diamond geezer

 Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Seaside postcard: Folkestone Triennial

While other south coast towns have resorted to building art galleries to bring the punters in, in Folkestone the town itself is the art. Every three years they throw a Triennial, commissioning a couple of dozen artists to showcase some fresh creation somewhere unexpected. Six years ago Tracey Emin cast a baby's bootees in bronze, and three years back Martin Creed composed a soundscape for the cliff lift. 2014's Triennial kicked off at the end of August and has only a fortnight left to run, so I thought I'd better get down sharpish before the season ends. Mondays aren't especially busy days, but the Hosts were out in force at each of the exhibits (daily, 10am-5pm), so I got plenty of them almost to myself. Grab a free map from the station and you should be able to track down the whole lot by following a long and sinuous walk around town. It's always a grand day out.

» Official website/Twitter
» 40 of my photos to flick through

The Wind Lift: Now here's an idea. Stake out some space in a residential car park at the foot of a railway viaduct. Rig a vertical track 25 metres up the side of the brickwork, and dangle an oversized windchime in the centre of the adjacent arch. And then, using wind power alone, raise a rickety platform high above the rooftops with up to six guinea-pigs aboard. The queues might be longer at the weekend, but I got straight aboard, and only slightly tentatively. The hoist paused halfway up to check that nobody had unexpected vertigo, then rose to the full height and shuddered slightly. It shuddered more when my fellow passengers decided they'd walk around a bit, but that was thankfully only brief. Conditions up top were excellent, with the coast of France clearly visible beyond the rooftops across the centre of town. The button-pressing volunteer told that us the hoist isn't quite so appealing in pouring rain, as you can imagine, so was pleased that October's been on the mild side. A most unusual experience. [photos]

Pent Houses: And why is there a viaduct across the centre of Folkestone? It's because a river once flowed through the town, the Pent River, now culverted beneath the ground... and temporarily marked by five Manhattan style water towers. [photo]

Green/Light: On some wasteground opposite a Tesco Express, Jyll Bradley has erected a forest of aluminium poles and some strips of yellow perspex. There's method to her madness, she's recreating the gasholder that used to stand here until the year she was born, and doubling this up with an allusion to Kent's hop fields, or something. Whatever, when the sun glints across the threaded circle, it's most attractive. [photos]

Amusefood: In further enticing weirdness, a unique fish and chip shop has been set up on a rooftop in the centre of town. The front looks real enough, but enter and you'll find yourself in a polytunnel growing hydroponic vegetables. Up front are two dark tubs containing hard-to-see carp, and behind that some thriving potatoes, mint and less-successful peas. That's fish, chips and mushy peas, Triennial style. Across the street is Folkestone's theatre, in whose bar Yoko Ono has written some typically Ono-esque instructions on a mirror. There's quite a lot of Yoko dotted around the town, in a dashed-off fairly effortlessly kind of way. Meanwhile just outside is a brand new greenspace, Payers Park, a sliver of steeply sloping land made permanently recreational as part of this year's festival. It's an impressive use of space, and Banksy must like it too because he's sprayed a special Triennial artwork - a woman looking at an empty plinth - on a big blank wall up top. [photos]

The Electrified Line: Folkestone Harbour station used to be the gateway to the continent, accessed via a steeply descending branch line to a viaduct across the harbour. Here Gabriel Lester has created a cube of bamboo scaffolding, a chance to step up over the tracks and look out over the harbour beneath a canopy of threaded poles. The Outer Harbour is the site of the Triennal's most expensive work, thirty gold bars buried in the sand, and accessible to potential treasure hunters only at low tide. Its not known how many have been found or how many are left, but the initial rush of golddiggers has certainly died down - there were none out yesterday. [photos]

Is Why The Place: Folkestone Harbour station saw its last scheduled train in 2001, its last train in 2009, and was officially closed for good in May this year. That makes it an excellent place for an artwork, in this case two, one the leftover Rug People from three years ago. 2014's piece is a pair of neon sculptures, one on the up platform and one on the down, spelling out COMING AND GOING IS WHY THE PLACE IS THERE AT ALL. It's apposite, but it's also marvellous to get the chance to walk along the slowly decaying platforms, once thronging with luggage, now the seagulls' haunt. And walk right up to the end and you can climb the stairs to the harbour arm, where Folkestone's anglers dangle their rods, and with another artwork painted on the lighthouse at the end. [photos]

Vigil: If you've ever visited Folkestone you'll know The Grand Burstin, the pig-ugly hotel on the harbourfront that 'resembles' an ocean liner. For the duration of the Triennial a series of volunteers are living on a portaledge hanging from the very top of the funnel - it looked like Monday was washing day. [photos]

Beach Hut in the Style of Nicholas Hawksmoor: The first 18 artworks on the Triennial train are relatively evenly spaced, but then there's an almighty gap along the seafront to number 19. I thought Pablo Bronstein's Baroque beach hut was worth the mile-long trek, but you might want to bow out earlier. If you do you'll miss the maze hidden in the grotto on the Zig Zag Path, although it's not so impressive now the volunteers don't hang the doors on every morning because it's too much hard work. [photos]

Whithervanes: By the time you've walked the entire dotted line on the triennial map, and if you've been paying attention at rooftop level, you should have seen five headless chickens. These are the whithervanes, five fear-tracking sculptures which monitor internet newsfeeds for alarmist keywords and then react appropriately. They're supposed to spin away from the source of the bad news, and also to light up in a particular colour relevant to the level of threat. They're endearing but I saw none spin, nor any light up, so I can only assume Monday was a good news day... or more likely that they're not working properly. [photos]

And that's only about half of the works. There's a cracked clay window in a High Street shop, there's a bomb site broadcasting bread recipes, there's a choral work composed from the answers to questionnaires, and there's a pentagonal sculpture inside which I sat and gobbled down a tray of fish and chips. The other trailgoers yesterday were mostly locals and groups of grey haired ladies from London, but I'm told the weekend's a lot busier. I didn't get the hang of the official smartphone app, which is a shame because it should have provided me with a lot more background information on the way round, but didn't. And you only have until Sunday November 2nd to come down and visit, else you'll have to wait until 2017 for the next burst of coastal creativity.

My Folkestone Triennial gallery
There are 40 photos altogether [slideshow]

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