Back to the Folkestone seaside and the Art School, off for some art on the 10.15, off for a proper look at the at the 2017 Folkestone Triennial. We were in Folkestone for the Art Car Boot Fair a mere three weeks ago of course, it really wasn’t that difficult to tempt us back to the seaside for more.
For a participating artist the day of the Art Car Boot Fair can be a very very busy day, a frantic day, a brilliant day, an engaging day, a fun day, a very very busy day though – no real time to explore and see and really get a serious flavour of the town and the art of Triennial, no time to grab anything more than little bit of the harbour, a glance of one of those second homes of Richard Woods floating on the water or that siren up in the distance up on the hill. On Art Car Boot Fair day there’s no real time for anything other than all the fun of the Art Car Boor Fair.
There and back for a tenner until the end of September said the face from the train company, off on the train then, off for some art on the ten fifteen, back to the seaside, let’s go take a proper look without the Fair to distract us, without the big heavy bags full of art, (well maybe a modest bag and 43 smaller paintings – there had to be another #43ArtDrop piece, couldn’t go to Folkestone without participating in some kind of way, a day without making or leaving art or drawing something is not a satisfying day)
The out-of-town leg of the Art Car Boot Fair was as enjoyable as ever this year, an excellent time was had out there on the Harbour Arm three weeks ago, lots of really interesting conversations with Folkestone people. The fair was part of the first Saturday of this year’s Folkestone Triennial, we had a great day, we had a great day engaging and meeting the people of the town and the Kent coast, and yes, of course we enjoyed selling some art as well (always good to sell some art, those train tickets don’t pay for themselves, even the cheap ones). We rather like our visits to Folkestone, we needed to come back and explore properly, no time to really explore on those Art Car Boot Fair days, really needed to come back to explore the tow , the art and the Triennial properly…
Folkestone is evolving, a town transforming, a once proud ferry port recovering from the loss of those boats and their vital lifeblood, a community finding new feet without forgetting the old. The debates, the developments, the regeneration, the dangers of gentrification, the conflictions, are we artists imposing? Is all this art welcome? Are we being used? Artists encouraged until we’ve made the place fashionable and the prices go up, then “thank you very much now flip off”. We artists are forever being moved on once we’ve unwittingly helped with the rejuvenation and done the work for those damn estate agents and faceless developers (developers who so often put up a fog and pretend to be what they’re not). Things do seem to be being done the right way in Folkestone, that’s the impression anyway. You get a sense that people care about the town and injecting new life before it all dies, from the outside it kind of looks right, we hope it is? Those proposed plans for the big development on the Harbour Arm look a little worrying and is that really the way to treat that historically so so important harbour railway station? Things are evolving in Folkestone and art is centre stage, are we artists part of a potential problem or the solution, are we welcome?
The Folkestone Triennial is the flagship project of the Creative Foundation, an independent visionary arts charity dedicated to enabling the regeneration of the seaside town of Folkestone, in Kent, through creative activity. Working with the people of Folkestone, partners and other stakeholders, the Foundation aims to transform the town, making it a better place to live, work, visit and study
– The Triennial started back in 2008, this is the fourth, 2014 was our first visit (as participants of the Art Car Boot Fair that time as well), 2014 and all that gold fever and Michael Sailstorfer’s piece that excited the mainstream media as much as it excited the hundreds (thousands) of people on the beach with their buckets and spades and their metal detectors, that and the excellent Gabriel Lester bamboo installation that dominated the harbour front in such an exciting way that year.
