Magazine article Art Monthly

Whitstable Biennale

Magazine article Art Monthly

Whitstable Biennale

Article excerpt

Whitstable Biennale

various venues 31 May to 21 June

Walking along Whitstable's busy seafront, packed with tourists washing down the ubiquitous oyster with a local brew, it would be easy to miss the 7th Whitstable Biennale, hidden away in the depths of this suburban town. The exhibits are cryptically located in remote and unexpected buildings, often derelict or disused. Any expectation of experiencing a picturesque day out would be misleading; instead the art crowd is offered a dislocated, at times disturbing vision of a place that is not what it seems.

Whitstable has recently been the destination of a mass exodus from London, especially by artists who could no longer afford studio spaces in the metropolis. In fact, Kent's overall regeneration has been particularly visible in its engagement with the arts, notably with the emergence of Turner Contemporary at Margate but also in a cluster of alternative artists' spaces such as Crate and Limbo in Margate, Stour Valley Arts in Ashford or Dover Arts Development by the famous white cliffs.

This year both the Whitstable Biennale and the Folkestone Triennial (30 August to 2 November) are showcasing work from this thriving regional art scene. This summer's exhibits are particularly poignant as the South East's sinister shift towards UKIP in the recent European elections looms grimly in the background, reminding us that this remains an area experiencing significant deprivation and flux.

The main programme of live arts and moving-image work includes 45 artists and premieres 25 works, and this does not include the satellite component, which runs all year round. Funded primarily by ACE, the Biennale aims to set up collaborative works, notably this year the CRG (Collaborative Research Group), which is based in Kieren's Reed's commission 'From the Ground up (A) Social Building', a temporary space on the sea front humbly housing the Biennale's HQ.

Director Sue Jones, head of the Chisenhale Gallery during the latter half of the 1990s, is renowned for seeking out new artists. Along with curators Emma Leach and Kate Phillimore, she aims to commission works by emerging practitioners, both within and beyond the regional context. The Biennale is known for supporting and showing artists who have gone on to be nominated for major awards, such as Artangel Awards and the Jarman Award, and the Biennale also hosts its own open submissions awards, won by Louisa Martin and Rachel Reupke this year.

Louisa Fairclough's sculptural film installation has impressed many early viewers. Her 16mm installation Absolute Pitch (co-commissioned by the Biennale and ICIA at the University of Bath) is sited at the back of the Whitstable Museum and Gallery. To access the work, the viewer must walk through the museum's eccentric and anachronistic exhibits. A motion sensor triggers five projectors intricately looped across the space. Absolute Pitch is a melancholy tribute to the artist's deceased sister and a moribund medium. Each projection offers a block of colour, which is screened out of focus, while the sound is of a musical note sung by a chorister. As I leave I wonder if the installation will stop when I have gone.

The Biennale's reflexive use of place is evident in several works. …

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