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Whitstable Biennale brings arts to town

By Angela Cole

The 2018 Whitstable Biennale, opening this weekend, brings more than 20 events across eight days to the town, with commissions, art exhibitions and films taking over the town in a variety of places - including some unexpected ones.

Bringing experimental and emerging art to Whitstable, it will be dotted around the town making new routes to explore for those who don’t know Whitstable and taking over unusual spaces as well as the streets, beach, and harbour.

Painters at the launch of Rooty Tooty ice cream created for a previousWhitstable Biennale
Painters at the launch of Rooty Tooty ice cream created for a previousWhitstable Biennale

Taking its title from Booker-shortlisted novel Swimming Home by acclaimed writer Deborah Levy, many of the works are a response to the rhythms of the tide and a reflection on the ocean, looking at where home might be, being at sea or in exile, while others look at identity and the movement and instability of languages, food, cargo and people.

Deborah Levy, whose own inspiration came from John Cheever’s book The Swimmer - later made into a film starring Burt Lancaster - has created a new, limited-edition text specially and will be reading from it.

Artist Sophie Lee’s sound work is inspired by a 12th century mystic and will be broadcast from the bell tower at St Alphege while Jude Crilly’s biodegradable sculpture will attract a mass of seagulls.

Alice Theobald’s live performance with two choirs will be staged on the artificial greens of the Oyster Indoor Bowls Club and Hannah Lees will be working with art and food at the Horsebridge café.

A film installation by Kihlberg and Henry, Slow Violence, will be part of this year's Whitstable Biennale
A film installation by Kihlberg and Henry, Slow Violence, will be part of this year's Whitstable Biennale

Photo-based artist Sarah Dobai has worked with writer Tom McCarthy on a new performance work set in small spaces, like pods found in offices while Leigh Clarke’s exhibition The Syrian draws on the work of W H Bossons - a Cheshire manufacturer of kitsch ceramic wall hangings including Bossons Heads which were caricatures of wildlife, Dickensian characters and indigenous people from National Geographic magazines.

New commissions include a film installation by Kihlberg and Henry looking at the changing face of the urban environment and showing for the second time, artist Sarah Wood will work with found footage, making films from other people's films.

There will also be artist-led walks take you through hidden alleyways and marshy edge lands or combine with discussions in The Walking Reading Group.

Visitors are invited to go foraging with local bird experts or join a surreal dining experience in a restaurant in the Labour Club and there will be performances on the beach.


Whitstable Biennale is a festival of performance, film and sound, taking place every two years. Its aim is to re-imagine the town with a range of performances and events woven into the town.

It has grown out of Whitstable’s extensive artistic community and has developed an international reputation. Artists are commissioned to create ambitious and experimental new works, and stage live performances, film screenings, talks, digital works, events and workshops, engaging audiences with the most compelling new work from across the UK and beyond.


Whitstable Biennale runs from Saturday, June 2 to Sunday, June 10 at various locations. For details go to whitstablebiennale.com

It is supported by Arts Council England, Canterbury City Council, Kent County Council, the University of Kent and Westwood Jerwood Creative Bursaries.

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