Every three years Folkestone orgnises a Triennial, commissioning a couple of dozen artists to showcase some fresh creations somewhere unexpected around the town. Nine years ago Tracey Emin cast a baby's bootees in bronze, six years ago Martin Creed composed a soundscape for the cliff lift and three years back headless chickens spun around on rooftops. 2017's Triennial runs from 2nd September to 5th November, with Hosts on hand at the various exhibits from 10am to 5pm, and it's always a grand day out. 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.
Here are six of my favourite installations this year.
Holiday Home: Richard Woods has created six one-third sized houses, in a variety of dayglo colours, and plonked them around Folkestone in unlikely places to live. One's in the middle of a roundabout, another in the middle of the harbour, another skewhiff on the shingle and another on a clifftop facing France (which was actually visible, how splendid). It's an idea that's been tried before, but here the emphasis is supposed to be on the invidious nature of second homes, and our increasing willingness to cram housing anywhere it'll go. Plus the mini-bungalows are really terribly photogenic, if your aim is collecting Instagram images nobody else will have seen, and isn't that what most people want from a trip to the seaside these days? [6 photos]
Halfway to Heaven: Emily Peasgood's contribution is a musical intervention in a graveyard. The Baptist Burial Ground on Bradstone Road is a tiny elevated scrap of land left behind when the railway viaduct was carved through. She's recorded a six-part choral work based on the lives of some of the interred, then installed speakers in the form of "those stone blocks with holes you normally stick flowers in". Stand in front of one of these and the music plays, move away and it stops. I was fortunate to arrive at the same time as a large group of pensioners, and between us we managed to set off the full sextet, which made for some delightfully evocative harmony. After they left and it was just me, a rather more mournful experience. [photo]
Wall: This is the artwork the furthest out of town, which seemed to have deterred a lot of people from walking a mile to see it, which meant the Host sat alongside was having a relatively easy time. Alex Hartley's wall isn't Trump-related, but a site-specific intervention dangling partially off the cliff. It's made from a cage evocative of the barriers at The Jungle in Calais, and weighed down by hundreds of Iron Age querns, or millstones, recovered from the slump of material down below. The structure's not going to topple over any time soon, which might well annoy those residents in the bungalows immediately behind, whose clear view of the White Cliffs is now part-blocked by a white box. [2 photos]
Jelly-Mould Pavilion: Art doesn't always have to have a meaning. Lubaina Himid has collected jelly moulds for years, so for her pavilion she imagined a particularly large one upturned on twisted golden poles. Seats provide a nice place to stare up at the shell design swirled into the ceiling, whilst perhaps reflecting on the amusement park that once covered this site, back when seaside fun was something Britons embraced. A new twisty timber boardwalk leads down the beach towards another temporary pavilion, Sol Calero's bright cross-cultural shelter, but I wasn't able to get too close without disturbing the outbreak of yoga taking place inside. [4 photos]
Lamp Post (as remembered): Here's an interesting concept beautifully realised. Artist David Shrigley was inspired by the lamp posts strung out along The Leas, Folkestone's demure clifftop retreat. He invited along Scottish student Camille Biddell to look at one of the lamp posts for precisely 40 seconds, then to go away and attempt to recreate it from memory. Her 'replica' is the wrong height, a bit different up top and much more ornate down below, but more than holds its own on the elevated promenade. [2 photos]
Folkestone Harbour Viaduct: This isn't a Triennial artwork as such, but the latest stage in the redevelopment of the harbourside. When Folkestone was a thriving ferry port trains used to run down a viaduct and across a listed swingbridge to the maritime station on the waterfront. The viaduct's been disused for years, but has just been converted into an elevated walkway across the marina (commercial reason: to provide a direct link to the new foodie destination on the harbour arm). Access is still via a temporary set of stairs, but the renovation is very nicely done, with hardy plants alongside footpaths curving across the points. Normally one of the Triennial's artworks is located in the former station, but this year that's a building site as the canopies are refurbished and an access path driven through. Expect to find three railway carriages plying food and drink by the time the whole thing's complete, maybe next year. [5 photos]
Meanwhile here are three installations that didn't quite work.
Another Time XVIII 2013: Antony Gormley's loaned two of his cast-iron effigies to the Triennial, one of either side of the harbour, but underneath the main promenade where they get drowned by the tide. As such you can't see them either side of high tide, which proved problematic when I visited on a day with a lunchtime peak. One I finally reached, staring white-cliffward beneath the harbour arm, but I had to pass on the more evocative body under Coronation Parade, dammit. [photo]
Folke Stone Power Plant: We've had this great idea, said the Urbonases. You know that dodgy streetlamp round the back of the Museum? We'll power it using an organic battery, and hide the apparatus inside a fake walk-in rock. The Triennial board must have been impressed, but unfortunately the technology doesn't yet work, and even then 60 mushroom-sourced cells would be needed to illuminate the bulb. [photo]
The Ledge: Bill Woodrow's concept was an Inuit on a thin snowy shelf supported above a big black puddle, a perilous balancing act with climate change connotations. Unfortunately the "independent fabricators" haven't yet delivered, so a blank pedestal sits at the foot of the western cliffs between the beach huts, and might or might not be filled soon.
And that's only about half of the works. There's a big yellow horn up on the cliffs redolent of a sound mirror, an outstanding geospatial history of Folkestone on display inside the restored Customs House, and a lovely set of 3D-printed golden boats on poles down one of the shopping streets. If you fancy a treasure trail there's a collection of gnarled mini metal sculptures resembling seashells scattered across buildings and businesses across the entire town. One timber-vaulted work has been squeezed into the Triennial's visitor centre, which is normally a cafe, in the hope you'll stop for some tea and cakes and something from the shop. I didn't. There are also a few installations which can be best summarised as "oh, I seesomebodypaintedsomething", and which are often more interesting as a concept than as somewhere to linger.
Whatever, I can unhesitatingly recommend the Folkestone Triennial as a fascinating day out, particularly if you enjoy combining urban exploration with a splash of thought-provoking culture. It's also really pretty in myriad ways and styles, as I hope my set of photos will convince you. You can bone up on the basics on the website, or by downloading the free app, or take a look at the map before you go. I'll remind you that Southeastern are offering £10 off-peak return fares from London, so long as you book before 6pm the previous day - this offer finishes next Sunday. What's more you'll also be able to see 28 works left in place after previous Triennials, as Folkestone slowly accumulates a world-class anthology of outdoor art. Remember to get there before November 5th. I have 2020 pencilled in already.