The Folkestone Triennial: regeneration, regeneration, regeneration

Nathan ColeyThe Kent coast has apparently become the centre of the British art world. And why not? It’s only a matter of time before everyone and everything is priced out of London – let art and artists lead the way.

After all, Ms Tracey Emin, premier female British artist du jour – currently enjoying a long-awaited and fabulous retrospective at the Hayward Gallery – grew up in Kent’s own Margate. But it’s not Margate or Emin I want to talk about – it’s Folkestone.

Despite having lived on the Kent coast for just over a year before re-locating back to London, I never visited Folkestone. It’s a strange truth about small towns that people rarely leave them, even to visit neighbouring towns. It’s stranger still that the distances and/or journey times involved often equate to what most city-dwellers would consider a short and easy commute. But this is all besides the point. Folkestone is currently holding it’s Triennial; ‘the flagship project of the Creative Foundation, a charity based in Folkestone, which is leading the large-scale renewal of the old town area, known as the Creative Quarter’. It’s basically a two-month long celebration of the arts, held in and around Folkestone’s public spaces and galleries, and it’s spectacularly good fun.

I suppose it didn’t hurt that the day we went was a sunny Saturday, and the kids from local schools were out in a carnival parade, and it was just the right temperature for eating fish and chips outside, and the light was so clear that every photo we took, and all the people we spoke to glowed with that unique seaside glow. But I’d encourage everyone to go, even if it’s raining.

The sheer scale of the thing is impressive in itself; there are permanent installations by some big names (Nathan Coley, Tracey Emin and Mark Wallinger to name a few) and temporary exhibitions by a fantastic array of well-knowns, home-growns and newcomers. Particularly notable among these, I think, are Paloma Varga Weisz and her Rug People, Cornelia Parker’s The Folkestone Mermaid and Strange Cargo’s brilliant and touching Everywhere Means Something To Someone.

Rug People‘s location on the derelict Folkestone Harbour train station is remarkable and atmospheric in itself. We spent a good half hour wandering up and down the platform gaping at the rust and the plants; the place looks as though humans have vanished from the face of the earth (or at least Folkestone) and it’s been untouched and unseen for decades.

The whole effect is of a town coming out of its shell and shouting loudly that it wants to be there. Like Margate with it’s new Turner Contemporary, Folkestone seems to be pinning it’s hopes on art, artists and art-lovers to drag it from obscurity and ruin. Unlike Margate, it seems that Folkestone is a lot further down the line to making this actually work. It’s really very heartening, and I left feeling uplifted and hopeful (and a bit giddy from all the fresh air and sunshine).

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