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Folkestone Triennial 2021: Our reporter explores the artworks dotted around Folkestone's Creative Quarter and beyond


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With this year's Folkestone Triennial now up and running, we sent reporter Rhys Griffiths on the hunt for artworks across the town. Here's what he found plus a video containing disturbing dance moves...

I began my quest to explore the latest set of Folkestone triennial works at Central station. I wanted to try to see things from the perspective of a visitor, stepping off the train for the first time.

Benchmark 1-5 by Richard Deacon in Kingsnorth Gardens
Benchmark 1-5 by Richard Deacon in Kingsnorth Gardens

Luckily, two of the three routes mapped out by the event organisers start nearby. And it was on the station approach that, purely by chance, I came across Sophie, a volunteer resplendent in a red Triennial t-shirt and matching tote bag.

She kindly handed me her sole event guidebook, and after consulting the map within I opted to follow Plot C - The Milky Way - which promised to lead me via the town's former gasworks and onwards towards the harbour arm.

The title of the 2021 Triennial - the fifth edition of this public art extravaganza - is The Plot and the event's chief curator Lewis Biggs says the theme focuses on "movement, circulation and narration".

In his introduction to the exhibition, he says: "Each of the 'ways' that flow through the exhibition evokes a part of Folkestone's history and offers a rationale for why the town appears how it does today."

Having grown up here, I was keen to see how the artists have interpreted this brief, and how their works inhabit and interact with their settings.

Mellowing the Corners by Mariko Hori in Kingsnorth Gardens
Mellowing the Corners by Mariko Hori in Kingsnorth Gardens

So, map in hand, I set off in search of the first piece on the trail. But first, a word about the title of this route: The Milky Way.

According to my guidebook, this was an informal name for Foord Road South, bestowed because many moons ago horse-drawn wagons hauled coal from the harbour up the Pent valley to the gasworks and then returned the same way laden with chalk to be used as ballast by the ships.

The claim is that someone at the time likened the effect of chalk falling on coal dust to the stars in the night sky, hence the name.

Now, growing up in Folkestone, the only Milky Way I was aware of came in Christmas selection boxes, but you live and learn. See? This is how you can see your own town through the eyes of a visitor.

The first two pieces on Plot C are to be found in Kingsnorth Gardens, which this morning was looking achingly beautiful under bright blue skies.

Nur by HoyCheong Wong, Simon Davenport and Shahed Saleem at the Islamic Community Centre
Nur by HoyCheong Wong, Simon Davenport and Shahed Saleem at the Islamic Community Centre
Skating Situations by Assemble are a set of sculptures which can also be used by skaters
Skating Situations by Assemble are a set of sculptures which can also be used by skaters

Depending on which way you enter the park, the artworks may take some hunting down, such is the way they have been carefully integrated into the formal gardens.

First are Richard Deacon's Benchmark 1-5, a series of granite sculptures situated in spaces previously designed to accommodate park benches, but left empty prior to the Triennial.

A few metres away is Mariko Hori's Mellowing the Corners, described as a "time-capsule boulder" which sits perfectly in place alongside box hedges of almost exactly the same proportions.

The sculpture is inspired by Folkestone's Zig-Zag Path, which leads down from the cliff-top Leas promenade to the coastal park below.

Built in the 1920s, the path is made of a substance called Pulhamite, designed to mimic the appearance of natural rock.

Pills by Stephenie Bergman on the wall of the Harbour Medical Practice
Pills by Stephenie Bergman on the wall of the Harbour Medical Practice
We found Climate Emergency Services by Mike Stubbs down by the harbour
We found Climate Emergency Services by Mike Stubbs down by the harbour

However, the weathering process of Pulhamite is significantly quicker than the genuine article, and just as the 'stones' of the Zig-Zag Path are now revealing layers within, so Hori's work will fade to reveal objects donated by Folkestone residents - acting as a time capsule which will gradually give up its secrets in the coming years.

