The Folkestone Triennial 2011

If the town’s folk wouldn’t walk ten minutes up the prom to the Metropole (Kent’s pre-eminent contemporary gallery until its closure three years ago) traveling to another gallery to see a show would seem a pointless exercise. But when galleries can appear intimidating and highbrow, walking into a local church, library or just nipping in off the high street is much less daunting.

Folkestone was once a thriving Victorian seaside resort and latterly a ferry terminal for the Boulogne day-trippers until it’s closure in 2000, but now art is the reason to visit and the net being used to fish it out of the doldrums.

The town’s second Triennial has been introducing art into Folkestone via the Creative Foundation, a local initiative headed by ex Saga boss Roger De Haan, and Its everywhere you look. Fine for an arts enthusiast like me but many locals may quite rightly ask, what’s in it for them. The answer starts with some big names in contemporary art whose work is attracting cultural folk to visit and stay for a weekend; new restaurants are opening to cater for the newcomers, and the local coffee shops are bustling with visitors sipping cappuccinos and lattes.

Curator Andrea Schleiker has chosen to introduce an international selection for this years “A Million Miles from Home” themed festival. Balanced between migration, home and otherworld, many works reflect a sense of being in a strange place or on unfamiliar territory, while others speak of journeys and wanderings. All are sited in new and unusual settings, some in overgrown, locked up or previously hidden locations.

As an invigilator for the Triennial I’m happy to chat to strangers, and if i can help someone to understand a work then so much the better. Having invigilated half of the 19 works thus far, it’s easy to see those which stand head and shoulders above the rest on the popular vote. Hew Locke’s installation in St Mary and St Eanswythe’s church For Those in Peril On The Sea – a colourful display of model boats suspended above the nave receives well over 250 viewings each day, people returning with friends and family to share the experience.

Atop a large rock by a sandy beach sits Cornelia Parker’s bronze The Folkestone Mermaid. The body cast of a local woman is a direct reference to a stylised version in Copenhagen (The Little Mermaid) and like that iconic piece is one which will undoubtedly stay, adding to the growing collection of permanent works from the previous triennial.

At the far west end is Christina Iglesias’s Towards The Sound Of Wilderness, a sculptural piece of polished steel and green, textured bramble cast in resin. Creating an impressive viewing point or passage onto an eerily overgrown Martello tower and one which few local realized was there, the combination of rampant nature over the hidden ruin suggests a portal towards other worlds.

At the opposite east end of the town, the National Coastwatch station is showing a film created by Indian based arts group, CAMP (Creative Arts and Media Practices). In The Country Of The Blind, And Other Stories, a title taken from a story by the once local resident H G Welles, refers to the Dover Coast Guard’s blind spot of the Folkestone harbor area, and as in the country of the blind the one eyed man being king, alludes to the telescopic views which are echoed by the films framed presentation. The film is an hour long sequence of 50 edited clips of interesting, bizarre and everyday sightings, made all the more entertaining by the narration of the station’s volunteer group.

Other films in the Triennial include Promised Land by Nikolaj Larsen, screened in a disused bar by the beach in an area home to many asylum seekers. The film focuses on a group of migrants in camps near Calais at the end of long and dangerous journeys from Afghanistan and Iraq on their way to Britain giving an insight into their lifes and struggles just twenty miles away over the channel.

Light house In The Sea Of Time is a beautifully filmed and choreographed series of multiple projections of two Algerian lighthouses, built during the French occupation. Zineb Sedira has also included lighthouse keepers’ reminiscences of their life and love of the monastic lifestyle.

Smader Dreyfus’s film of Israeli classrooms, School, can be found in a series of darkened vacant offices above Boots. Each room has a screen, a representation of blackboards, where the spoken dialogue during lessons is projected as white text, the content emphasized in various font styles and sizes.

Upstairs in the main library you can find Charles Avery’s The Sea Monster. Skeletal remains of an unknown beast lays prostrate on the polished parquet floor, the combination of at least five different animals including horse, python and llama, and a continuation of Avery’s ongoing project, The Islanders. Illustrations help to decipher, but mainly add to, the visually cryptic clues of this strangely mysterious community.

One of those simple but brilliant concepts you wished you’d thought of is the Spencer Finch’s The Colour Of Water colour wheel. Most people when asked what colour is the sea would suggest one, maybe two colours at most. On various mornings I may text in my chosen matches of four different sea colours against the giant revolving pantone swatch, to be later hoisted as flags in the town centre.

A shop in the Old High Street has been chosen for the Boutique Kosovo, housing a rare and eclectic mix of traditional folkloric dress but presented in a fashionable clothes shop style. Erzen Shkololli has put together this collection as a reminder of the richness of traditional clothing design and their link to culture, whilst at the same time highlighting their fast disappearance and replacement by the bland uniformity of universal fashions through globalisation.

There are many others to be discovered and for me to invigilate, such as works by Tonico Auad, Hala Elkousy and Martin Creed. Some of which may perhaps be chosen to be added to the already impressive list from the first Triennial: Mark Wallinger’s Folke Stones and Tracey Emin’s series of Baby Things are just two. All seem to have been accepted by the community, and with a sense of pride as something important that belongs to the town.