Sue Jones, Director of Whitstable Biennale since 2005, writes about how the organisation is changing, with a re-launch this summer and a new umbrella name, Cement Fields.
Whitstable Biennale has taken place every two years since 2002 and is the UK’s leading festival working with early-career artists, commissioning ambitious new art in film and performance. Previous commissioned artists include Clio Barnard, Mikhail Karikis, Katie Paterson, Libita Clayton, John Walter, Emma Hart, Louisa Martin, and Benedict Drew.
Over the past few years, we have increasingly worked outside the time and geographical restraints of the festival, along the banks of the River Thames in North Kent. North Kent is an area with an extraordinarily rich history – Conrad’s Heart of Darkness is a story told on a ship moored at Gravesend; the bleakly beautiful North Kent marshes are unchanged since Dickens wrote about his atmospheric books including the real social inequality sited there; Turner’s painting The Fighting Temeraire (recently voted the nation’s favourite) documents the end of the era of tall-masted ships, with a ship on its way from Sheppey Docks to be broken up; and just across the Thames, in Tilbury, is where Elizabeth I gave her rallying speech in 1588 defending her strength as a female leader, and where HMT Empire Windrush landed in 1948. Set on the outskirts of London, North Kent is an area of contrasts – rural and edgeland landscapes set against thriving towns; areas of outstanding natural beauty alongside derelict industrial infrastructure; long-established places including some of the most socio-economically deprived communities in the UK alongside major new development including Ebbsfleet, which will be the first new Garden City in the UK for a hundred years.
In April 2018 we joined Arts Council England’s National Portfolio, and this summer we re-launch with a new name, Cement Fields (currently a holding page, the full website is launching Autumn 2019). Cement Fields is an umbrella organisation developed to hold all our work across North Kent, including the Whitstable Biennale festival. Our new name grew out of an artists’ residency undertaken by Adam Chodzko, who lives along the North Kent Estuary shoreline, and spent time immersed in the area, researching and talking to people. Cement Fields contains a reference to the way North Kent has been formed by experimentation and innovation in materials. Cement was developed in North Kent, and the area became the world’s leading centre for its production, making the modern world possible.
The Cement Fields programme includes long-term projects, festivals, events and learning opportunities that involve and engage a diverse range of artists, participants and audiences, including a core focus on talent development. We support early-career artists to develop ambitious new work, and support children and young people to develop skills, imagination, and routes into creative careers.
We are working closely with Creative Estuary partners (supported by the Cultural Development Fund) to stage Estuary 2020 next year, a major festival that will take place across the Thames Estuary in North Kent and South Essex (in partnership with fellow NPO Metal, based in Essex). We are also working with partners (led by Turner Contemporary) across the Kent, Sussex and Essex coastline on England’s Creative Coast, a project that will see the creation of seven large-scale commissions in 2020, including a work by Jasleen Kaur in Gravesend. Our other current projects include a two-year project with schools in Northfleet led by young artists Webb-Ellis; and a long-term zine project led by young people in Gravesend and facilitated by artist Ania Bas.
Originally published on cvansoutheast.com, 18 July 2018