Of course Folkestone isn’t all about the Triennial, there are the Fringe events, there’s galleries that are springing up and finding their feet, there’s the artist-run spaces now establishing themselves in the colourful old town area – the fringes are often where the really interesting art can be found, the slightly more edgy creativity that flows next to the more formally well-behaved contemporary art of the main Triennial event. And of course not everything is perfect in terms of the Folkestone Triennial, of course it isn’t, the positives do rather outweigh the negatives though, as do the positives to be found in the brightly painted creative quarter of the town and the galleries and spaces, Folkestone feels exciting…
Of course we didn’t get to experience everything – we did walk for what seemed like miles (and miles), walked to the end of breakwaters, along long boardwalks in the sunshine, up to the top of the cliff on the other side of the bay and that big (big) trumpet-shaped “Siren” horn thing of Marc Schmitz and Dolgor Ser-Od (big enough to be seen from down on the harbour front three weeks ago, really wanted to get up there and see what it was). That siren really does look (and sound) so good up there out in the big open space up on the hill looking over the town and out to the Channel at the same time, a giant fog horn sending out sound, or maybe an ear-trumpet catching the sound of the sea or the wind (it rather difficult to resist giving it blow, it does make a wonderful noise if you do)
Hopefully Siren stays up there on that hill for many many years, do rather like the way pieces from previous Triennials and such are still around and slowly becoming part of the fabric of the evolving town (surely this is far better than just letting the old town go to seed?).
Do like the way it feels like the Triennial starts so immediately at the railway station, information handed out (with a refreshing smile and a friendly hello) inside the station building (maps and such), the first of the Folkestone in an Art School banners there on the platform as the train pulls in, a second on a big billboard right outside the station exit, it feels like a town engaged and engaging with those who wish to engage, these things can so often go on without most of the public being aware of them happening, these things can so often feel aloof and elite, the Triennial thankfully never does, it feels engaged, it feels exciting to arrive at the station, a real sense of something happening, something inviting going on, art so often is so so uninviting. it feels good to arrive at the station…
And there’s some art from a previous event high up on the first bridge outside the station, “the luckiest place on earth“, art is everywhere, Folkestone apparently, is an art school. the first of the #43ArtDrop pieces is left outside the station, the rest will be left around the town and the Triennial throughout the day….
Not everything about the art to be found in Folkestone and the latest Triennial is perfect, of course it isn’t, the positives far outweigh the negatives though, so many positives. There is a glaring lack in terms of painting and a space to contemplate those paintings, surely a painting or two on a white wall can be engaging and exciting as well? An escape into a peacefully serene gallery and some art on the wall is as valid as the installations on the beach or up on the hill? Surely an art school needs some painting and a painter or two? An actual gallery full of art maybe?
The Antony Gormley figures are maybe a little bit of a too obvious crowd pleaser? more of his series of one hundred solid cast-iron figures, then again if you haven’t caught the figures on the West Coast or looking out on the Thames or here or there in recent years then they’re going to maybe excite you a little? They do demand attention, they do look good on a social media feed, I imagine they are exciting if you know nothing about them beforehand and you just came upon then in an unexpected way? They do look rather good there in the sea, as do the Holiday Home installations, especially the one floating in the harbour. It is very easy to be sniffy about those figures, I guess if you have no idea who Antony Gormley is and you’ve not seen one before then it really must be very exciting, wrong to be sniffy about those figures? Maybe? Don’t we need something fresh though?
