fri 21/09/2018

diep~haven 2018 review - a missed connection? | reviews, news & interviews

diep~haven 2018 review - a missed connection?

diep~haven 2018 review - a missed connection?

Curiously apolitical festival of contemporary art at a ferry crossing

Azadeh Fatehrad, 'The Whispers of the Garden', (still), 2018(c) Azadeh Fatehrad

The daily car ferry from Newhaven in Sussex to Dieppe in Normandy is an unlikely phenomenon. Neither port is very large; neither region very populous, and the journey sways you along for four contemplative hours. It enjoys the custom of truckers, school parties, and retired caravan-owners. But it also caters for art lovers with time on their hands.

Since 2014, the maritime link has been celebrated by a festival of "contemporary creation". It’s not all about the boat, but in peak summer this year, there will be a group show on the waves. The full collection of exhibitions and events are within an hour or so driving distance from either end. Like town twinning, their existence won’t mean much to the person on the street. But nevertheless the festival represents the common efforts of some 40 artists, and some 35 commercial partners.

This year’s theme appears to be the earth, vegetation, gardens and wilderness states. Although it has a link to environmental concerns, the brief has but an oblique relation to geopolitical realities. Art, of course, has no duty to be political. And yet Brexit surely threatens the connections between these two regions: diep~haven responds with a quiet programme that so far raises little voice about the volatile state of the world.Copies of Salomon de Caus Engravings, Les Forces Mouvantes, Chateau-Musee de DieppePerhaps agitprop art is incompatible with leisurely ferry crossings. And as a touristic experience, diep~haven is certainly more engaged than a day on a sun lounger. Thus far two shows are open, both in northern France, and if they lack immediate relevance to parlous global situations, neither lacks interest. The festival commences with an exhibition by students from ESADHaR, along with Alice Schÿler Mallet, at the Musée de Dieppe; meanwhile 20 minutes' drive down the coast, another group show has taken shape at Le Bois des Moutiers.

The museum is in a 14th century castle overlooking the green lawns, the beige sands and the ripples of the surf. Along with a fine collection of local landscape paintings by the likes of Pissarro, Sickert and Boudin, it holds a remarkable secret. The lesser-known artist Salomon de Caus has constructed an artificial grotto in the castle wall (pictured above). Since its creation in the late renaissance, the cave has been bricked over. But curator Pierre Ickowicz has found the edges of this feature by de Caus. He has also collected painted shells and miniature ceramic nudes, that would have lined the nook, where the castle owner would bring suitably impressed guests.

Four students from a Le Havre and Rouen art school (ESADHaR) have responded to the site with interventions that take inspiration from this grotto. Madeline Grammatico has made a cat’s cradle from wood and rope. The piece is called "Patience", and depending on your viewpoint it either binds on a single metal plant, or helps it revolve. Joseph Baudert, meanwhile, has painted a grassy moat with the blueprint for a solar-powered hydraulic machine. Wu Ting Chia has used footage from the internet to create an autobiographical film about his relation to water and waves. Finally, Agatha Schneider speculates about alternative means of access to the grotto and creates a planted archway in the wall of the château’s distinctive tower (pictured below left: Agatha Schneider, Les Forces Mouvantes).

Agathe Schneider, Les Forces Mouvantes, Chateau-Musee de DieppeThere were once plans to build a dome within this tower, and it now hosts a ghostly evocation of this project. Diep~haven co-curator Schÿler Mallet has suspended scallop shells from the interior ceiling. Join the dots and you can visualise this structure, and consider the local trade in shells, many of which are used to make cement, as improbable as that seems.

No less compelling than the grotto are the house and gardens of Le Bois des Moutiers in nearby Varengeville-sur-Mer. The arts and craft design was by a young Edward Lutyens; the gardens by his longtime collaborator Gertrude Jekyll. In the UK this would probably belong to the National Trust. Here it belongs to the family of diep~haven co-curator and artist Schÿler Mallet. This now means she can host artists in residence, such as Azadeh Fatehrad.

Fatehrad has responded to her ten days alone in Bois des Moutiers with a contemplative film about the gardens (main picture: still from The Whispers of the Garden). She describes her after-dark encounter with the white magnolias, with their ghostly appearance and perfume-like odour. Indeed the entire grounds are a sensory feast. And as guests wandered back and forth between house and garden at the launch, a generous soul played improvised jazz on the Steinway grand piano in the reception room. This room is also lined with framed collage works by Leonora Hamill. With recurring themes such as the paisley design, the summer of love and early photography, these works on paper draw you in. But no more so, it could be said, than the wealth of family photos and coffee table books which adorn every surface of the manor.

Both Fatehrad and Hamill are inspired by the notion of a garden design which brings East and West together. The former, who comes from Iran, has said that she recognised Gertrude Jekyll’s design as a Persian garden at once. And indeed there are geometries and certain blooms that transport the visitor far from Northern France. Jekyll was also a photographer and so for the duration of the show, a box hedge has become a backdrop for a series of haunting, expanded, sepia-tinged photos that convey the personalities of the plants as much as those of the gardeners.

Listening to the birdsong and wandering the crazy-paved garden paths, a visit to Bois des Moutiers becomes a holiday from 2018. It’s a magical environment in a cloistered stretch of the coastline. If, as is often said, gardens like these are a triumph of order out of chaos, the world needs more of them. But if, on the other hand, you see a trip on the Newhaven-Dieppe line as the prelude to an escape, you will enjoy diep~haven all the more.

  • diep~haven 2018 in Dieppe and Newhaven until October 30. Les forces mouvantes, at the Musée de Dieppe, and Le garden tissé/The Woven Garden, at Bois des Moutiers, are open throughout. See diephaven.org for additional exhibitions as they roll out across both regions.
  • Read more visual art reviews on theartsdesk.com

@criticismism

A quiet programme raises little voice about the volatile state of the world

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

Share this article

Subscribe to theartsdesk.com

Thank you for continuing to read our work on theartsdesk.com. For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £3.95 per month or £30 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a theartsdesk.com gift subscription?

newsletter

Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters