fri 31/03/2023

Time, Weather, Place: Folkestone Triennial 2014 | reviews, news & interviews

Time, Weather, Place: Folkestone Triennial 2014

Time, Weather, Place: Folkestone Triennial 2014

Headless 'terror' chickens, a naff baroque beach hut, and digging for gold

'Is Why the Place' by Tim Etchells, at Folkestone's disused Habour Station

The crusty old Scottish artist Ian Hamilton Finlay died in 2006, but there’s a new art work by him at this year’s Folkestone Triennial. You won’t be able to see it with the naked eye, but you can through a pair of binoculars. If you peer through a viewing tower from Folkestone’s disused Harbour Pier you’ll see one of Finlay’s enigmatic phrases come into focus: “WEATHER IS A THIRD TO PLACE AND TIME”.

The words are written on the grey façade of a lighthouse in that gorgeous shade of midnight blue the artist favoured. 

The work was realised in collaboration with Finlay’s estate, and though I would normally find the posthumous creation of an art work – one that has not been conceived by the artist – just a bit iffy, that fragment of a sentence feels timelessly fitting and resonant. Finlay was an artist obsessed by the sea. And in this spot, haunted by the ghostly seafarers of Folkestone past, death, decay, dilapidation, as well as renewal, all feel very present.

What an unappealing spectacle this is – so much for enjoying the simple pleasures of the English seaside

From the lighthouse it’s only a skip and a hop to the deserted Harbour Railway Station, where you’ll encounter another text work, this time by Tim Etchells. On walls either side of two platforms, two neon signs spell out the sentence: “Coming And Going is Why The Place Exists At All” (see main picture). The signs are mirror reversals of each other, so can be read travelling in either direction. It's obvious in meaning and a little trite in execution – neon writing felt dated 10 years ago. If it’s hoping to nudge us into gentle reverie it fails, as does Yoko Ono’s “Earth Peace” poster. What's not to irritate about Ono’s glibly punning, generic peace slogans?

Folkestone has its fair share of empty shops, and in one, closer to the town centre, you’ll find Andy Goldsworthy’s low-key time pieces, filmed locally. In one film, Rain Shadow, he's seen lying on the pavement on the high street, then getting up and leaving his wet imprint to slowly dry on the concrete – though it’s far more interesting to note the complete indifference of the passers-by, as they continue to go about their business. Another film shows a small river boulder in shallow water covered in wet poppy petals. These disperse as the water ebbs and flows. Time and nature erase presence and memory. In World War One, some ten million soldiers departed from Folkestone; only two million returned. Though Goldsworthy’s work often strikes me as fey, his best pieces ring out with eloquence and mystery. 

Andy Goldsworth, Clay StepsElsewhere, Goldsworthy has caked a shop window in wet clay. As it dries, cracks and crumbles, the interior darkness lifts as light gradually floods the room. Light, the epic metaphor, yet Goldsworthy’s work is quiet, quotidian. Sometimes, just sometimes, he pulls it off. I like his Clay Steps (pictured right), a stairway carpeted in fissured clay. It suggests an arid landscape but one that's as precarious as thin ice. We can attempt to ascend, the piece might be saying, but the ground beneath our feet may just give way. What looks solid is fragile. 

Then there are the five big water tanks by local artists Diane Dever and Jonathan Wright. These follow the course of the Pent stream, which flows underground and is a largely forgotten part of the town’s industrial history. I can’t say the tanks speak to me of anything much, and nor do the headless chickens perched on the tops of several ugly buildings. The Withervanes, by Cézanne Charles and John Marshall, are designed to pick up internet signals from newsfeeds and twitter alerts and to respond to levels of global terror: they change colour (red for highest alert), they rotate or they stand still, tails or heads (I can't remember which) in the direction of the greatest threat. If you send enough twitter messages they’ll respond. But I’m not sure what the point is (are we all in a "headless chicken" panic? What about sticking a few pub-bore armchair politicians up there?). You'll have more meaningful fun playing a war game. 

Alex Hartley, VigilPerched on the edge of another building, the rather magnificient though grubby and weatherworn ocean liner-like Grand Burstin Hotel, is Alex Hartley (pictured left). Hartley has set up an an eyrie with some camping equipment and intends to keep vigil over the town, occasionally changing places with a volunteer with a head for heights. It’s a fair panorama that greets his gaze, but I’m not sure he’ll be able to see the gold prospectors on what I can gather may be the only stretch of sandy beach on the whole of Folkestone's coast. Michael Sailstrofer had hidden 30 pieces of gold in the sand in the Outer Harbour and visitors have been busy getting stuck in. What an unappealing spectacle this is – so much for enjoying the simple pleasures of the English seaside.

But you can still enjoy a walk along the promenade with its beautiful pastel-coloured beach huts. They’re a wonderful sight, each painted in an array of colours. What a delight those stacked art deco huts you’ll encounter at one end are. And here stands Pablo Bronstein’s contribution: a naff "beach hut" in the style of Nicholas Hawksmoor, or at least a kind of ugly, brooding grey Lego version of a Hawksmoor design. I hope it doesn’t become permanent, as some of the works this year will. It's not a functional beach hut – it's a sculpture – and in its overbearing po-mo "playful" way, it's an eyesore.

One of the nice things about going to any town or city at art festival time, is the chance to simply explore. Whatever your level of familiarity, an art trail is an opportunity to discover more about a place. This is the overriding pleasure of the Folkestone Triennial; the actual work, with one or two exceptions this year, doesn't add anything more.

Fisun Guner on Twitter


So yet another commentator who plucks the content from a brochure? Had the scribbler actually come to the festival and looked around, he would have known there is an even larger sandy beach. How far away Just 10 meters away over a wall!

Over a wall, you say? I feel you are having a laugh, Anonymous. And 'he'? I agree it's easy to make lazy assumptions. You'll note that in my review I actually avoid doing so.

This is badly written and like 'Anonymous' I have a strong suspicion Fisun has never been to Folkestone and simply skim-read the Trienniale programme before writing HER piece. Lazy journalism.

Emma, a conclusion that's reached on the back of an unfounded suspicion (founded on what? - because you don't like what the piece says?) is extremely silly, isn't it? This is a review - an art review not a travel piece - which means the work in Folkestone got my undivided attention, on the ground, for a whole day. Yes. This is what the critics on TAD do. If I couldn't be bothered to get myself there in the first place, why do you think I'd actually then bother to write about it? Because Folkestone Triennial is the unmissable art event of the year? Or perhaps someone made me? I know it's hard, but thinking something through before committing yourself to a daft, spineless comment is always helpful. Thank you.

I based my judgement on the only thing available to me: this article. You may indeed have gone to Folkestone for the day, but that doesn't come across in this piece. You don't seem to have engaged with any of the artworks or the place. Whoever paid for you to spend a day there and write this piece about it must feel rather short changed. I rarely comment online, but this article was so poor I felt I had to. By the way, a quick google would have told you Folkestone actually has a big sandy beach. Regards, Emma

I did go to Folkestone, and found this review pretty accurate. Much of the work, notably Tim Etchells' neon lettering piece (illustrated top) was thin beyond belief. Guner was generous about Goldworthy's 'land art lite'. Emma's assumption that the reviewer didn't go to Folkestone seems to be based on the fact that she didn't like the opinion expressed. "Whoever paid for you to spend a day there and write this piece about it must feel rather short changed.'' Is a rail ticket and access to an unremarkable buffet lunch now considered payment for a good review?

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters