Folkestone Triennial
South East England

Celestial Radio, the creation of Zoë Walker and Neil Bromwich, appears firstly like an opportunity for the two artists to go on ‘a jolly’. Maybe it is and so what. They sail around the coast of Kent (and further afield) broadcasting on 87.7FM and recently on 19th, 20th July this included an incursion into Folkestone harbour: the town which is currently hosting a reasonably prominent Triennial.

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Returning to this text a few weeks afterwards (9th August to be precise) late at night. Weird thing but now it all seems vivid, and easier to comment on. The radio station: what’s that story? Radios Caroline and Luxemburg were on Medium Wave (or Short or Long Wave?), not Frequency Modulated but some of the effects are similar. As I walked around town I noticed that the signal went in places. It reappeared too again and that was fun. Overall initially, as you can imagine, this was frustrating but then you got used to it and into the retro feel and it was fine, pleasurable.

The most awful thing I did represented a form of ‘culture jamming’. I went to see a Tacita Dean film being screened upstairs in one of the venues, silent, but not really, due to sound of the whirring analogue film apparatus. I listened to Celestial from ten minutes in until the end and it seemed so appropriate. Get it? Down on street level in this part of town Celestial Radio was hardly detectable. Sorry a) Tacita and b) Celestial.

So what is this about Folkstone? It’s pretty but seems impoverished. There is something dubious about the Art Triennial’s presence. Some politics is at play definitely. Good work to see embedded into the background often in an amusing and effective way, like that radio station in fact and all of this simultaneously depressing. Art brought in as the desperate last resort. In my opinion art is not generally politics. What I mean is if you want to save the world become a political activist, not an artist. Folkstone could do with some other kinds of investment methinks.

Maybe the Celestial Radio duo, who are attempting to reengage with Enlightenment ideals, and that is pertinent to the argument above, would disagree. Maybe not. Regardless I liked this station idea. It consists of, by chance highly educational, beautifully delivered and mixed, pre-recorded content (including ‘classic tracks from the heyday of the pirate radio era’) together with some exciting interjections from characters associated with the key physical component: a glamorous or naff boat (depending on your perceptions of the thing) covered in glitter-ball mirrors. On the day I was tuned in, a near miss of some sort had occurred in the harbour and that was being reported upon.

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It’s hard to gauge whether this work, seen as art, genuinely represents an attempted re-living of Romantic revolutionary dreams or corresponds simply to more post-modernist mockery. Still though, the activity raises useful questions and witnessing individuals doing what they want to do, directing huge effort and resource in a not so obvious, not so functional, direction, despite the pressures to do the expected, is impressive. Thank you for a lovely experience Celestial Radio.