Folkestone Digs is both provocation and invitation. It captures the imagination, playing on our avaricious fantasies. – Guardian

In September 2014, hundreds of people descended on a small stretch of normally quiet beach in Folkestone, Kent, spades and trowels in hand. Creating mounds of wet sand, every once in a while people would gather around someone proudly holding up a small gold bar.

Situations invited Berlin-based Michael Sailstorfer to conceive of a project for Folkestone Triennial 2014, which would respond to the particularities of the English coastal town and former port.

Following a year of secrecy over Situations’ project in the Triennial, Michael Sailstorfer’s Folkestone Digs began with a press announcement, which simply stated that 30 pieces of gold worth £10,000 had been buried under the sand of the harbour beach of a Kentish coastal town. The ensuing hunt for gold involved hundreds who had travelled from across the UK, with the story being reported across global news channel.

The beach, which becomes partly covered at high tide, is open to the public. Visitors to the beach were invited to dig for the gold, or to watch the hunt unfold. Successful treasure-hunters were entitled to keep their gold. Each piece is worth between £300 and £450.

‘It is an artwork that has been shrouded in secrecy for obvious reasons: there are 30 gold bars worth a total of £10,000 buried on the beach in Folkestone and once the tide is out at 4pm on Thursday it’s finders keepers.’ – The Guardian

The Folkestone Digs attracted widespread media attention: ITV breakfast, BBC news and Chinese state television broadcast live from Folkestone. There were over 119 articles in national and international media, 14 television and radio stories and over 200 online articles, amassing more than 1.6bn hits.

Other highlights include the inspired Folkestone Digs, in which Michael Sailstorfer has buried 30 gold bars worth £10,000 under a part of the beach accessible only at low tide. Produced by Bristol’s Situations and kept under wraps until the Triennial opened, the work has attracted widespread media coverage – the public is invited to hunt for this buried treasure and keep what they find. – a-n

The mass digging of the beach also created its own piece of land art, with craters, hills and holes, washed away when the tide comes in. The next day, the day’s diggers create a new piece of art. Families spent days in the sunshine, digging and playing in the sand and new friendships were made.

Read our blogpost about the first (known) finders of the gold, Kevin, Kirsty and Megan:

“My legs went from under me and I started shaking,” Kevin recalled. “I put it quietly in my pocket. We left the beach and half way home, we pulled over for a drink and to ring my mum!”

Years on, a crucial element of this artwork is that there may still be gold bars under Folkestone Beach. The gold has been moved every day, twice a day, by the ebb and flow of the tide. Whether gold finders keep their gold, as a piece of art which may gain value over the years, or sell it for money, is another element of the work. We will never know if all of the gold has been found, so people might still be digging in that sand in 50 years time.

Artist

Born in 1979, Michael Sailstorfer lives and works in Berlin. Though the artist’s range of artistic processes spans highly elaborate productions to near-imperceptible interventions, a common factor across his work is the disruption of the everyday.

Previous works have included painstakingly collecting fallen autumn leaves, painting and refastening them back onto the tree to simulate a premature spring and enacting a process of ‘cabin cannibalism,’ feeding the rotting wooden walls of a small chalet to the woodburner.

Dates

The Folkstone Digs started at 4pm, after the tide had gone out, on 28 August 2014. Gold bullion may still be under the beach.

The Folkestone Triennial 2014 ran from 30 August to 2 November 2014.

the artist has also turned Folkestone beach into Treasure Island, which is an innocent enough conceit. The quest for gold has an almost metaphysical allure, as does the idea that art can actually deliver some transcendent reward. Like digging for gold, you have to work at art to get anything from it. ­The Guardian

Photo: Steve Tanner

 

 

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