Like many seaside towns in Britain, Folkestone has suffered from both the recession and a slowing tourist industry. The town is a combination of attractive cobbled streets and dilapidated, disused buildings and spaces- with flaky paint, a disused pier and crumbled-down railway. Since 2008 however, the town has been in the process of a rapid and ambitious programme of artist-led regeneration, at the heart of which lies the Folkestone Triennial. This young project aims to engage with the community in a process of self-enquiry and transformation, while at the same time refocusing the role of contemporary art in society.
This year’s Triennial, entitled ‘A Million Miles From Home’, includes a vast cohort of internationally acclaimed artists including Martin Creed, Charles Avery, Ruth Ewan, Cornelia Parker, Tracey Emin and Mark Wallinger to name a few. This year’s project takes the work of 27 contemporary artists and places them in dramatic and atmospheric locations around the town. Both the recession and decline in the tourist industry have hollowed out this once bustling harbour town, and it is in this hollow space that the Triennial installations sit- not as a replacement for lost industry, but as a creative interaction of spaces and ideas- all permeated by an overwhelming sense of nostalgia.
Hew Locke’s ‘For Those In Peril On the Sea’
Like all good site-specific installations, the most interesting works were heightened by their location. Hew Locke’s ‘For Those In Peril On the Sea’ resides in Folkestone’s St Mary and Eanswythe’s Church. The installation consists of around 100 brightly coloured model ships and boats suspended from the nave’s vaulting. The piece was inspired by the votive offerings made by seafarers in Portugal and Spain- and relates to both a utopian possibility of escape to a golden future, and the perilous consequences of seafaring. Many of the boats are named after those that were destroyed in tsunamis or have been hi-jacked by pirates.
Similar themes of travel and loss are depicted in Paloma Varga Weisz’s five headed ‘Rug People’, placed on the tracks of Folkestone harbour’s abandoned railway station. The large sculpture refers to the historic past of the station, bringing First World War soldiers to the harbour to embark to France, as well as being the terminus for the Orient express. The station, with its rusted tracks and barbwire fencing gives the sculpture a disquieting sense of melancholy.
Paloma Varga Weisz’s ‘Rug People’
The Triennial also has some interesting sound related works, one of which resides in the Leas Lift—a Victorian waterlift that carries passengers from the town down to the sea. Martin Creed’s subtle intervention is a discordant composition that runs in accordance with the lift’s ascent and descent. Similarly, A K Dolven’s installation features a 16th Century tenor bell from a church in Leicestershire, which had been removed for being out of tune. Dolven has suspended it from a steel cable between two steel beams, offset against the backdrop of a sea view
A K Dolven’s ‘Out of Tune’
This year’s Triennial displays a nuanced and original approach to contemporary, site-specific installation. The works’ ideas and ideologies have been cleverly interlinked and overlapped- themes concerning exile, isolation, identity, belonging and utopia, each of which has been carefully thought out, developed and located; meaning that the work is as much about its location as about the work itself. An experience that should definitely not be missed- personally, I cannot wait for 2014.