Review: Whitstable Biennale 2016: The Faraway Nearby by Tracy Affleck



Over a 10 day period and in the capable hands of Director Sue Jones, the 8th edition of the Whitstable Biennale hosts an impressive range of experimental and thought-provoking work, including themes surrounding migration, separation, loss, direction, and how we make sense of home and place. This year’s theme of ‘The Faraway Nearby’ is taken from the Rebecca Solnit novel of the same name and refers to letters written by the artist Georgia O’Keefe, who at the time lived in New Mexico, back home to her friends and family in New York.

An imaginative and creative curation of each piece of work brings a cohesion and interest to the Festival, in some instances placing work inside various shops on the High Street. A personal favourite is the collaboration between artist Marcia Farquhar and the ice cream shop ‘Sundae Sundae’. Together they created a new ice cream flavour for the Festival, ‘Rooty Tooty’ (a wonderful mix of sarsaparilla and ginger which, I can verify, is absolutely delicious). In addition, in the window of the shop you can find a film by Farquhar (on a screen similar size to a seaside postcard) which expresses with great humour moments from Farquhar’s early life in Folkestone and which also stars filmmaker and artist Andrew Kotting and Farquhar’s daughter. Both ice cream and film are a real treat.


Video still of Parlor Walls by Webb-Ellis
‘Parlor Walls’, Video Still, Webb-Ellis, Whitstable Biennale 2016













In stark contrast, one of the pieces which resonated most closely with me was ‘Parlor Walls’, a thought-provoking film installation by British/Canadian artist filmmakers, Webb-Ellis. Shown on three screens, its complex but insightful narrative of a dystopian future takes inspiration from the film ‘Fahrenheit 451’ by Ray Bradbury. The piece is beautifully put together and weaves together a clever and intricate narrative which is part performance, part documentary, also using online clips from YouTube of Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response (ASMR). This is a unique online viewing phenomenon whereby one can experience a sense of ‘low grade euphoria’ and comfort from those on the screen. However, whilst these message give comfort, at the same time they seem to separate you even further from the real world, furthering your own sense of isolation and displacement. Well worth taking the time to see.


Video still from 'Ain't Got No Fear' by Mikhail Varikis
‘Ain’t Got No Fear’, video still by Mikhail Karikis, Whitstable Biennale 2016












The extensive screening programme continues with brilliant contributions such as ‘Boat People’ by Sarah Wood, ‘Ain’t Got No Fear’ by Mikhail Karikis, and Louisa Martin’s ‘Lossy Ecology’, to name but a few. In addition to the pop-up cinema screenings, you’ll find a performance programme, talks, readings, conversations and walks, including a Foodie Tour with Emma Wilcox on Friday 10 June.

Whitstable Biennale 2016 takes place in various locations from 4 to 12 June and you can find full information at

Main image features ‘Rooty Tooty’ by Marcia Farquhar