable Trust, Arts Council England and other funders. The Triennial is the flagship project of the Creative Foundation, a charity based in Folkestone which is leading a large scale renewal and has redeveloped over 60 buildings, attracting a creative community to the town.




About jeh

Jeremy Hunt is Director of the AAJ Press (Art & Architecture Journal / Press) – a writer and consultant on art and public space


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