The colourful houses are striking, they’re making some kind of point about second homes, about developers and estate agents – they do make for great Instagram images and a focus of attention for the whole event – the inconvenience of a holiday home? The lack of respect for the residents and the space invaded? The market inflated? Or maybe just an amusing bit of three-dimensional pop art installation? Guess you can’t help but like those houses can you? They’re fun, they look great, they’re colourful, they’re engaging. Wonder what happened to the estate agent for-sale boards that a local artist added? Could the Triennial include a few more of the artists who actually live and work in the town rather than just parachuting commissioned international artists in? Art does so often feel like a closed shop when it comes to letting artists in. However many art schools you set up, it so often feels like a closed shop and an establishment shut out. Comments on social media hint that one or two of the Folkestone-based artists feel Triennial curator Lewis Biggs might have considered them a little more…
It really is wrong to pick and choose but the two really outstanding pieces in terms of the official Triennial presentation surely are Jonathan Wright’s excellent gilded trawlers and Emily Peasgood’s rather beautiful Halfway To Heaven installation up there on that extremely mysterious burial ground (and in the shadow of that amazing railway viaduct)
– Emily Peasgood is a composer and sound artist. She creates research-led music and sound works for galleries and public spaces, ranging from large-scale community events to intimate sound installations. Her work explores the value and perception of sound and music, connecting people with environments that are forgotten or ignored; and is often rooted in political realities –
Emily Peasgood’s piece of sound art is rather magical, it really is something special up there up above the street and above the rooftops of the terrace houses in the rather mysterious Baptist Burial Ground. The sound up there, and the silence and the space around the sound is beautiful, the site really is magical, the giant railway viaduct is glorious, her art fits so so well. People buried up in the sky, halfway to heaven. It really is worth making the effort to get up those steep steep stairs, Emily Peasgood’s piece is absolutely perfect, her piece is absolutely right, and so much going on up there before you even get to experience her art – the brutality of the original 170 year old development, so relevant in terms of what’s going on now, that sense of the people back there hanging on to something so special to them, a burial ground floating almost precariously while all around the land, all those years ago, te land around chiseled away just to make the money for the Victorian property developers and their house building that is now long gone. The graves are still there while the original story of how the burial ground got to be almost marooned up there in the sky almost lost – a wonderful art work, a beautiful experience, magical – and explained rather well by the artist via an interview on Soundcloud…
Jonathan Wright’s trawlers, like Emily Peasgood’s wonderfully positioned soundart piece, actually relate to the town in a rather powerful way. And it would be so so easy to walk underneath those trawlers without noticing them up there, without noticing his Fleet on Foot, his boats up above heads on Tontine Street –
Tontine Street is the tidal inlet on which Folkestone as a fishing village developed. The fleet consisted of seven boats when it was nominated a tributary ‘cinque port’ to Dover in 1299. The artist’s research into the history of the river Pent, now beneath Tontine Street, has led him to celebrate the seven boats currently licensed in Folkestone Harbour
– those boats as art are a vitally important part of the Triennial – Gilded replicas, 3D printed recreations of these boats surmount poles that carry information about each boat, its captain and crew – Folkestone after all is far more about fishing boats, ferries, the sea and being on the edge of the country and the cliffs than it is about art. The ferry service may be history now, the harbour railway station almost gone, art might be part of the town’s future but it has to engage rather than just replace, this town’s history is surely very very important, that old railway station is a very special place, as are every port’s trawler fleet. Those Jonathan Wright pieces as so so right for so many reasons (they also look rather good up there above heads) .
And while we’re here, we really must mention the excellent Trawler museum down on the Harbour arm, a building full of amazing treasure, full of history, coastguard radio on so we can hear the shipping out in the Channel, photos and literature that could keep you there for days and days, excellent….
