Pier Projects: Art and Ideas for Living Well
What led to me to Margate in April and write enthusiastically about the arts ecology on the Kent Coast (A Postcard from Margate, April 2017) and the vacuum which has followed, is deeply connected by an interest what it means to be ‘by the sea’. More specifically, the relationship between the sea and the production and reception of art and ideas. So much so in fact, that over the past six months, myself and artist and educator Louise Stratford have been reflecting upon how, curatorially, we can explore this very connection. The result is a collaborative ‘Pier Projects’.
A gentle unintentionality has shaped its formation. Conversations began idly, often across a gym, through a shortness of breath. In essence they comprised of the daily grumblings bound up with our respective work. The conclusion of such conversations was largely the same: that whatever our frustrations, a trip to the sea could cure all. The frequency and intensity of these discussions grew when the ill-advised combination of confidence and naivety led us to train together for Windermere Marathon last year.
The context of conversations about mental and physical well-being irrevocably changed. Often exhausted and frustrated, what had been disjointed murmurings about mind and body- in combinations as well as in opposition- became absolutely necessary part of the painful journey towarrds the finish line. Something else noticeable had emerged from this endurance test. There were significant overlaps and slippages between the conversations which had become part and parcel of the mental preparation for the race and those we had day-to-day about arts education and curation.
In all honestly, we weren’t able to articulate the direction nor potential outcome of these niggling concerns at this point. Fortunately for us, several people were able to connect the dots. Weeks before commencing my course to qualify as a personal trainer, I sat in the audience of Eudaimonia! Good ideas for Living Well, an event hosted by YMCA Central, the oldest gym in London, to listen to a host of invited speakers ruminating on the nexus of these ideas.
Although I didn’t identify it at the time, it now seems apt that what was once, for an evening, an auditorium of those interested in ‘well-being’, became the site upon which the physical and mental test of securing a personal training qualification would rest. This was no archetypal fitness event: the carefully selected speakers and panelists from successful start-ups to philosophers reflected a broad audience of health professionals, third sector workers, trend watchers and curios fitness enthusiasts. Clearly, the face and heart of ‘well-being’ was broader and more energized than I had previously thought.
It was difficult not to be compelled by the wealth of energy, experience and approaches to health offered by the speakers. Social good, both individually and collectively, was integral to all of the initiatives and schools of thought; running clubs with the aim of helping the isolated and disadvantaged, leaders in innovation discussing better working conditions and fitness specialists. But it was Alain de Botton’s historical enquiry which remains prescient. In his brief speech he noted how the Greeks approached ‘health’ prior to the dualisists: the majority of the philosophical conversations occurred in gyms. In short: physical and mental well-being were essentially one and the same.
There is no doubt that this evening formed the ambitions of Pier Projects to interrogate notions of living well through artist-led activity. We are hoping that our work will be underpinned by a holistic approach to creativity, mental health and physical well-being. In the months that have passed, we have developed an action research project ‘Thrive: Revive’ in the town of Felixstowe.
This first season of events plans to take the historical context of coastal towns as sites for relaxation, restoration and contemplation as a catalyst for creative and critical enquiry. At present, it will include a major site-specific sound-based commission, a socially-engaged commission and one well-being events will foreground physical and sensory experiences of the sea, to explore if, and how, proximity to the sea makes us feel good.
In terms of what we hope to achieve, it can summarized as the following;
-Test audiences for activity which holistically explores art, ideas and wellness with Felixstowe as potential location
-Understand more deeply how the community of Felixstowe respond to cultural activity and build local networks
-Instigate a durational approach to working with artists and audiences through residencies and site-specific working
– Examine Felixstowe’s cultural infrastructure and audience by coinciding events with existing cultural events
It is early stages for Pier Projects. But our process has revealed that hope to prove some of Botton’s thinking to be sound. Whether training for a marathon or instigating a new art collaborative- as reductive as it may sound- the success of either certainly may lie in many of the same principles.
• a synergy of interest and thinking
• a determination to explore an area of interest
• an awareness of failure