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Bexhill and back again - portraits of a place

PUBLISHED: 11:41 22 October 2013 | UPDATED: 11:41 22 October 2013

Louise Kenward

Louise Kenward

Archant

Visual artist Louise Kenward is about to embark on a journey spanning 16 countries and 18 time zones, stopping off at Bexhill on Sea’s sister towns in Canada and Australia

Bexhill in East Sussex, unique as it may be, is not alone. Louise Kenward, a visual artist, is embarking on a journey that will link the English town with its cousins in Australia and Canada. Her aim is to travel, primarily overland, first to Bexhill in New South Wales and then on to Bexhill in Saskatchewan, passing though 16 countries and 18 time zones before returning home to Sussex. In each location, she will spend a month developing community-centred art projects exploring the association of people with their environment – what Louise refers to as “inhabiting spaces”.

Louise, who lives and works in Bexhill and loves the town’s slightly “out of time” feel – as well as the glorious De La Warr Pavilion – was working as a Forensic Psychologist when she decided to further an interest in art which had always been with her. She studied initially at the innovative Hastings College of Art before moving on to the University of Brighton, and finally to The Cass School of Art in London. Her exhibited work includes Wardrobe Diaries (Hastings 2009/2011 and Margate 2011), Waiting for the Bus (Brighton Photo Fringe, 2010), and Twitten (Battle Arts, 2011).

She intends to build on her acclaimed exhibition, Cave (2011), and discover whether it is a viable research model in different places, different countries – as Louise says, “in each location, I want my art to reflect portraits of places”. The original Cave – which was selected for Coastal Currents Spotlight – was at the back of a seafront shop in Hastings which had originally been built into the cliffs. The cliff-face acted as the rear wall of the basement. It had become the repository of all the detritus from the shop for generations which had resulted in a time-capsule. In an open studio environment, Louise spent six months trying to find the best way of responding to the space and exploring the overlap between psychology and art. She feels that, in Cave, her practice offered parallels to what she did in the therapy room. Initially she just sat, observed, and listened, trying to find out what was there and becoming familiar with the space. Some things needed to be left where they were or they would be broken so, as with the mind, making sense of the space and putting things into context, 
was necessary.

The journey will begin at Bexhill Train Station and, amazingly, Louise will not have to leave land until she reaches Malaysia. Travelling by train will be an integral part of the artistic experience, providing both a hotbed of inspiration and the opportunity to interact with many different cultures; she intends to record her experiences through collecting anecdotes and taking photographs to be used in the finished project.

All three Bexhills have railways running through them,but their locations within their respective countries are very different. Where the English Bexhill is right on the coast, the Australian version is inland, although not far from the famed Gold Coast, while the Canadian version is right in the middle of the country.

The Australian Bexhill is a vibrant place, but much smaller than when it was established for the benefit of the logging industry. While one part of the art project will, hopefully, be based in the Open Air Cathedral, another will take place in or around a three-metre canvas cube called TarpSpace – an Australian travelling arts project. The Canadian Bexhill’s main claim to fame was that it used to be the site of a major grain elevator, now dismantled, which, up until 1976, loaded the freight trains. The art project there, which will probably take the form of oral history, will be about tracing the area’s history and sharing it with the community.

On her return to England in a year’s time, Louise hopes to share what she has discovered about the other Bexhills, and especially to build on Bexhill Museum’s successful programme of events. She would also like the local community to use the trip as a resource for other activities – as Louise, who will be artist-in-residence, says, “Bexhill is obviously familiar to me, but Bexhill Museum is not, so I am hoping to be able to bring fresh eyes to look at Bexhill as it is today.

“I hope to encourage links between the three Bexhills, to help to enhance the communities. 
In short, all aspects of the art project will essentially be my response to what’s there, and that will be the biggest and as yet unknown challenge!”

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Louise’s travels

You can follow Louise’s progress in three ways:
A real-time blog www.bexhilltobexhill.com
Facebook facebook.com/bexhilltobexhill 
Twitter @BexhilltoBexhill

She would welcome hearing from possible sponsors or anybody who is interested in her work or her trip, and may be contacted via her website at www.louisekenward.com

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