Bob and Roberta Smith would probably argue that his contribution is really not about him or his own work, His artwork is in the ‘declaration’ that FOLKESTONE IS AN ART SCHOOL (his capitals) – the piece includes the banners around the town, a series of videos, a ‘directory’ of art teaching facilities and talents; and a teaching programme (and exhibition) delivered by a ‘faculty’ of locally based artists and teachers, to a ‘cohort’ of students selected for tuition by their secondary schools. “This artwork is not an art school: it points at the art school” – and it does point and points so so well Did it need a little more though? Did it need a room full of the artist’s painted words, his signposts painted? Did we need a little more of the artist as well as the activist? Does anyone paint a word or two in a more inspiring exciting way than Bob and Roberta does? Didn’t we need a bit more of the actual art, his art looked so good in the video projected on the white wall in that empty shop right in the middle of town Some times an art school needs the inspiration as well as the debate, I’m a big fan of Bob and Roberta Smith and his artistic style, surely we needed a little more of the artist alongside the activist this time though? So like the idea and the ideal of the art school but hey, is art hanging in an actual art gallery really such a crime? Surely it was the excitement of paintings hanging in galleries that made many of us want to go to art school? A room full of his work would have excited and inspired the eleven year old me so so much, it would have pointed at so many possiblities…
So yes, there are far more positives than negatives but there really is a lack of something at the heart of 2017 Triennial, the positives do far far outweigh the negatives, the Triennial is exciting, there is some very fine art, some challenging art, theres a buzz, a town buzzing, a town alive with exciting contemporary art, with interaction, buzzing with positive engagement – there’s exciting art, there’s a feeling that everyone is welcome, that beautiful lack of aloofness – and no, it isn’t dumbed down, art should never have to do that, never aloof but never dumbed down as it reaches out – this is not an art event hiding behind locked doors in that way so much art in London does, it doesn’t say “this isn’t for the likes of you”. it is all very positive, but there is something missing, is it painting? is it a gallery? Something is missing, the one extra thing that would have completed things…
Lubaina Himid’s Jelly Mould Pavilion is perfectly positioned, it didn’t really say jelly mould at the time, it still doesn’t really, the pavilion is brilliantly positioned – it seems the artist has a thing for jelly Moulds – The artist has collected ceramic jelly moulds for many years, adding her own painted pattern decorations. In 2010, in Liverpool, she laid out 30 Victorian moulds as if they were architectural maquettes, in an exhibition paying tribute to the Black community, recalling the slave trade and sugar plantations. One of these has now been realised as a full-scale pavilion in Folkestone. It sits looking out to sea on the former ‘Rotunda’ site, which was until recently filled with amusement arcades, a roller coaster and a Lido Pool, the sugar of candy floss and toffee apples fuelling the fun of summer visitors
– the pavilion is another of the highlights, the pavilion uses the environment and the open spaceof the beach and the big sky and the blue blue sea so wonderfully well, I guess the jelly mould aspect makes perfect sense as well, it just didn’t say “jelly mould” at the time – a perfect place to sit and look out to sea or back at the town or up at the cliffs or to the Lees or out to the lights of France or that big white hotel that looks like an ocean liner (are they really going to stick big glass towers and holiday homes right on the front on the harbour arm? Shouldn’t they be respecting that railway station a little more? There’s some awful music booming out of those barS and eating spaces where the station becomes the harbour wall and so many took their very last steps on English soil)
There are far far more positives than negatives, and the evolution of Folkestone itself is exciting, the colour of the creative quarter, the studios and galleries, the cafe spaces and the lack of coffee chains. And the Fringe itself seems to be very positive, the discussions and meetings, apparently Banksy’s agent was very annoying the evening before, and apparently rather dismissive of almost everything that was going on – we we’re stopped several times while the 43 paintings were being carefully placed (never dropped, always placed with care), we we’re stopped several times by people (we did try to drop the pieces without being noticed), stopped by people outraged by Banksy’s agent the night Before. it rather looks and sounds like there have been some really interesting Fringe events, discussions and debates, we needed more time, we needed to check out so much more than the one day allowed us to,
We made sure we got to see the Studio Ben Allen installation – The installation is purposefully immersive, and designed to challenge the visitor to engage with the space’s sensory multiplicity. It’s also an invitation to explore the feelings created by the vertical gothic tree-like forms, and the primal human response to occupy or gather in the ‘clearing’ between – the Ben Allen installation is a beautiful piece of design, wonderful piece of architecture, almost don’t want the shop and the cafe to be inside the structure, almost want it in an empty space, almost.
We maybe expected a little more from the Artist-led spaces and the galleries of the town, the Lilford Gallery occupies a prominent position at the top of the hill in the Creative Quarter, the Lilford space is as much a commercial shop dealing in the (dare we say) more obvious end of the modern urban contemporary Pop art market as a conventional gallery, a reasonably big former shop packed with the usual Pure Evil imagery, the obligatory over-slick Sara Pope lips, a white-framed Carne Griffiths piece or two, you know the score – downstairs, almost hidden in the basement (we might have missed it if it hadn’t helpfully been pointed out) there’s an excellent solo show and a more gallery-like space, a collection of rather exciting paintings from a name new to us, Henry Cockburn, fascinating paintings alive with more the more you look at them – more about the show in a separate piece in a moment or two, the Henry Cockburn show in the Lilford basement is deserving of a little more than a couple of lines here in this piece.
