by Janis / 0 comments - Orginally published:28th September 2021

Explore Folkestone Triennial 2021

The contemporary art is open to all 24/7

In recent years the coastal town of Folkestone has welcomed its vibrant makeover with open arms.

Like so many British seaside towns, the heyday of a bucket and spade holiday seemed to slip away from the UK shorelines. It was left a little forlorn to the basking Mediterranean beaches.

However, with time, dedication, and the vision to regain the delights of a clifftop promenade, a stroll around the lively bustling harbour and the retracing of footsteps through the cobbled Old High Street. Folkestone’s rough edges have truly started to smooth out, and a gem longing to glisten again is beginning to shimmer.

Folkestone is now attracting people from all walks of life, young and old, to come and discover the astonishing pieces of contemporary art emerging with each of Folkestone’s Triennial open-air exhibitions.

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Love or hate contemporary art, I’ll assure you there will be many pieces that will bring a smile to your face. Search out the baby mittens by Tracey Emin, Richard Wood’s Holiday Home floating in Folkestone harbour or the captivating story behind Jason Wilsher-Mills ‘I Am Argonaut’.

Where is Folkestone?

How to get to Folkestone

- By Train
You can catch a High-Speed direct train from London St Pancras International to Folkestone Central, which takes around 55 minutes.

- By Car
Folkestone is at the far eastern end of the M20 Motorway 73miles/115km from London.

Folkestone Triennial returns for 2021

Explore the streets of Creative Folkestone

The seaside town of Folkestone in Kent has once again put on an exceptional display of urban art for its fifth Folkestone Triennial; the theme for 2021 is ‘The Plot’.

The first Folkestone Triennial took place in 2008 with the theme of Tales of Time and Space. As the name would suggest, every three years, Folkestone seafront, its quaint lanes and pebbly beaches have become an exhibition of talent and flair, with each piece of work having a tale to tell.

The latest exposition was due to take place in 2020; however, not to be defeated, the colourful sculptures and imaginative artworks waited patiently until 2021.

Brightly colour buildings along Tontines Road, Folkestone that make up part of Creative Folkestone.
Creative Folkestone

Many of the creations from previous triennials remain, and Folkestone can continue to boast that it has the UK’s largest urban exhibition of contemporary art.

Without further ado, download your maps and walks from the Creative Folkestone website, and let’s discover the magnificent contributions from some famous and renowned artists to up and coming newbies.

When you arrive at Folkestone, my advice is to pop into Quarterhouse on the corner of Mill Bay and Tontine Street. Here you can additionally pick up a hard copy of the exhibition and routes. I found that it made it easier to flick between new and old exhibits from previous triennials.

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Let’s explore Folkestone’s urban art

From the minute to the immense

To be perfectly honest with you, it doesn’t really matter where you start as there are so many great works to be discovered; they are around every turn and where you would least expect it.

Keep looking up and down ‘The Plot’ is everywhere.

Our adventure started at the east cliffs of Folkestone along Wear Bay Road, here we visited the ‘Siren’ by Marc Schmitz and Dolgor Ser-Od. This huge siren sits high above the cliffs and overlooks Folkestone town and harbour. The inspiration behind this piece was the acoustic sound mirrors along the coast at Dungeness.

It reminds me of a seashell, which you may discover on Warren Beach below.

The Siren art installation on the cliffs overlooking Folkestone that looks like a giant, yellow-lined, blue ear trumpet.
'Siren' by Marc Schmitz and Dolgor Ser-Od

Strolling west towards the town, you’ll stumble upon Janus Fortress: Folkestone by Pilar Quinteros. However, you’ll have to be quick as the two faces of the Roman god are made of chalk and are slowly disintegrating throughout the 2021 exhibition. Unfortunately, the local youths have given it a helping hand along the way.

The sculpture of Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions, faces towards both mainland Europe and England.

The vandalised double-headed chalk head of the Greek god title Janus Fortress: Folkestone on the clifftop
Janus Fortress: Folkestone by Pilar Quinteros

Along The Stade at Folkestone

The mermaid at Sunny Sands Beach

Okay, well, it’s Folkestone’s mermaid. This beautiful bronze sculpture was an addition to Sunny Sands golden beach in the 2011 Folkestone Triennial.

Created by Cornelia Parker, the Folkestone Mermaid was an inspiration from Copenhagen’s Little Mermaid. However, this lovely figure was made from a life-cast of the Folkestone resident Georgina Baker, a monument of the people and for the people of the town.

Looking up at the life-sized bronze figure of the Folkestone Mermaid perched on rocks at the edge of Folkestone's Sunny Sands beach
The Folkestone Mermaid by Cornelia Parker

Ambling along The Stade by the harbourside is ‘Steve’, designed for the 2014 triennial by Sarah Staton. This large rustic (male) sculptural pavilion includes aesthetic references to 1950s surrounding architecture and to the sculpture Henry Moore and Richard Serra.
Take a seat and watch the world float by.

