2014 - 2015
A SERIES OF INTERVENTIONS AROUND ARCHITECTURE - SEXUALITY - THE SEASIDE IN CLIFTONVILLE, MARGATE
In July 2014 we were awarded – in collaboration with the Colombian artists Vividero Colectivo - a HOME Residency grant, to research the evolving role of the landscape and architecture of the English seaside in the expression and repression of the body, gender and sexuality, with an emphasis on traditionally marginalized communities. HOME was an ambitious programme of creative residencies and commissions that took place in Cliftonville, Margate from 2014 to 2015, funded by INTERREG with partners in the UK and France.
Blushing Pavilion was a series of events including a temporary intervention at a shelter in Palm Bay, Cliftonville. The original Edwardian structure dating from the 1920s was built as a result of the successful extension of the area in accordance with an industry dedicated to tourism and entertainment, materialized in Art Deco constructions, such as Dreamland, The Walpole Bay tidal pool and elevator, a handful of stand-alone villas and the five-story hotel-turned-apartment block Northumberland Court. Art Deco was deeply inspired by Mediterranean and “non”-European aesthetics and prized social and technological progress and at the same time nightlife, glamour and exuberance; to the point that it has been described as an architecture of lust and decadence. It is difficult to detach from such an expression the racial and sexual anxiety inherited from Colonial times and in the UK case particularly of a Victorian society, to which the seaside bathing and distress contributed to a slow transformation in a more positive relation towards the body and to sexuality in general.
With the decay of Margate over the two last decades of the C20th as a holiday destination and the economical subsistence derived from it, the infrastructure of accommodating large numbers of visitors was slowly abandoned, creating complex social issues. The regeneration project in the first decade of the C21st boosted the town as a landmark for arts, attracting again short-term visitors and a new wave of inhabitants from the creative sector of condensed and “inhuman” metropoles in search of expanded space-time and the spontaneity and strengths of small-scale communities.
The shelters are clear historical examples of leisure facilities that haven’t found usage within today’s ideas of fun, in which sitting around without a clear function, or without consuming, falls into the worst of capitalistic categories: boredom. Current visitors to Margate tend to not have the luxury of time that visitors from an earlier epoch had. In the C19th and early C20th visitors tended to come for longer periods and temporarily moved their home and life. They could sit and contemplate the sea with calmness, they could wait for someone to pass by and start a conversation, develop new habits such as walking the same paths over and over, or become involved with others in their same situation. The shelters appeal to a nostalgia of the eras in which that was possible (for some), and it’s exactly this that appeals to the new Margatonians and to the market that survives from the experience of the revival of the particular grandeur of those times. Although the shelters retain a nostalgic potency, they present themselves as a question mark because in today’s view it is hard to justify the resources required to care for services which appear to be under-used and susceptible to “criminality” or vandalism. Public debate about their long-term future is on-going and little protection for them exists as they “lack” declaration of heritage value.
But what do these shelters have to do with sexuality and the body? In the first place these constructions are, as much of the architecture for outdoor leisure, poetic manifestations of the transitory spaces between the city and the landscape, between the ‘civilized’ and the wild, and as such they allow citizens to disconnect from the economic norm of productive environments and uptight social networks, encouraging people towards playfulness, silliness and looseness in a predominant sensorial and pleasure driven atmosphere, with all the benefits of holistic wellbeing. “Porta Maris - Portus Salutis” (Gate to the Sea - Gate to Health) Margate’s Victorian slogan is well considered, and it doesn't refer just to the invigorating properties of sea water (connected to the myth of the fountain of eternal youth), clean air and sunshine, but to rest, relaxation and more importantly a connection with the body and the healing properties of tantalizing its erogenous potential. A positive, sensually- activated atmosphere stimulates humans to re-connect with themselves, to discover their bodies and to bond and grow affectively, and, if permitted, dismantle control over the body to establish a truly diverse society in relation to gender and sexuality.
No wonder that Margate’s “dirty weekend” is an unofficial slogan of the town, due to its historical reputation as a place of escape for lovers of all kinds and for all those who wanted to leave behind normative conventions and morality. No wonder that the oeuvre of the two most famous artists commonly connected with the town, Tracey Emin and J.M.W. Turner, has been impacted by the connection to its overwhelmingly sensual landscape, an activation of sexual empowerment (its a pity that the contemporary overuse of the term can diminish its relevance) and the unstoppable necessity of outwardly expressing and letting off the steam of traditional repression. Cliftonville has in the past and still does today present a scenario for such a vivacity.
Blushing Pavilion - the exhibition displayed selected examples of the vibrant contributions of Cliftonville, Margate to UK’s culture, portraying the earlier explained narrative in a poetical way and featured material from Thanet District Council’s collection and other sources, recent recorded testimonies and documentation, a mixed media of contemporary art works, photography and performance; Blushing Pavilion - the architectonic installation stimulates the theatricality of atmospheric powers such as wind and humidity through the addition of a temporary inner-skin-coloured curtain to two of the sides of the existing structure and a night-time light display, and promoting so the potential of such a place as a space for social gathering and sensual contemplation. The colour also refers to Victorian dresses, to Walpole Champney’s original murals and decorative scheme at Dreamland, to skirts blown up by the breeze and to the complicit blushing of the observers and the observed.
The temporary exhibition was held at the Palm Bay shelter at the eastern periphery of Cliftonville, close to the unofficial nudist area of the town, at Botany Bay. This particular location has been chosen not just because of these architectural and anthropological issues but also because of its liminality, where those exploring the edges of public behavior - crying, screaming, loving, having pleasure, etc - have been forced by historic and current normativity out of view in public space. The event and exhibition felt similarly guerrilla, embodying the courage of such acts that do sometimes create controversy. In the same spirit, Blushing Pavilion is an act of resistance to their being blown away.
Blushing Pavilion was also a series community-oriented activities that aim to highlight the relevance of this topic to our on-going cultural heritage.
The HOME research residency programme had the benefit of professional evaluation by Susan Potter and Dominique Chadwick.
Their work can be viewed here in the form of:
FREE PUBLIC EVENTS IN FEBRUARY 2015
7. /// 17:00 /// Screening DEATH IN VENICE and the display of the graphic book MISADVENTURES AT MARGATE co-hosted by Little Joe, Queer Film Magazine /// 12 Arthur Road, Former Cecil Hotel
14. /// 16:00 /// Talk SEASIDE - SEXUALITY - ARCHITECTURE with Nick Dermott –Thanet Heritage Adviser, Karen Shepherdon –SEAS Photography Archive CCCU, Ian Dickie –Margate Museum, Sam Causer –Senior Architecture Lecturer De Montford University, Carlos Maria Romero –Curator Vividero Colectivo /// Court Room, Margate Museum
21, 22. /// 11:00 - 17:00 /// PAVILION & EXHIBITION /// Palm Bay Shelter, Princes Walk
21. /// 17:00 - 20:00 /// PAVILION LIT AT NIGHT /// Palm Bay shelter, Princes Walk
FUNDING PARTNERS: This project was selected under the Cross-border Cooperation Programme INTERREG IV A France (Channel) - England, co-funded by the ERDF and other partners including: Margate Arts Creativity Heritage, Resort, Thanet District Council and Kent County Council. European Union. Investing in your future.
Photographs by Studio Sam Causer and Jason Paye