Lewes District
South East England

Artwave, Sussex annual visual arts festival, showcased an explosion of creativity and innovation born from the pandemic, to offer an exceptional 2021 edition. Artists have delved into our recent collective experiences of isolation and crisis to produce powerful new bodies of work, all shown across 148 venues in Lewes District 11-16 September.

Due to COVID -19, the festival’s usual venues – private houses – were not permitted to open this year. But Artwave’s artists and curators turned this challenge into an advantage by utilising a whole array of unusual and off-the-beaten-track venues to exhibit their work. From a castle to historic houses, farms, barns, pubs, shops, churches, and even a vineyard and a beach, Lewes District’s businesses came forward to offer their spaces – mostly at no cost –  to support the county’s creative community. This unconventional new direction led to a dynamic festival programme, which was not only exciting but provided the opportunity to visit new spaces across the region.

One highlight was a site-specific piece by renowned sculptor Julian Wild, installed outside Lewes Castle. The bright pink sculpture, ‘Salvia Corrupted’, had a bold and contrasting presence against the medieval backdrop. Wild’s inspiration was drawn from the salvia or sage plant found in the castle gardens.

Artelium vineyard in Streat used the festival to launch its new project ‘Art at Artelium’ a programme of collaborations between artists and winemakers.  The estate curated site-specific sculptures across the vineyard itself, with an exhibition in its wine-tasting barn and artist-commissioned wine labels.

The Elizabethan house, Glynde Place hosted a remarkable and ‘other worldly’ installation by Isobel Smith throughout many of its historic rooms. Entitled ‘Undoings’ the exhibition took visitors on an animated journey of sculpture and performance through the house, illuminating its people, stories, and histories.

One of the quirkier events, was a mesmerising flea circus installation in the shop window of award-winning jewellers, Alexis Dove in Lewes High Street. Real dressed fleas and artefacts from the collection of naturalist Dr Tim Cockerill showed how these tiny insects had been used to showcase designs of watchmakers and jewellery makers in the past. Cockerills’ fleas, objects and texts were animated by colourful and glittering paintings and drawings by artist C.A. Halpin that imagined the personalities of fleas as performers.

The beach at Bishopstone was the location for a week-long event entitled The Tide Mills Project involving multiple artists, students and performers that brought to life a mill village that had flourished in the 1800s only to be abandoned in the 1940s.

Many of the county’s finest painters and illustrators opened their studio doors to allow visitors the opportunity to see artwork in action. The overall feedback was that this year they experienced huge support from the community and excellent sales.

While visitors will be delighted to see the re-opening of Artwave’s private houses next year, we hope that the curated programme of exhibitions and events, born out of the pandemic, will continue to be a feature of the festival going forwards.