An art installation of a rusted iron sculptural pavilion on the edge of the harbour.
‘Steve’ by Sarah Staton

Where to stay in and around Folkestone

- View Hotel Folkestone – This charming boutique hotel offers incredible views across the sea from the Leas promenade. Only a 5-minute walk into colourful Folkestone town.
- Blackbird Cottage – This delightful, thatched holiday cottage is located in the charming village of Ottinge, just 6miles from Folkestone. Blackbird Cottage makes a perfect place to stay while discovering the Garden of England.

Strolling into Folkestone town

The contemporary art surrounding us

As we continue along The Stade and under the old railway arches, we arrive at the bottom of the vibrant Old High Street and Tontine St, the gateway to the Creative Quarter.

Immediately you are face to face with the Folkestone Lightbulb created in 2017 by Michael Craig-Martin. The lightbulb suggests energy, ideas, and the notion of creativeness.

A mural of a brightly painted low energy light bulb painted on a building at the base of the Creative Corner end of the Old High Street in Folkestone
‘Folkestone Lightbulb’ by Michael Craig-Martin
Looking down the Old High Street in the creative quarter of Folkestone
Old High Street
Heading along Tontine Street, there is quite a mixture of the old and the new keep looking up; you’ll be amazed at what you’ll see. Along Tontine Street is Quarterhouse, where you can pick up your Folkestone Triennial brochure. Here you’ll also spot ‘CHAIN BRAIN’ by Gilbert & George, which depicts wearing chains as fashion and the lack of freedom it evokes.
An art banner called 'CHAIN BRAIN' attached to the Quarterhouse in Folkestone's Creative Quarter
CHAIN BRAIN, by Gilbert & George

The delightful Bayle quarter of Folkestone

St Eanswythe and Bayle Pond
At the top of the Old High Street, we turn left up to The Bayle. This charming historic part of Folkestone with pastel-coloured homes and ancient inns is a treat.
Knitted poppies attached to the iron railings of the Bayle Pond in Folkestone, Kent
The Bayle Pond poppies
As we stroll to Bayle Pond, not only are the cast-iron railings dotted with knitted red commemorative poppies, but you’ll also spot one of Tracey Emin’s cute pieces of art. This adorable little mitten is from Tracey’s ‘Baby Things’ collection in 2008.
Baby Things by Tracey Emin. A cast metal model of a baby glove attached to the iron railings of the Bayle Pond in Folkestone, Kent
Baby Things by Tracey Emin
A blue and white wooden and glass box in the Bayle Pond which is part of the 'On the Track of St. Eanswythe’s Waterway' art installation in Folkestone
On the Track of St Eanswythe’s Waterway 5 by Patrick Corillon
Within the little park of The Bayle Pond, you’ll spot a 2021 exhibit by Patrick Corillon. This relic-box sculpture ‘On the Track of St Eanswythe’s Waterway’ is part 5 along the route of the meandering spring from Kent Downs to Radnor Park. Its course through The Bayle once served the needs of the nearby Priory.

If you're intrigued by Kent's weird and wonderful history, or all unusual stories around the county, then take a peek at "Kent's Strangest Tales".

You won't be able to put it down, you can pick it up for your Kindle or in good old paperback.

Clifftop promenade along The Leas

Breath-taking views across the English Channel
Our first stop here is at the ‘Step Short Memorial Arch’, which is to commemorate the centenary of WWI. It is from Folkestone where millions of men marched to the boats that would take them across the English Channel to fight on the Western Front.
Step Short Memorial. Commemorative steel arch honouring WWI soldiers in an urban green space in Folkestone with English Channel views
WWI ‘Step Short Memorial’

Strolling further along The Leas, is another very significant work of art, remembering losses in the First World War and a very touching piece.

‘Folk Stones’ by Mark Wallinger is an artwork also inspired by the millions of soldiers leaving the shores at Folkestone. The 19,240 poignant pebbles are all individually hand-numbered and signify the number of British soldiers killed on one day, 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

A small selection of the numbered stones that make up the ‘Folk Stones’ art installation on the Upper Leas of Folkestone
‘Folk Stones’ by Mark Wallinger

Escape for a few days

Are you looking for that ‘perfick’ holiday hideaway to relax in while you discover the Garden of England?

After a day exploring the Kent coast and its many historic castles enjoy one of the handpicked properties and unique retreats at Holiday Cottages.

Remembering William Harvey

And a nod to the streets of Ghana

Keeping to The Leas we’re looking out for the William Harvey memorial. William Harvey was born in Folkestone in 1578 and became a physician renowned for his knowledge and understating of the circulation properties of blood in the body.

