Folkestone Triennial 2017

At the start of September, I headed down to Folkestone for the Triennial. This, as the name suggests is an art festival that happens every three years. I lived there when the inaugural Triennial occurred but missed the next two, so I was determined not to miss another! As well as the official events there was also a full Fringe program of exhibitions and interactive workshops, although I didn’t have time to explore those this time. Previously it has attracted well-known artists like Tracey Emin, Yoko Ono, and Cornelia Parker. Curated by Lewis Biggs, 2017 drew work from Bob and Roberta Smith, Lubaina Hamid (winner of the 2017 Turner Prize), Michael Craig-Martin, David Shrigley and Antony Gormley amongst others. 

The theme for the 2017 Triennial was ‘Double Edge’. You can read more about that on their website. It is a reference to the edges of the town; the sea and the Pent Stream, but the artists have interpreted it in many different ways. 

These are a few of the pieces that I really connected with on my visit:

Jelly Mould Pavilion – Lubaina Himid [top: exterior, bottom: interior]

Himid [1954, Tanzania] has been collecting Victorian jelly moulds for some time and designed this pavilion based on her collection. It is located on the newly built boardwalk on Folkestone beach. The seeds of this piece were sown in 201 when she exhibited a collection of 30 maquettes of jelly moulds reimagined as buildings. These were an exploration of the part the slave trade and sugar plantations played in the exploitation of people of colour. The Jelly Mould Pavilion is one of those works, realised in full size.

I first saw this work in the pitch dark; I didn’t know what I was going to find when I took photos with my camera. As you can see from the photo of the interior, I had a nice surprise! The diamond pattern and seashell are wonderful. The pillars of the pavilion end in carved seats, which are organic in shape. 

Holiday Home – Richard Woods

This is one of six brightly coloured homes scaled down to a third of their usual size dotted around Folkestone by Richard Woods [1966 -]. Since the regeneration of Folkestone began, there has been an influx of people purchasing homes there as holiday homes. These works are placed in fairly odd places: there is one up on the Warren one where Dover Road, Tontine Street, and Grace Hill converge (above), one on the harbour arm, one on the shingle beach, one on the Leas and one floating in the harbour! 

I like the almost pop-art nature of them, they are bold and visually intrusive. The simple, almost naive appearance of them makes them stand out from the Victorian buildings of Folkestone even more. It feels like the town has been invaded by them as they take up a lot of visual space, even if they are scaled down. Woods aim was to explore the difficulties created by the increase in second homes in an area where many can’t afford to buy one home and are struggling to feel secure in tenancies. You can find more photos of the Holiday Homes here.

Folkestone is an Art School – Bob and Roberta Smith

Folkestone was festooned with large banners proclaiming that ‘Folkestone is an Art School’ by Bob and Roberta Smith [1963, Berkshire]. The artist feels very strongly about the need for continuing quality art education in the UK, and his work in Folkestone continues on that theme. 

Aside from the banners created in his signature style, ‘Folkestone is an Art School’ comprised of a website with 12 videos, a directory of art teachers and talent from around the area who then taught students selected from local Secondary Schools during the Triennial. The banners aren’t the artwork, they are just the signposts to the artwork. This was a fascinating collaborative project that dug down into the creative depths of the town and involved local young people in the Triennial. 

Another Time XXI 2013 – Antony Gormley

Gormley [1950 – London], best known for the Angel of the North, added two of his self-styled cast iron figures to Folkestone’s landscape for the Triennial. Underneath the parade, in the arches stands Another time XXI [2013] It looks out across the harbour, a silent, rusting observer. The second, Another Place XVIII [2013] is placed in the former Loading Bay of the Harbour, opposite. The figures end up submerged by the tide and this affects their aging and weathering process, creating unique voyeurs of our environment. 

There is an element of elation when you reach XXI 2013; in order to reach it, you have to work your way through the rock pools at the end of the beach, which can be quite the challenge! It is a serene spot; a place where it is easy to contemplate. As it is sited in the arch it is significantly higher than the beach at that point (there are some steps nearby but they have been worn by the sea so aren’t particularly safe or easy to use!) so you are positioned below. There is something uncanny about the figure. It feels broadly human but then it is impassive and cold. 

Folkestone Lightbulb – Michael Craig-Martin

Positioned at the bottom where the Old High Street and Tontine Street meet, the building that Folkestone Lightbulb is painted on unites the two threads of the Creative Quarter. For a lot of people it is the first part they see, and so to have a bold, simple piece by an internationally renowned artist is quite a coup! 

This pleases my printmaker’s eye – it is the sort of thing that could be achieved in a reduction cut (admittedly your registration skills would have to be really tight to achieve that images!) I like the boldness and how the pink and blue are continued in the sides of the building. There isn’t much to say or analyse about the work; lightbulbs stand for ideas and the Creative Quarter is a place that is bursting with them! 

Wall – Alex Hartley

Positioned up on the Warren with the White Cliffs of Dover in the background, Wall cuts a stark, precarious figure. It looks both strong, due to its construction, but also vulnerable; the end portion is unsupported over the cliff edge. It is balanced out by the rocks contained within it; more piled up on land to counterbalance it. 

Hartley is expressing many things through the Wall. The cage itself is modelled on the fences used at the Calais Jungle refugee camp just across the channel. On a clear day, you are able to see France from here and the wall reaches out. It also highlights the erosion that happens here. Over the years, the Warren has had many landslips, and on the beach below you can often find the sea softened remnants of walls. It is important to address how erosion alters a landscape, reshaping our coastlines. 


Halfway to Heaven – Emily Peasgood

The final piece I saw was somewhat of a personal pilgrimage for me. When I lived in Folkestone my house overlooked an overgrown graveyard that was about 40 foot higher than the surrounding buildings. I always wondered what was in there, and thanks to Emily Peasgood, I got to find out! She wrote and recorded a libretto (which you can hear here) exploring the lives of the individuals buried in the graveyard. This was then played through memorial vases placed in front of the graves that she had ‘hacked’ to include sensors so that when you stood in front of each one the piece it played the part written in the ‘voice’ of those interred there. 

Walking around or having several people interacting with the exhibit at once meant it built into a rich, layered soundscape that was both mournful and joyous. It was a very moving experience to be standing in this graveyard that is separate from all that surrounds it. I failed to get a good photo of her actual piece, so I have included a photo of one of the graves that I was drawn to! 

This is such a small part of what the Triennial had to offer, and although it is over, there is a treasure trove of public art in their permanent collection. I’m unsure what pieces from the 2017 Triennial are staying but it is well worth a visit. 

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