Heather Boxhall has some interesting work in a very interesting far less commercial space, a space called Space, meanwhile Andrew Holmes has something going on with “The Raft”, a gallery installation involving sound, the shipping forecast and large format black and white photographic prints (the gallery host seems intent, in the nicest possible way, in telling us about it when what we really needed was her to just stop so we could listen, we give up in the end). The Sentient Room looks to be another art space-gallery-shop-thing packed (and we mean packed) with more of what you might call urban art, unfortunately the Sentient Room is closed, note on the door about being back later, the Sentient Room seems little more edgy, a little more dangerous, a little more exciting than the rather conservative Lilford space. We needed more time. We really needed more time to explore the Fringe and the spaces of The Creative Quarter, we do need to go back again, there looks ot be lots and lots going on, Folkestone is exciting –
The Folkestone Fringe was apparently “started by Niamh Sullivan, Laura Mansfield, Matt Rowe, Denice Dever, Rowan Whybrew, Gerry Kelly and Diane Dever in 2007 in response to the inaugural Folkestone Triennial in 2008. The intention was to take advantage of an international focus on the fourteen-week exhibition to raise the profile of artists living locally – and artists who we could entice to visit the town – to a wider regional and national audience”., the fringe does seem to be addressing a lot of the issues the artists based in Folkestone have been bringing up on social media, the Fringe seems to be an excellent foil, we really needed more time, the last train was calling (our feet were aching).
And as I keep saying, the interaction and the use of the hashtag and seeing where the art goes in all part of what these #43ArtDrop pieces are about. Here’s a rather fine photo that appeared in a social media feed on the evening of the art drop around Folkestone. One of the pieces found, a piece left on the hill in the Creative Quarter and found by the young girl up there (aparently her name is Scarlet, thanks Scarlet!) – the #43ArtDrop piece is hopefully about a little more than just sticking a painting in a gallery with a price tag on it, these photos people post are priceless, love this one. Thanks for taking the time to post the photo, this is what the drops are all about, what on earth was Banksy’s agent on about?
The focal point of the Triennial is probably the Folkestone Art School declaration, and I guess the focal point of that declaration is to be found inside that big empty shop at the bottom of the hill in the Creative Quarter, the one with Michael Craig-Martin Folkestone Lightbulb on it (the lightbulb is also part of this year’s Triennial), that old shop is alive with the contributions of the Art School pupils, do rather like that – the walls are alive with the innocence of art, there was some excellent art on those shop walls, some brilliant brilliant drawings, Folkestone really should be an art school, art gives so much, Bob and Roberta should be minister for arts or culture or signposting or something or other, that once empty shop and the art within probably is the biggest of the highlights
Do rather like the way Folkestone is evolving, do rather like the re-birth, I really hope the people of the town do as well, I really hope they’re respected in the way that the people of places like East London really aren’t, I really hope the artists aren’t being used by the developers once again, as an artist I must confess I’m a little nervous about it all, I really don’t want to be part of the next problem.
Of course not everything about the art of Folkestone, the Triennial or the Fringe is right but the positives far far far outweigh the negatives. Folkestone is exciting, the Triennial is exciting a fine fine time was had, we want some more, thank you Scarlet, thank you Folkestone, thanks for being such friendly hosts – the seaside refreshed, art excites and the positives far far far outweigh any negatives, do go and explore te Triennial if you can, it really is worth the effort, seaside treats indeed, the 2017 Folkestone Triennial is, on the whole, (and especially in the way it works within the town) a positive triumph. (sw)
Do please click on an image to enlarge or to run the fractured phone-camera slide show