In front of the memorial is an incredible contemporary sculpture by Jason Wilsher-Mills named ‘I Am Argonaut’. The very personal work of art expresses the world as experienced by Jason, whose disabilities were caused by a disease of the blood cells.

The front profile of the contemporary figurative sculpture titled 'I Am Argonaut'
 I Am Argonaut’ by Jason Wilsher-Mills
A close up of the tattoo on the left arm of the statue 'I Am Argonaut' as part of the Folkestone Triennial

The detail and storyline on the sculpture are captivating; I just couldn’t stop looking at it; it was one of my favourite pieces.

Adjacent to ‘I Am Argonaut’ are two pictures by Gilbert & George ‘BLOOD CITY 1998 and BLOOD ROADS 1998’. These represent the mapping of city streets and housing through veins and arteries.

A little further along to Castle Hill Avenue is a garden displaying a group of sculptures named Dusiadu (Everytown) by the Ghanaian artist Atta Kwami.

A brightly coloured park bench and street vendor's hut as part of the Dusiadu installation by Atta Kwami in the Folkestone Triennial 2021
Dusiadu (Everytown) by Atta Kwami
The vibrant and colourful park benches and kiosks are derived from traditional West African street-vending kiosks, where stories and provisions were exchanged.

The Zig Zag path awaits

Time waits for no man

Just before we stroll down the Zig-Zag path to the seafront, we discover a piece of art by Ruth Ewan from the 2008 triennial, named ‘We could have been anything that we wanted to be’.

This clock is unique as it is a 10-hour clock that faces France and represents that in 1793 the Republic adopted the Republican calendar. Also known as the French Revolution calendar, as opposed to the Gregorian calendar.

This calendar was accepted for around 13 years, with each day made up of 10 hours, ten days to the week, ten months to the year and so on.

A 10-hours clock face on a post as of an art installation in Creative Folkestone
‘We could have been anything that we wanted to be’, by Ruth Ewan

At the bottom of the scenic winding path, we discover artwork by Sam Belinfante, ‘On the Circulation of Blood’. In the amphitheatre along the Lower Leas Coastal Park.

The piece is a performed sculpture and best experienced in the evening when the netting and lights take on the importance of the blood system studied by the physician William Harvey.

An art installation in the amphitheatre along the Lower Leas Coastal Park that represents the Circulation of Blood.
‘On the Circulation of Blood’ by Sam Belinfante

Hiking the Kent Countryside

Folkestone is located in Kent nearby the beautiful White Cliffs of Dover. This region of Kent is ideal for hikes along the stunning coastline and the North Downs (AONB), an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. To explore the trails in this region of Kent, the Ordnance Survey maps that will help you along the route is no. 138, ‘Dover, Folkestone & Hythe’.

Alternatively, why not purchase and download the OS Maps App, which covers all of Great Britain.

Exploring Folkestone’s coastal path

Beach huts, a jelly mould and an Inuit

You could while away hours along the coastal path in Folkestone; it’s such a delightful part of the seafront, especially with all the gorgeous beach huts to admire.

The old beach huts that lined the shoreline between Sandgate and Folkestone have been reinvigorated and given a new splash of colour and design. The facelift was designed by Rana Begum and named No. 1054 Arpeggio.

Brightly coloured beach huts on Folkestone's coastal path as part of an art installation
‘No. 1054 Arpeggio’ by Rana Begum

Arpeggio is a musical term reflected in the colour scheme's graduated palette flowing through the quaint, welcoming beach huts.

The beach hut that Gary especially admired was the ‘Beach hut in the style of Nicholas Hawksmoor’ by Pablo Bronstein in 2014. This imaginative beach hut undoubtedly stands out in the crowd, and the striking architectural design truly makes a statement.

An elaborate blue-grey beach hut with a bright red door in an 18th Century Baroque style.
‘Beach hut in the style of Nicholas Hawksmoor’ by Pablo Bronstein
A figure of an eskimo and seal on a plinth representing thin ice disappearing into a pool of black base that represents oil
‘The Ledge’ by Bill Woodrow
Ambling back towards Folkestone Harbour Arm, we discover the unusual sight of ‘The Ledge’ by Bill Woodrow. This extraordinary piece depicts an Inuit figure and a seal on thin ice with a black plinth below signifying a pool of oil, underlining the disappearing polar ice caps.
A small pavilion in the shape of a jelly mould reached by a wooden walkway on the shingle Folkestone beach
‘Jelly Mould Pavilion’ by Lubaina Himid

We stroll along the wooden snaking boardwalk to the charming ‘Jelly Mould Pavilion’ by Lubaina Himid. This enchanting pavilion is modelled on a Victorian ceramic jelly mould which the artist collects.