Revealing hidden things feels like a very appropriate theme for the Triennial, as it encourages visitors to explore parts of the town usually far from the beaten track and often simply inaccessible to the public.

A number of the artworks on the trail I was following are to be found within the town's former gasworks, now earmarked for redevelopment by the council.

The wonderful volunteer hosts at the site insisted I interact a little more intimately with one of the pieces - a dance floor and big screen where visitors are encouraged to join in a line dance called the Slosh.

After a quick run through of the, I was assured, very simple steps, I am good to go, and hit the floor ready to do my thing. Reader, you may judge my efforts yourself, but if the couple stood impassively to my side are anything to go by, I was far from getting this or any other party started.

Our reporter gets into the swing of things

The piece itself is entitled Beautiful Sunday, and artist Jacqueline Donachie aims to celebrate the "dance floors of Folkestone past and present". The evidence suggests my dancing days should be consigned firmly to the past as well.

A highlight of the Triennial experience for me is the fantastic variation of the different types of work on show.

In the early morning sunshine the pieces in Kingsnorth Garden had a calming quality, such is the way they are so considerately created to sit within the context of the space itself. Perched on one of Deacon's benches, feeling my hand against the cool granite, I could have lingered for far longer had I not had many other things to see in a relatively short space of time.

Making these additions permanent means the Triennial leaves a lasting legacy of pieces woven carefully into the fabric of the town.

At the other end of the scale are works such as Shezad Dawood's The Terrarium, commissioned by UP Projects, a virtual reality artwork which transports viewers hundreds of years into a future where the earth has been submerged by water and you are transformed into some form of hybrid sea creature.

Reporter Rhys Griffiths immerses himself in Shezad Dawood's virtual reality artwork The Terrarium
Reporter Rhys Griffiths immerses himself in Shezad Dawood's virtual reality artwork The Terrarium

Those yet to experience immersive VR should definitely stop by Folkestone Library to enter Dawood's somewhat troubling world, even if you are not planning to visit any of the other artworks.

The aquatic adventure ends with a decision, one which led me into the frozen wastes of deep space. I intend to revisit and discover if my choice revealed the better or worse of the two possible conclusions to the piece.

From the library the trail drops down towards the Creative Quarter and the harbour, where the final pieces on Plot C can be found.

At the harbour arm I find Tina Gverovic's work Surface Flows, images of floating clothing laid out on the former ferry ramp, which the event's curators describe as a reminder of "the flow of people and goods around the world, often by water, and generally reaching their destination, but sometimes foundering".

As I gazed across and beyond the heavy concrete ramp, towards Sunny Sands, I could see families playing happily on the shoreline in the summer sunshine.

Surface Flows by Tina Gverovic at the harbour's one-time ferry ramp
Surface Flows by Tina Gverovic at the harbour's one-time ferry ramp

But at a time when concerns over Channel crossings by desperate people in small boats are heightened, Gverovic's work served as a stark reminder that while the Channel may be a place of fun and relaxation for some, for others it represents a treacherous stage of a terrifying journey towards a new life.

"The urban landscape is constantly changing," Lewis Biggs writes in his introduction to the Triennial, "with people, goods, traffic, money, knowledge and stories circulating through it to keep it alive and in flux.

"Each of the exhibitions's three plots or 'ways' is a story and an image of movement and circulation."

Having spent the morning wandering along one of these ways, I find myself eager to return and explore the other paths yet untravelled.

Whether you are from Folkestone, Kent, or even further afield, a journey to explore this year's Triennial promises to be richly rewarding.

Gateways of the Sea by artist Atta Kwami at the Folkestone Harbour Arm
Gateways of the Sea by artist Atta Kwami at the Folkestone Harbour Arm

To find out more about the Folkestone Triennial, click here

To book your slot to experience the VR work at Folkestone Library, click here

To find out what’s going on in the county and for all the latest entertainment news, click here

Read more: All the latest news from Folkestone

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