May 2021 saw the first Ebb & Flow Festival, an arts event celebrating the streets surrounding our venue, and exploring the hidden stories and fascinating heritage of the area traditionally known as Chatham Intra – from which we took our name.
Intra Arts in partnership with Sun Pier House CIC produced the festival, commissioning over 25 artists and creatives to respond to the past, present and future of the Old High Street Intra area, from the bottom of Star Hill in Rochester to Sun Pier in Chatham.
Local people were invited to take part in creative activities in the weeks running up to the festival weekend (Friday 21 – Sunday 23 May), and from these workshops, large colourful artworks were developed to decorate the street.
Artist Wendy Daws and Mess Room community space got everyone posing for giant silhouette banners and created ‘Shadow Tales – A Gallery Of You’. Wendy continued the silhouette theme with a series of large scale vinyls in windows along the street. Lulu’s visit to the Peek-A-Boo Boutique, important figures from the history of the Synagogue, local musicians, theatre players and river stories were to be discovered all along the street.
Natasha Steer worked with local groups to decorate porthole shapes on a river and local heritage theme, using sticker vinyl scraps and paint to depict historic ships, local landmarks, stories and river creatures on distinctive round panels. The portholes were fixed to railings along the high street.
Jatin Patel of fashion label Kalikas Armour, based in Hulkes Lane, ran community workshops exploring river myths and stories, stitching embroidered imagery and then combining all the work into a fantastic fabric design. The textile works were displayed in a large shop window, alongside the digitally printed fabric – and this was also used to make a beautiful barge pennant, flown from the sailing barge Edith May during the festival weekend.
Xtina Lamb led drop in sessions at INTRA, where visitors to the festival could screen print her illustrations onto two collaborative barge pennants. Xtina’s illustrations referencing significant local landmarks, people and trades were stencilled onto the pavements as ‘Rain Art’ throughout the area in significant places, invisible until it either rained or festival visitors sought them out with water spray bottles. Chartist leader William Cuffay’s image appeared at the location of the tailor’s shop where he served his apprenticeship, the last remaining stone of the Empire Theatre was pinpointed, a ghostly echo of graffiti that name checked local 1980s band The Milkshakes appeared under the railway bridge, and antique cameras marked the position of the many photographic studios of the area.
The photographic studios were the focus of photographer Rikard Osterlund‘s commission. He created a series of panels detailing Victorian studios and their work, and these appeared in shop windows at their historic locations. Rikard also created an installation of the panels at his own workplace, Hulkes Lane Darkroom & Studio, as well as a zine documenting the studios. One of Rikard’s specialities is portrait photography using a Victorian process called wet plate collodion. We were very lucky to have this spectacle on show at Ebb & Flow, as through the weekend he ran dozens of sessions with local residents and business people to capture their image in unique photographs made directly onto tin plates.
Laura Fisher also installed her commissioned work at Hulkes Lane Darkroom & Studio, documenting and exploring the stories behind the street names of the area with superb black and white photographs.
Neil Thorne‘s work took inspiration from an aerial photo of Chatham Intra from 1920. One hundred years later Neil created a contemporary photograph of the same view, and presented the two images together in a triptych with an account of his experience, exhibited in a high street window.
In the tunnel under the railway, sound artist Jane Pitt installed her work ‘Salt Sweet’, brilliantly bringing together voices and sounds on three loudhailer speakers, combining to salute the area’s working girls and evoke the places they frequented.
As you reached the far end of the tunnel these sounds mingled with those from Minimus, a freeform musical collective who were performing intriguing experiments with sounds triggered by the movements of festival visitors.
Pop Up Museum & Walks
Throughout the development of Ebb & Flow, we were blessed with the assistance of local historian Robert Flood, whose deep knowledge, thorough research and endless enthusiasm for the stories of the area informed many of the artist’s commissions. Robert led nine, very popular public walks through the festival weekend, as well as tailored walks for the festival artists and other local groups. You can see the series of videos he has made on the area if you visit the Sun Pier House YouTube channel. The Pop Up Museum hosted in INTRA’s windows gallery on its launch in April, continued through the festival, and this display was also curated by Robert Flood, in collaboration with Kevin Younger.
Other walks commissioned for Ebb & Flow used technology in interesting ways. Sparked Echo created a future vision of Chatham Intra called ‘Intra 2121’, co-created with local 11-13 year olds, with sound stories, animations and layering imagery onto existing street architecture. These utopian / dystopian imaginings could be accessed with a smartphone in positions along the street. Dizzy O’Dare created a geolocated walk, referencing the festival artworks and interviews with their creators.
Deadmans Island, a collaboration between Adam Hanson and Ben Sad, completed a residency at Sun Pier House, creating artworks responding to the festival themes. Their work was exhibited in the gallery at Sun Pier House, and in shop windows and cafes along the street for the festival.
Nicola Flower spent time in the wonderful fabric shop Zee Fashions, and created a colourful zine celebrating life in the shop. This was given away in goody bags with ephemera developed for and during the festival such as badges, stickers and zines by other artists.
In reference to the music hall heritage of the area close to Sun Pier, a parody Vesta Tilley’s story (a male impersonator who played at the Empire Theatre), was performed by professional dancer Hayley Reinprecht, co-created with Luci Napleton as part of Medway Dance Network. The performance included narrative, dance and audience participation with a sing-a-long.
A Flash Mob to celebrate gender identity in modern times was performed live in Sun Pier House car park and online by young people from Medway Dance Network, co-created with Luci Napleton and Alison Plummer.
As the light faded during the festival, there was still art to discover. 51zero took over Chatham House, back projecting a curated programme of films onto the windows of this Georgian building and lighting it up with intriguing imagery.
We commissioned documentation of the festival with filmmaker Gary Weston (Spaghetti Weston, see film above), photographer Nikki Price, and artist David Frankum, who tirelessly sketched the people and proceedings throughout the festival. We hope to publish a small book of David’s drawings down the line. Mark Barnes developed our logo and designed the map of the festival.
For further information on the festival, please visit the Ebb & Flow Festival website.
Ebb & Flow was commissioned by Creative Estuary, as part of Estuary Festival 2021. Our community engagement programme was also supported by Countryside Properties and Hyde Foundation.
Festival activities, art commissions, event support, community engagement were funded by:
Arts Council England, Medway Council and the High Street Heritage Action Zone (HSHAZ) Cultural Programme pilot – led by Medway Council and funded by Historic England and The National Lottery Heritage Fund.