Garth Gratrix and Michael Trainor have recently returned from a little art espionage in Folkestone on behalf of Art B&B. The two intrepid explorers who are leading the art commissioning side of the (officially amazing) Blackpool project visited the tail end of Folkestone’s Triennial art expo with a view to eliciting some advice from its creative director Lewis Biggs (who also established Tate Liverpool and ran Liverpool Biennial).
During coffee and discussions with the wise and generous Mr Biggs, Garth started to plot how he could acquire 3 ‘Holidays Homes’ to bring back to Blackpool. One of the star attractions of the Triennial’s 2017 public installations are artist Richard Woods almost cartoonish house structures cast across the town and coastal landscape – a comment on the economic inequality of second homes when many people cannot afford one.
With a little more plotting due to take place the Holiday Homes might be coming on holiday themselves to Blackpool to coincide with the launch of Art B&B (no, don’t ask us for a date – we are still wrestling that to the ground).
Richard Woods is a fascinating artist whose wide-ranging work from furniture to public art toys with architecture and pattern – often looking like bold digital graphics that have accidentally popped into 3D reality. You can see a lot more of his work here: https://www.richardwoodsstudio.com/ and hopefully we can persuade him to come and talk about it all as part of LeftCoast’s ‘Golden Section’ series of public talks (the aforementioned Lewis Biggs has already agreed to do one).
In some respects there is a lot of learning for Blackpool from Folkestone’s journey over the last 15 years or so. Not so long ago it was a fairly dated seaside town with an only sparsely occupied town centre (and a lot of poor hotels)… until it started to adopt creative approaches to social and cultural regeneration initially lead by local arts organisations such as strange cargo. Over time this morphed into what is effectively a culture company called the ‘Creative Foundation’ https://www.creativefoundation.org.uk/ who have acquired and renovated a substantial chunk of the town centre, established the Folkestone Triennial in 2008 and now run the book festival, artist studios, venues and have even established an entire creative quarter. The changes in Folkestone’s fortunes since the early 2000s are palpable with businesses thriving, small galleries and creative industries everywhere, better hotels, restored buildings and of course, a lot of coffee shops. Its gentrification kids! But as Susanne Johnson from Mrs Johnson’s wool shop in South Beach https://mrsjohnsonsemporium.co.uk/ said at a Blackpool future visioning discussion – perhaps we need a bit of gentrification! Even the old pubs are becoming projects spaces for students to try out the public taste for cultural rather than liquid consumption.
One of the most interesting aspects of the triennial is that much of the work from previous triennials is left in-situ and becomes a growing collection of layers of work from great artists over time. A particular favourite of mine is Richard Wilson’s crazy golf course which is reconstructed as a series of beach huts.