Creative Folkestone Triennial 2021 opens with 23 major new public artworks across the coastal town

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Creative Folkestone Triennial 2021 opens with 23 major new public artworks across the coastal town
Rana Begum, No. 1054 Arpeggio, Commissioned for Creative Folkestone Triennial 2021 in partnership with Folkestone Hythe District Council. Photo by Thierry Bal.

MILL BAY.- The fifth edition of the Creative Folkestone Triennial, one of the UK’s most ambitious art exhibitions, opens to the public on Thursday 22 July, running across the summer until Tuesday 2 November 2021. Curated by Lewis Biggs and titled The Plot, this year’s edition reveals 23 major, newly commissioned public artworks by 25 celebrated artists from across the globe. Free to the public and located primarily outdoors, the Folkestone Triennial marks a major moment in the UK’s cultural calendar.

Following its run, some works will remain long term in Folkestone’s public space, joining the 74 other Creative Folkestone Artworks positioned across the town and harbour which are accessible throughout the year. Dedicated to producing and enabling the very best creative activity that has transformed Folkestone and East Kent, Creative Folkestone’s mission is to make the town a better place to live, work, play and visit.

Alastair Upton, Chief Executive, Creative Folkestone says: When we postponed the Triennial last year, we knew we had to return with something special and that is exactly what we have done. Following a year of lockdowns, stress and anxiety for everyone, it feels like there is a renewed energy here in Folkestone. Collectively we are ready to welcome people back to the town: a place that is proud of its independence, resilience and creativity. This edition of the Triennial is full of colour, optimism and artworks by some of the most forward-thinking artists in the world. We are inviting people to skateboard, dance, and step into virtual worlds, rediscovering parts of Folkestone that have been hidden away for years. Come and enjoy it.

The artists exhibited in Creative Folkestone Triennial 2021 are: Assemble, Rana Begum, Sam Belinfante, Stephenie Bergman, Patrick Corillon, Shezad Dawood, Richard Deacon, Jacqueline Donachie, genuinefake, Gilbert & George, Tina Gverović, Mariko Hori, Christopher Houghton Budd, Atta Kwami, Morag Myerscough, Jacqueline Poncelet, Pilar Quinteros, Mike Stubbs, Jason Wilsher-Mills, Winter / Hörbelt, and HoyCheong Wong, Simon Davenport & Shahed Saleem.

Creative Folkestone Triennial 2021, The Plot

This year’s exhibition, The Plot, focuses on movement, circulation and narration. Site-specific sculptures and installations bring to life three plots, or “ways”, synonymous with historic Folkestone narratives: St Eanswythe’s Way, William Harvey’s Way and The Milky Way. Following these three routes, the exhibition charts the body’s movement through the environment: the impact of the urban landscape on us and our impact on it. Reflecting on how these surroundings are subject to continual change – through the circulation of people, goods, traffic, money, knowledge and stories – the Triennial asks visitors to consider urban myths and their relation to verifiable realities; the gap between story and materiality.

The first plot, St Eanswythe’s Way, marks the engineered watercourse named after Folkestone’s patron saint, which ran through the town for 700 years. Some artworks situated across this route make direct references to St Eanswythe, such as Winter / Hörbelt’s St Eanswythe’s Return, which features a stark white sculptural tree-fountain, and Patrick Corillon’s five ‘relic boxes’, On the Track of St Eanswythe’s Waterway, inspired by the artist’s dialogue with local residents. Meanwhile, other artists gesture to the existing surroundings; for example, Jacqueline Poncelet has created striking patterns of shimmer discs which decorate the exteriors of the town’s two ‘cabin’ buildings, celebrating and articulating the energy of the recently recovered public footpaths.

Running across Folkestone’s coastal path is the Triennial’s second plot, William Harvey’s Way. Born here in 1578, William Harvey was the first known physician to describe in complete detail the systemic circulation and properties of blood. Here, some artworks invigorate Folkestone’s promenade. Rana Begum has designed a unique colour scheme for a half-mile marching rank of beach huts, genuinefake’s candy pink architectural sculptures celebrate the site’s former amusement park, and Mariko Hori positions new Pulhamite ‘boulders’ containing objects donated by residents, acting as time capsules.

The Milky Way constitutes the third plot for the Triennial, referring to the informal name for one of Folkestone’s main industrial roads, which was stained black by coal dust and then white by chalk. A number of participatory artworks feature along this route, including Assemble’s Skating Situations, where the artists have collaborated with local skaters to develop ‘skateable sculptures’, and Shezad Dawood’s virtual reality artwork The Terrarium, taking viewers 300 years into the future. Both Atta Kwami and Morag Myerscough have created joyful welcome points for visitors, in the form of Kwami’s abstract archway and Myerscough’s vibrant gas holder-shaped pavilion. The latter is located in the town’s old Gasworks site, now open to the public for the first time since the 1950s.

Creative Folkestone Triennial’s curator Lewis Biggs elaborates on the exhibition: Unsurprisingly, the pandemic has made this year’s Creative Folkestone Triennial harder to plan and produce, whilst also providing some significant shifts in public perception that have reinforced latent meanings. For instance, people have become more willing to slow down and take notice of their physical surroundings, and they are searching for colour and life-affirmation, all of which plays to the strengths of this outdoor urban show. The title The Plot is a handle for opening up dialogue. Our visitors will find an exhibition that is multi-layered and dense with local reference while resonating with vital contemporary global concerns.

Making art for the urban outdoors is always a challenge – the scale, the context, the compliance with regulations – but the best artists always make this an opportunity for surprising and moving artworks. We have some amazing, ambitious commissions for this Triennial. I so admire the way the artists have grasped the moment.

Digital Resources and an Expansive Public Programme

Creative Folkestone will bring the Triennial online with video and audio interviews with all the participating artists, available on the Creative Folkestone website. There will also be curator-led podcasts entitled Folkestone Triennial Plots, which can be accessed via major podcast platforms. Upcoming talks and events will be live-streamed on the Creative Folkestone YouTube and Facebook platforms, with more details on these to be released.

An expansive public participatory programme has been built around this year’s Triennial. Running across the exhibition, the town will play host to film screenings, guided tours, skateboarding jams, and numerous artist-led events. Sam Belinfante will conduct three processions and performances alongside illuminated evening events and a choreographed light display, and talks curated by Christopher Houghton Budd update William Harvey’s discovery of the circulation of the blood.

Family workshops and educational activities are directly inspired by the Triennial artworks. Children are invited to experiment with drawing, sculpture, inks and other materials, to explore artistic themes and interpret the works for themselves.

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