The positioning of the pavilion looking out to sea is a tribute to the Black community by Lubaina. Remembering the slave trade and the sugar imported from the plantations resulting in the candy floss and toffee apples enjoyed by summer visitors.

A single church bell suspended between two 2 20 metre steel pillars on Folkestone Beach as part of Creative Folkestone
‘Out of Tune’ by A K Dolven

While watching your stepping along the boardwalk, look high above you to the 16th-century bell held aloft by wire. The artwork by A K Dolven is named ‘Out of Tune’ and is a tenor bell from Scraptoft Church in Leicestershire.

The bell was removed from the church because it was out of tune with the other bells in the peal. It is now a lovely addition to the Folkestone seafront. It is aligned with the tower of St Mary and St Eanswythe’s Church located on the cliff above.

Our Kent road trips

If you’ve fallen in love with the county of Kent, we’ve created a few road trips around the “Garden of England” that we believe you will enjoy too.

Discovering Folkestone’s Harbour Arm

Seeking out Antony Gormley
A colourful greeting to Folkestone Harbour Arm is ‘Atsiafu fe agbo nu’ (Gateway of the Sea’) created by Atta Kwami. The artist is best known for his vibrant abstract works of art, this eye-catching archway lures you through to the sea and the fun to be had beyond.
A brightly coloured gateway on the harbour arm in Folkestone by Atta Kwami
 ‘Atsiafu fe agbo nu’ (Gateway of the Sea’ by Atta Kwami

Our next stop is seeking out Antony Gormely’s sculpture which is located underneath the top level of the harbour arm. Needless to say, viewing this figure is entirely dependent on the tides of the sea.

Antony Gormley’s ‘Another Time XVIII’ is a solid cast-iron figure in a series of one hundred to be dispersed worldwide. I loved seeing this piece as it truly evokes being alone in space and time. Another of Antony Gormley’s sculptures can be seen in Margate, Kent.

Looking from behind the Antony Gormley installation "Another Time XVIII” in the harbour arm onto the water and the white cliffs.
‘Another Time XVIII’ by Antony Gormley

Heading towards the end of the harbour arm, we pass the enormous FOLKESTONE town sign, for all to see, by Patrick Tuttofuoco.

Folkestone was once the arrival point into the UK of the Orient Express. The artist designed each letter of the sign from inspiration or an experience he encountered from his journey on the Orient Express from Istanbul.

An art installation spelling out Folkestone on brightly coloured tiles on the wall of the harbour arm.
FOLKESTONE, by Patrick Tuttofuoco

The final stopping point along the harbour arm is the lighthouse. The words’ Weather is a Third to Place and Time’ are displayed on the lighthouse by Ian Hamilton Finlay.

This work was added posthumously in 2014 and symbolised the importance of weather to people at sea and its impact on our lives.

Folkestone Lighthouse, now a bar with tables & chairs outside decorated with bunting. The lighthouse is also adorned with the Creative Artworks Folkestone flag and the inscription "Weather is a third to Place and Time."
‘Weather is a Third to Place and Time’ by Ian Hamilton Finlay

We have a new little book on our shelves that we delve into when we're heading to the coast.

Packed full of historical facts, and broken down into the different counties of England.  It tells tales of the history of the shoreline that surrounds our country.

Available in Kindle & Hardback editions, it's an excellent addition to anyone's collection who loves the English seaside.

Strolling Folkestone Harbour

The seamless blend of old and new

Wandering back to the harbour, we discover our final works of art during this visit, as I’m sure we’ll be back.

There’s plenty to see and bundles to keep you amused in Folkestone Harbour. However, the first pieces that caught our eye were the two ‘Holiday Home’ artworks by Richard Woods.

The one-third size homes are so cute and create a bizarre and whacky aspect to Folkestone Harbour. One teeters on the edge of the harbour, and the other floats on a platform in the sea amongst working fishing boats.

Holiday Home – By Richard Woods; An orange bungalow art installation with a purple door sitting on a plinth at the edge of the harbour car park overlooking the sea.
‘Holiday Home’ artwork by Richard Woods
Last and by no means least is the flaming hot rod by Mike Stubbs named ‘Climate Emergency Services’. This sculpture on wheels emphasises the importance of climate change and the impact the motor industry plays on the environment.
A customed van emblazoned with Climate Emergency Services parked in the Harbour Arm of Folkestone
‘Climate Emergency Services’ by Mike Stubbs

Our videos of Creative Folkestone

Two views of this beautiful Kent coastal town
We have created a couple of YouTube videos of Folkestone.  One from 2019, and another fro 2021.  Why not take a look?
Also, why not subscribe to our YouTube channel and get the latest clips as we post them?

Visit some of Kent’s coastal towns

Kent is not short of picturesque historic towns, particularly along the Kentish coastline., and we have a collection of posts you may enjoy - why not check one out?

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