Various Places Around Folkestone
25 June – 25 September 2011
Folkestone, as a seaside town, is a great place to experience art. With its creative quarter, long beaches, harbour and up and coming wharf area it is no wonder that a contemporary art triennial has taken over this town in such wonderful and surprising ways. One is greeted at the station with yellow seagulls that lead you to the Creative Foundation offices where the triennial starts. A map of the sites gives the overview of the vast size and scale of this year’s triennial from the Martello of Randor Cliff to the Martello at East Cliff.
The confidence and knowledge in which Andrea Schleiker has approached the theme A Million Miles From Home is evident in the array of locations and styles of work on display. The artists range from all over the world – Europe, the Middle East, South Asia and South America to name a few – and the sculptures, films, and installations are in disused construction sites, old rail stations, empty shops, seafronts, and on the front of buildings throughout town. Similar to the 2008 triennial but one step further, every nook and cranny of the city is up for grabs, creating an interesting path to wind your way from one end of Folkestone to the other.
Ruth Ewan’s work We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted to Be was one such work that popped up subtly throughout the city. These clocks were based on the decimalisation system in which each day only had 10 hours, in which there were 100 minutes in which there were 100 seconds. Inspired by the French Republican Calendar of 1793 in which the Gregorian calendar was thrown out the window, Ewan has deftly installed new clocks in unexpected locations and altered already existing clocks. This work is full of charm and wonder and the collaboration with the venues’ clocks speaks volumes about the openness of Folkestone as a site for contemporary art.
Many of the works seem to have a direct connection with or draw inspiration from Folkestone, entirely appropriate within the theme. Strange Cargo, a local artist group, embarked on a lovely project that incorporated their community: Everywhere Means Something to Someone. The People’s Guidebook to Folkestone is full of meaningful ‘instructions, trivia, memories, facts and whimsies’ compiled by the locals. In addition to this makeshift (but beautifully printed) guidebook are signs all around town which are labeled with a description giving a small glimpse into the past or present incarnation of an object, such as a soldier’s diary, or place, such as the Gurkha museum. To discover one of these plaques is a very sweet experience, occasionally accompanied by a more detailed explanation by the local who has written it.
The poetic work by Hew Locke, For Those In Peril on the Sea was wonderfully installed inside St Mary and St Eanswythe’s Church. Another theme throughout the triennial has been migration and this is one of Locke’s inspirations for the series of boats hanging from the ceiling. Standing underneath the boats inside a church nave was such a peaceful experience that evoked a sense of being under the sea, as if we were looking at ghosts of wreckages or boats that once were. Historically in Europe, votive boats were used as offerings for those sailors going to sea and subsequently mounted in churches and it was a pleasure to see a ‘contemporary version’ of this as Locke says in which he hopes to ‘stimulate thoughts on globalisation, and on illegal immigration, people smuggling, drug smuggling, contemporary piracy’. I wouldn’t particularly say I was thinking about these subjects as I stared at the crafted wooden models, but the inspiration is heartfelt nonetheless.
The film Promised Land by Nikolaj B S Larsen dealt more directly with migration and was quite an impressive project in which he spent much time with illegal immigrants in Calais who are trying desperately to get into Britain. The footage was moving, disturbing, sad, and motivational, edited in a documentary style and filmed by Larsen and the migrants themselves in places which the artist could not get access to. The catalogue also shows email conversations between the artist and one of the migrants named Hasan, which is a short but captivating summary of what he went through and how he ended up back at home. The disused hut/ex-cafe in which this is shown was apt for the curator and artist because of its placement directly on the seafront harbour where asylum seekers often find themselves - this is because just opposite this hut were the apartments in which the local council end up housing them. Everything about this work was right - the location, the subject, the filming and editing - it was well thought through and left a strong impression from the first moment.
Not far from here was AK Dolven’s installation Out of Tune hung at the old Amusement Park area. This piece, stunning in its simplicity, was of a bell that was removed from a church in Leicestershire because it didn’t have the right ‘pitch’. Dolven’s work often deals with sound and silence in films and here the bell was lifted and placed directly in line with the bell tower of St Mary and St Eanswythe’s Church so that it could create a dialogue as it sings over the sea and beach surrounding it. The key was that anyone could pull the cord (if they were strong enough!) to make the bell ring at any point breathing new life into a discarded but beautiful sculpture cast out to sea in isolation.
Around the corner at the old harbour rail station was an unfortunate, but well placed sculpture by Paloma Varga Weisz called Rug People. Clearly inspired by the migrants who come to these shores and referencing the Orient Express (the train which used this station as recently as 2009) by the placement of an oriental rug, the sculpture was just not a pretty sight. Aesthetically, it was not nice to look at and the rug seemed a bit of an afterthought trying to incorporate the history of this station. However, the abandoned rail itself was incredible and again a wonderful use of Folkestone’s relics.
There were many other works that stood out such as Hala Eskoussy's shop front devoted to and 'alternative reading of present-day Cairo'. Much like a curiosity shop, Al-khawaga and Johnny Stories was a treat to rifle through. Spencer Finch's The Colour of Water consisted of flags related to the colour of the sea based on Pantone colours which changed daily, giving the city a reference point to remind you that the sea is on your doorstep. And Charles Avery's sculpture of a sea monster was an incredible collection of old bones and skin that brings his imaginary world to life. Smadar Dreyfus's intense work School was quite an experience, in the dark with only words and voices to guide you through poetic learning and teaching. Flitting from one classroom to the next, the viewer is introduced to Israeli subjects of citizenship, biology, government and even Hebrew lessons. I found myself weary after awhile however and losing interest; not too different than school I guess.
For her second triennial, Andrea Schleiker's belief in Folkestone as a superb site for contemporary art has been realised in a very strong showing of works by artists whose themes were present, current, and exciting. From the station to the cliffs, morning to evening, the triennial was a joyful experience full of discovery along the way. The thought in which each work and their placement were given was inspiring to see and it will be quite a feat to use the city in a new way three years from now. As Andrea passes on the reigns, it could be an exhilarating challenge for the next curator.
Chelsea holds an MA in Visual Anthropology from Goldsmiths College, University of London. She currently resides in London, but hails originally from California. She is Assistant Curator for the Hayward Touring Exhibitions programme and writes about art in her spare time.
Her blog can be read here: http://www.paintingofmodernlife.blogspot.com/