Sunday, 2 November 2014

Folkestone Triennial and Chapman Brothers at the Jerwood

An artistic interlude after last week's theatricals.... Our old friends Sue and Graham came down from Birmingham to Folkestone to see the Triennial, and we drove over on Friday to meet them there and bring them back to Hastings for the weekend.
   It started out a bit pear-shaped. The main road was blocked both ways out by Brookland, and the journey took us a stressful one hour forty-five minutes instead of the pleasant journey along the coast road we had planned for - it was a gorgeously sunny, warm day.
   However, we eventually got to Folkestone, and parked down by the harbour. It was all looking very bright....
Sunny Folkestone - Grand Burstin Hotel in the background
   The Triennial is a festival of public art, and there were strange installations all over the town. Graham is a lecturer in art theory and fine art at the University of Stafford, and clearly is interested in such things. Fortunately they had already been on a massive walk all around the town before we arrived, so we only saw a few bits - readers of this blog will know that Battleaxe struggles with conceptual art.
   Folkestone is a strange mixture of a place. We've been several times.
   The Leas, up on the top of the cliffs, is a reminder of the town's great days as a destination for the upper classes.  One time we had a coffee in the Grand Hotel - talk about a total package of faded grandeur. I fully intend to stay there, but you can only book suites, not rooms per night. I love to imagine the local people, noses pressed to the glass of the 'Monkey House' Palm Court, watching King Edward VII in his 'monkey-suit', engaging in 'monkey business' with Mrs Keppel.
The Grand Hotel, Folkestone

   The old harbour area has been regenerated, as has the nearby 'Creative Quarter' - a few little streets with various arty crafty shops, eateries and galleries. It is a good barometer of the true state of the economy to observe the changing tenancies of these places, and the numbers of empty premises. As of Friday, I would read slight, and very precarious, recovery.....
    Much of the rest of the town, including the derelict docks area at sea-level, is grim. Levels of deprivation must be high.
    Talking of grim, Sue and Graham had just spent the night in the huge Grand Burstin Hotel by the harbour. It must have been busy when the ferry port operated, and is an impressive building - a 60s version of the Marine Court ocean-liner style. Oh boy, is it shabby now, and not in a good way. The public areas were like a working men's club, smelling of grease and loo-cleaner, and I couldn't believe this notice for hand-sanitizer outside the dining-room. It clearly caters for low-rent coach parties and probably asylum seekers.
Whatever kind of hotel is that?

    Anyway, we had a look at a few bits of art. One new building I liked, the Quarterhouse arts centre. It had a quotation from Yoko Ono on a mirror in the bar upstairs.
The Quarterhouse - with arty thing on top

Yoko Ono.....
    One installation consisted of what looked like a plastic bag of dog poo stuck in a tree. What was that about?
     I quite liked a fish and chip shop, where there were tanks of fish, whose droppings created fertiliser to grow hydroponic potatoes, and even pea plants for the mushy peas. Fish creating their own chips....

More art.....
     We went for a late lunch to the much-hyped Rocksalt, booked to show our friends a good time. It started off fine. The setting is perfect, with lovely views of the harbour from our table, but the longer the meal went on the slower the service got, until in the end we all got ratty waiting for our puddings.  The staff were none too pleasant either, and at the end a waitress stood over us repeating pointedly and faintly menacingly, 'the service charge is optional'... The food was OK, but a bit bland. I wouldn't walk across hot coals for it.
Perfect view from Rocksalt

     So, back in Hastings, the next day we went down to the Jerwood to view the new exhibition, those naughty, naughty Hastings bad boys the Chapman Brothers' 'In the realms of the unmentionable'.
     The first thing that struck me was that it actually wasn't very naughty or nasty at all. I expected it to be much ruder.  Are those naughty boys losing their touch? Is Battleaxe's shockability old and jaded?  In the first room there were huge glass cases, 'The Sum of all Evil'  containing thousands and thousands of little figures doing grisly things, some of whom were Nazi soldiers, some skeletons with Nazi helmets, lots of pink bodies, Ronald McDonalds etc. I always like looking at little model things, and it was quite fun, a cross between a model village and Hieronymus Bosch brought to life, but Nazis seemed a bit old hat to me.
'The Sum of all Evil'

      One piece of the wall blurb talked of swastikas as 'bankrupt forms'. If they are indeed bankrupt, why bother going round that particular symbolic Wrekin yet again?

      Then there was a big bronze with maggoty skulls, a wall of Goya-type engravings with naughty stuff superimposed on top, some old portraits with scabby rashes added to the faces, a 'children's room' with a lowered ceiling and a painting signed 'A Hitler', and some anatomical-looking bronze/ceramic things together with a couple of mannequins with no eyes.
      The exhibition has had rave reviews. As so often with these things, I felt the naughtiness was just about getting a rise out of us viewers, rather than making any serious point. Perhaps it isn't supposed to be serious. I don't know, and frankly, I don't particularly care.
      They could do maggoty much more nastily - how about some real maggots feeding on something nasty? Trouble is, they'd hatch into flies......