Bells, boats, clocks, water-powered lifts, lighthouses, washed-up sea creatures, even mermaids – now that sounds like the makings of a fine day out by the sea. Except this is not just a jaunt with the promise of cod and chips or sandy beaches, this is a fraction of what you’ll be surprised and enchanted by when visiting The Folkestone Triennial, during the summer.
June 25 saw the unveiling of an ambitious collection of site-specific artworks curated by Andrea Schlieker and supported by The Creative Foundation. Nineteen international artists, each responded to the title ‘A Million Miles From Home’. The original 2008 Triennial boasted an impressive array of acclaimed artists including Tracey Emin, Mark Wallinger and Richard Wilson, and sought to explore ‘Tales of Time and Space’, specifically relating to the history and people of Folkestone. It reflected
the playful, candy-floss culture of the seaside past that we’ve become almost nostalgic for, with many of the works established as permanent exhibits around the town. This Triennial, however, takes an entirely different turn, reflecting an outward looking and altogether more sombre facet of the town and coastline as a gateway to other cultures, politics, environmental warnings and the fundamental notion of how our shores contribute to our sense of place and belonging.
These themes were uncomfortably yet powerfully explored in Nicolaj Larsen’s threescreen film ‘Promised Land’ which depicts the intimate trust between him and a group of migrants from Afghanistan and Iran trapped in camps near Calais, revealing their stories of home with the hope of one day making it to the city of dreams, London. This sensitive observation of the human need to remember their pasts and to anchor themselves to a sense of place was equally explored with Zineb Sedira’s ‘Lighthouse in the Sea of Time’ an audio and visual account of two lighthouse keepers in Algeria.
But not every piece is a harrowing tale of lost communities or displacement. Martin Creed’s ‘Work No.1196’, is an eloquently pareddown sound piece that fits the very fabric of the water-powered Leas Lift in such a convincing way that it would be hard to imagine the journey up the steep cliff in these charming wooden elevators without his composition, played by The Secconi Quartet humming in your ears. The same could also be said for Hew Locke’s colourful installation ‘For Those In Peril On The Sea’; one hundred model ships suspended from the nave of the oldest building in Folkestone, St Mary and St Eanswythe’s Church. The collection seems to resonate so clearly with the fabric of the building that it will indeed feel like a Christmas tree stripped of its decorations once the Triennial draws to a close. This is an installation concerned not just with a strong belief in the power of the sea but also one of warning at our tendency to misuse it. Cornelia Parker’s ‘The Folkestone Mermaid’ will feel the force of the Kent coast directly, as it sits perched on the rocks. Her very real-life version of Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid is cast directly in bronze, modelled on a Folkestone resident she advertised for in the local paper. This piece, as it corrodes and weathers over time, will undoubtedly become a monument in its own right.
So what of the souvenirs to take away from the seaside? The experience of this slightly faded yet charming town is one of inclusion, the invigilators encourage you to ask questions, touch and pull the ropes that ring A.K. Dolven’s haunting bell, ‘Out of Tune’, sit and contemplate for as little or as long as you like, spin Spencer Finch’s giant colour wheel to match the sea, and wonder over the frightening authenticity of Charles Avery’s ‘Sea Monster’. There is no need for a stick of rock or even a postcard; you will wish you were here. ‘A Million Miles From Home’ continues throughout Folkestone until 25th September 2011. Rebecca Davies