St Leonards on Sea 22/03/19

Wash up with Crusoe this Spring

Image caption: Composer Bev Lee Harling with Bernard McGuigan’s sculpture in The House of Crusoe

Image caption: Mosaic artist Susan Elliott's distillation of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (referred to in para 6)

Washed up in town? Decades ago, you might have been asked that question in St Leonards on Sea. These days the sunny coastal town is a sought after, ever transforming energetic creative hub on the south coast, sister town to Hastings. Visual arts dominate with music not far behind and during the Easter holiday, it transforms into a unique literary destination with the #ATownExploresABook festival.

This year is a defining one for the festival, as it gears up to become the national destination for #Crusoe300 contemplation. Three hundred years ago this April, Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was published, often regarded as the first novel in the English language. Its hero escapes stultifying home life at nineteen to encounter various adventures including two shipwrecks, the second of which sees him washed up on an inhabited-only-by-animals island fo twenty eight years.

A multitude of imaginative responses to the novel will be on offer in more traditional arts venues and in the nooks and crannies of town from 4 April running right through the school Spring holiday. The three leafy parks will host outdoor art as well as the lower promenade on the shore and the shop windows in the commercial centre, Kings Road, will become a riot of colour with creative displays to accompany independent eateries’ inventive themed menus. Café write-ins and family orientated events such as Parrots in the Market in the Saturday street market on 6 April are dog friendly as is the dreamy periagua canoe parade on 14 April 3pm where dogs are as welcome to dress up as their owners.

The novel offers an inspirational narrative on resilience and resourcefulness as well as harbouring out-of-date assumptions and attitudes to equality that render it problematic, being written before the abolition of slavery. Historically, popular culture has variously responded by focusing on the romantic aspects in the writing but in this festival, there is no sweeping difficult writing under the carpet. “What we don’t do as a town is glibly jump over tricky passages,” festival director Gail Borrow asserts. “Heritage novels that reveal how we have moved on as a society are valuable insights into why we have shifted in perspective and where we are heading.” Stella Dore gallery in Norman Road is mounting Confronting Crusoe opening 11 April with new work by Sarah Gomes Harris in a very different guise to her co-creator identity as Sarah & Duck together with video artist Sophie Meyer’s work from Trinidad and Pablo Allison’s new photography exploring migration in Latin America. St Leonards’ shops are hosting Man Friday, a fête style schools out evening on 5 April 4-6pm at the beginning of the festival organised by employees in town to celebrating equality and fair practice in the work place.

An abundance of innovative, creative responses by the many artists living in the area accompany community groups’ work including Seaview Project and Mencap, demonstrating that every voice in the community is valuable. And can offer unique, fun perspectives. Community group Transition Town Hastings is offering Seed Bomb Sunday on 7 April, 11am in honour of the seeds Crusoe spills from a bag thinking that they are dirt and which generate his first crop of corn.

This year’s interactive exhibitions include Illustrated by John Harris and Me, a response to a found children’s Robinson Crusoe embellished by the hands of various young reader-illustrators as well as illustrator John Harris, opening 5th April. The Power of Two Perspectives Exhibition opening 4 April sees sixteen artist’s distillations of the novel exhibited in the charming Decimus Burton Lodge in St Leonards Gardens and paraded half way through the festival through the street to the other side of town, to the second modern Zoom Arts venue, in reference to Crusoe’s Periagua canoe adventure from one side of his island to the other. The exhibition is curated by poet and illustrator Ed Boxall and includes mosaic artist Susan Elliott’s response to the novel.

The festival is headed up by experiential theatre company, ExploreTheArch, a multi disciplinary collective offering a searching scrutiny of solitude by four composer-musicians and an choreographer working with sculptor Bernard McGuigan on the theme of solitude. Twenty eight years on the island translates into an ambitious twenty eight performances of new work by these performers locked in The House of Crusoe, sited at the company’s unique venue in town, Archer Lodge.

The festival runs from 4–22 April, 2019.

For details and times of events visit:

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