This month, Walking with Ghosts returned to Folkestone Harbour Arm Station. The immersive outdoor artwork had a powerful impact on audiences last year when it premiered at the historic station where so many crossed to and from the battlefields during the First World War. In this blog post, Professor Helen Brooks from University of Kent reflects on the impact of this powerful commission, part of the IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund programme.
Walking with Ghosts was developed as one of the first IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund commissions and is now also being supported through an Arts and Humanities Research Council award. It is a site-specific, multi-media, immersive artwork interweaving past and present to explore the impact of war on Folkestone over the last 100 years. Over thirty minutes, visitors are taken on a journey through time. Standing on the station platform looking out towards France, on the left an unceasing army of ghosts, larger than life, march along platform one, whilst on the right, on platform two, photographs give brief snapshots of the men, women and children whose lives have been shaped by war over the last hundred years. Meanwhile a counter and still image of the cenotaph count upwards to the total number of British and Imperial war dead from the Great War.
Throughout, composer Thom Robson’s original score infuses the artwork with emotional resonance, and the voices of those impacted by war are heard: voiced by local voice actors as well as Nepalese and Ukrainian actors. Everything in the artwork is from original sources and developed in collaboration with local community partners including the Folkestone Nepalese Community who shared their experiences of conflict and Palm Deaf who ensured the artwork is Deaf Friendly.
Shown in 2022 as a durational, 84-hour artwork – the length of time Fabien Ware estimated it would have taken the British and Imperial war dead to march past the Centotaph – Walking with Ghosts 2022 reached an estimated around twenty thousand visitors. Features on the BBC One Show and on ITV and BBC news ensured Folkestone’s important place in the history of conflict reached across the nation and beyond.
For many visiting Walking with Ghosts brought the impact of the war home in a new way.
The impactful displays and audio recordings, were so cleverly and solemnly adapted to the location yet creating an experience so pertinent to today.
My grandad sailed from here, he was in the BEF and fought at the Battle of Mons and survived.
Both my grandfathers died during 1917 at the Battle of Passchendaele.
It brought tears to my eyes to realise how many brave men lost their lives.
It helped contextualise the impact and gave me a much-needed moment to pause, reflect and remember.
The personal connection was at the forefront of many visitor’s reflections. Reflecting this personal response, some visitors laid poppies and crosses on the station, transforming the station into a site of remembrance. It is hoped that Walking With Ghosts will become part of an annual programme of remembrance.
Take a virtual tour here.
Walking with Ghosts is produced by the Gateways Partnership, based at the University of Kent. It is part of the IWM 14-18 NOW Legacy Fund, a national programme of 22 artist commissions inspired by the heritage of conflict and created in partnership with Imperial War Museums and 14-18 NOW, the official UK arts programme for the First World War centenary. Walking with Ghosts 2023 is supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council.