diep~haven is a festival taking place over 175 days, made up of 13 venues (including a ferry), 34 artists (not to mention students of Newhaven who worked with the artists) and 2 curators. It is a cross-channel festival, happening in two countries, and a cross-channel experience. In contrast with being such a big festival and expanded experience, it feels intimate and extremely personal.
The mainly Dieppe-and-Newhaven-based annual festival’s title this year is Terra Firma, and it claims to focus on the relationship between the human and landscape. So far the Dieppe side of the festival explores gardens, a grotto, beings that inhabit the interiors and exteriors of houses and chateaus.
Les Forces Mouvantes, The Moving Forces opens as the first exhibition of the festival and uses the exterior of the Chateau Musée Dieppe and its 14th century castle tower as its venue. The Chief Curator of the Museum, Pierre Ickowicz’s discovery of a grotto from the very early 17th century and its builder, Salomon de Caus inspires the Moving Forces.
The grotto is a phenomenon on its own. Ickowicz opens the literally secret door to this one-time little pleasure space – on the other side of the door is a wall of postcards in the museum shop, just by the reception. A remnant of the currently partially excavated grotto is then revealed, with some shells of sea creatures recognizable on its walls. Ickowicz explains that grottos are imitations of how people imagined an ideal philosophical world to be, predominantly in the early renaissance. The supposed maker of this grotto, a native of Dieppe, Salomon de Caus was a hydraulic engineer and also constructed many famous gardens including that of Somerset House.
The show here is a collaboration between diep~haven and the Rouen and Le Harvre School of Fine Arts. Also from Dieppe, co-curator of the festival, Alice Schÿler Mallet imagines de Caus to have had a connection with the local fishermen to get the shells to decorate his grotto. Her work in the old tower consists of free hanging shells which appears to have come back to the chateau from the days of the grotto to haunt the present day, since the door has been opened. Agathe Schneider’s metal arch, decorated with plants and stood against a wall of the castle seems to be asking the question of access to a dream world. Such a beautiful gateway makes you almost believe that someone just before you was able to enter to this world through the momentary opening of the door. You are just left out there, perhaps you can wait your turn.
Responding to this chateau’s tall and sturdy structure in contrast to the fragile possibilities inside made the artists also think about the technicalities that may lie behind those possibilities. Baudart Joseph’s installation reflects on de Caus’ engravings of his innovative hydraulic engineering. It is a large plywood installation which appears to bring the system of subterranean water works out of the ground, which normally just emerges at a tiny fountainhead. Wu Ting Chia’s video installation follows de Caus’ interest in the movement of waves. It is a video collage of found digital images, following a certain logic of movement, as Wu also had walks by the sea and listened to the waves, mimicking de Caus.
Le Jardin Tissé The Woven Garden, located in Le Bois des Moutiers, is the other exhibition which opens the festival. The location of this show was built by English architect Edwin Lutyens and garden designer Gertrude Jekyll, and was home to Alice Schÿler Mallet’s family for a couple of generations before it turned into a museum and guest house.
London based Iranian artist Azadeh Fatehrad spent 3 weeks in this house as an artist in residence. Her interest in gardens come from her childhood having grown up in a house with a garden in Tehran. She made a video, Whispers of the Garden, from her experience in Le Bois des Moutiers: “a diary of living by the garden”. She watched and listened to the garden and to the house and conversed with herself as a result. “Looking outwards, looking inwards…” as she puts it in order. Observing nature in its full presence, she became mesmerised, scared and amused. Walking in the woods, she thought about the circle of nature, the circle within the family and the circle of her being. During her stay, she heard a lot about the family, the history of the house and the garden. “In contemporary Iran, garden is a shelter, away from the city, a protected space to hide. I was surprised and impressed to see so many elements of Eastern philosophy in the house. Even though I am not in Tehran, I felt safe here, I could feel at home.”
“7 arches, 7 rooms, 7 trees each of different species. I was in a space of memory with so many repetitions. This is a space of rhythm.” says Fatehrad. Jekyll photographed this Victorian vision and experience of a beautiful garden during and after its making. Some angelic young female figures surrounded by beautiful wild flowers, some monks looking fascinated by gigantic woods, Jekyll’s photographs have their typical Victorian qualities. For this exhibition, they were printed and hung on the garden’s perfectly trimmed hedge. Inside the house, collages by Leonora Hamill can be seen, made of Victorian photographs and paisley motifs. The collages seem to work as a passage between the other two artists’ works.
The festival will continue in Normandie and East Sussex with new works and projects until January 2019.
Disproving one of the 19th century Chemins de Fer de l’Ouest advertisements from the collection of Chateau Musée de Dieppe, the journey to Dieppe from London took me 8 to 9 hours, though I am assuming that this was due to me being subject to visa checks on both sides as a non-EU and non-British citizen.
The original advertisement poster, “Transformation de la Plage”, suggests this journey takes only 5 hours. Will London get any farther from Dieppe, was another question hanging in the air while the festival was opening in its fourth year. Co-curator of the festival Rosie Hermon, although concerned about the future, says that the festival will sustain itself beyond Brexit simply because it is not funded by the EU.
A cross-channel festival may have not been so meaningful for a very long time, as the international relationship and closeness was taken for granted until 2 years ago and the deadline for Brexit, March 2019, is fast approaching. The festival is a great exploration of a neighbouring culture and a firm invitation to look into ourselves - as the other reliably invites us to do. This neighbour may be the flowers or trees in our own garden or the gardens in another country.