As an ardent fan of the British seaside, a day trip to the coast doesn’t take much persuasion, though biennials, triennials and the like do give one more of an impetus to leave the safety of the city and to journey to otherwise unlikely destinations, like Folkestone. Folkestone is a typical tired seaside town, peppered with boarded up businesses and faded shops, and a smattering of craft shops and gastropubs in the ‘Creative Quarter’.
The Folkestone Triennial gives the traveller a good day’s promenade to discover the 17 permanent commissions and the 21 new temporary artworks that engage with this year’s theme of the ‘lookout’ that considers both the port’s heritage and what the future might hold. The artworks in this edition are on the whole underwhelming, though several did engage with the environment and its inhabitants in a thoughtful fashion. A few highlights:
Strange Cargo’s The Luckiest Place on Earth under the bridge outside the station provided a strong welcoming to the triennial and a positive start for adventurers thronging from the station. Strange Cargo are a superb local arts organisation big into participatory arts projects and with this piece have made 3D sculptures of icons of good fortune that look down on the passers, modelled on local residents. Plus the charming Recycling Point for Luck and Wishes, as pictured above, allows you choose yourself a lucky penny to take with you or to leave a coin to make a wish.
Diane Dever & Jonathan Wright’s Pent Houses found about the town make one aware of the history and geology of the area, considering the Pent Stream that now runs deep beneath the concrete of the streets and caused a flood back in 1996. There’s quite a detailed and fascinating explanation behind where each water tower is located on the Triennial’s site.
Sarah Staton’s steel sculptural seating area Steve is a welcome sight at the harbour. A monument to the man of the future and his concern with sustainability, it houses a flowerbed filled with edible coastal plants and seats to sit and enjoy the coastal view.
Another work engaging with sustainability is The Wind Lift by Marjeica Portc and Ooze Architects. A most intriguing idea to harvest the wind beneath the viaduct to power the lift, and the wind turbine an attractive object in itself. However the data board explaining the wind speed and power consumption seemed to be on the blink when we were there which detracted from the key message of the work that the rides were dependent on the wind to power them. Plus once you were up 25 metres in the air the view was not that inspiring.
Master of natural materials, Andy Goldsworthy, contributes to the triennial two works utilising clay from Folkestone’s beaches. One work, covering a shop window, decays and is rebuilt by volunteers over the course of the festival, highlighting the cycle of urban decay and regeneration and also the transience of trade in seasonal places like Folkestone.
Folkestone Triennial 2014 runs until 2 November and is less than hour from London by train. I’ll certainly be returning to the next edition in 2017, curious to see what the next bunch of artists make of the town and its future.