Seaside postcard: Folkestone Triennial
I haven't been entirely complimentary about Folkestone in the past, for which I'd now like to apologise. It seems I made an elementary mistake - I went in the wrong year. The town holds a very special arts event every three years - the Folkestone Triennial - first held in 2008 and underway again this very summer. A series of internationally-renowned artists are invited to use the town as a canvas and create something memorable, with some becoming permanent fixtures after the three month showcase is up. You may remember last time Tracey Emin cast some tinybabyclothes in bronze and scattered them around parks, railings and benches - they're all still unstolen and intact three years on. The theme in 2008 was Folkestone itself, whereas this time the underlying concept is "A Million Miles From Home". I travelled 78, and had a great day out.
This was, obviously, an excuse to use the Stratford International extension of the DLR for genuine travel purposes. I got on at Stratford, just as most of the other passengers disembarked, and then there were only four of us for the curvy journey round to the High Speed station. Two of them were workmen heading for the backdoor to Westfield, and the third was a lady hoping to make the short hop to St Pancras. There were far more Southeastern staff in the entrance hall than there were passengers, all standing around by the gates while I struggled with the ticket machine. And then I waited for ages for my train to Kent, because it turns out there's a 75-minute gap in the Saturday morning schedule which the online timetable has erroneously plugged with two non-existent trains. Nice easy ride after that, though - Folkestone in under an hour.
The Triennial is desperately well organised, from the rack of maps freely available at Folkestone station to the trail of yellow seagulls painted on the pavement to lead you down to the Visitor Centre at the harbourside. The maps turn out to be very important because they're the only way you'll find all of the artworks dotted around town. Navigate your way to approximately the right location, look for the bright yellow board and follow the arrow. You can easily miss stuff otherwise, as I discovered on my second walk down the High Street spotting all the installations I'd missed on the first. That clock up there on the Royal Bank of Scotland, for example, there was something mighty strange about it [photo]. Ditto the clock on the front of Debenhams and the Old Town Hall, they'd been redivided into ten sections rather than twelve as part of a town-wide display of metric time [photo]. Ruth Ewan's idea, this, and all based on the French Revolutionary calendar. I have to applaud a town that's not afraid to repartition ten of its timepieces, even if its inhabitants probably don't realise that half past six means it's nearly quarter to four in the afternoon.
One of the best ways to experience the Triennial is to take a free guided tour. These run twice a day at weekends and once, at lunchtimes, on Fridays. It's best to book in advance, although you might be lucky and get a space on the day (Sunday mornings are usually quiet, I'm told). The guides are either project members or art critics, and will lead you round ten or so installations over the space of two hours. I might not have noticed the steps over the edge of the clifftop otherwise, leading down to an old deckchair store where a lighthouse-themed audio-visual was playing. Or the tiny sculptures dotted around the harbour, many now coated in seaweed through being submerged at high tide. Highly recommended, the tours, although there's nothing stopping you going round the nineteen installations under your own steam. You've got until September 25th to get down there... or else wait until 2014. [highlights video][Time Out supplement]
The Folkestone Mermaid: In a nod to Copenhagen, Folkestone now has its own swishy-tailed beauty. This one's of a yoga instructor, life-cast in bronze, and looks out across the sandy beach towards France. I bet this one's permanent, and rightly so. [photo] For Those In Peril On The Sea (top left): Step inside St Mary and St Eanswythe’s Church on the clifftop, and you'll discover a flotillaof 100model boats hanging all the way down the nave. Every kind of boat, in all kinds of sizes, from every era. You won't have seen that before. Work No. 1196: Folkestone boasts one of the world's oldest hydraulic funiculars, still shuttling passengers up and down the Leas cliffs after 125 years [photo]. At £1 a trip it doesn't earn its keep, so the Leas Lift is now supported by the community after the council decided to close it down. Artist Martin Creed has composed a horizontal soundscape for string orchestra, with a perfectly-timed ascending scale on the way up and a contrasting descending scale on the way down. It makes unsuspecting travellers smile... or else walk out exclaiming "Screechy violins? Horrible!" Out of Tune (top right): Down on the seafront, in a desolate spot where Folkestone's funfair used to be, a single bell hangs on a steel cable between two poles. The bell is an out-of-tune reject from a church in Leicestershire, and rings mournfully every time a visitor tugs on the rope down below. School: Seven lessons, recorded in Hebrew, play out in pitch black rooms in the offices above Boots in the High Street. It's a most strange experience, although not helped when a gang of local teenagers decide to play tag in the dark. The Colour of the Sea (bottom left): Now here's a simple but great idea. Spencer Finch observed the sea over several months to identify 100 palette tones, then installed an observation wheel on the clifftop. Every morning a volunteer spins the wheel to match the colour of the sea, then raises an identically coloured flag from a pole in the centre of town. Well, it would be a great idea if only the volunteer could be bothered - there was no 5523 flag on Saturday. Towards The Sound of Wilderness: Right up the far end of the promenade, on the posh floral bit, stands an old Martello Tower covered in ivy. Cristina Iglesias has built a sinuous pathway through the surrounding undergrowth to a mirrored window, from which to view the overgrown structure close-up. And then you can walk all the way back into town again. Rug People (bottom right): A five-headed sculpture sits on a red carpet in the middle of the tracks at FolkestoneHarbourstation. Don't worry, it doesn't hold up the trains because there aren't any [photo]. The last scheduled boat train ran ten years ago, and the tracks are now rusting while the station decays [photo]. One day, developers hope, the old viaduct across the harbour will be swept away [photo] and the pierhead will be covered in luxury flats. Or, if an alternative scheme ever gets off the ground, a heritage rail attraction will be built with a World War disembarkation theme. All the money's on the flats, but my heart's with the railway. [photo]