Discover and rediscover Ilfracombe through the art of Ilfra-Expo

I was lucky to be invited to the launch of Ilfra-Expo on Sunday 14 July 2013 for a whistle-stop tour of the art installations around Ilfracombe. It made so much of an impact that today we took the day off to go round again at a slower pace.

Richt street art | Ilfra-Expo Ilfracombe Art FestivalLike many people, I’m often rushing about from one meeting or activity to the next, sometimes too pre-occupied with what’s next on my schedule to notice and appreciate the ordinary environment.

Ilfra-Expo changes this.

By creating a trail around the town, it starts at the Info Hub in Ilfracombe High Street, where we saw Jonathan Powell’s When We Build Again vision of the future constructed from derelict remains plus Nick Davies’ PsychoGeogging video tour round Ilfracombe.

We progressed along the High Street to the Royal Mail building (formerly the Post Office) to view Sam Aldridge’s Two Circles, a scale version of a Barbara Hepworth sculpture made with cardboard. It reminded us what a spacious building this is and makes you ask why it is not still a Post Office?

Next, Betony May’s Imprint in the window of Hairport, based on old postcards of Ilfracombe. View it in the day and then at night to see different aspects.

On down Fore Street to see Richt‘s marvellous decoration of the courtyard which has transformed this area. More, please!

After the End by Erin Rickard | Ilfra-Expo Ilfracombe art festivalOn Sunday I visited the RNLI Lifeboat House to view Erin Rickard’s video installation, Work in Progress, focusing on the horizon towards Wales and the view back to Ilfracombe. Opening is limited, but it is well worth a visit, not only for the installation but also to see the lifeboat up close and the displays in the Lifeboat House.

The interior of the RNLI Shop in Broad Street is a masterpiece in itself and Gemma Copp’s video installation Rising Tides explores escapism and the obstacles that hold us back from escaping.

On up to St Nicholas Chapel on Ilfracombe Quay, thought to be the oldest working lighthouse in the UK, and affording magnificent views of the harbour, town and Bristol Channel. Here Alex Duncan’s Water Fearing has created objects exploring our relationship with the sea.

A walk back along the quay and on to St Phillip’s and St James’ Church in St James Place. Adjacent to the altar lies Erin Rickard’s After the End, a memorial of personal significance to Erin.

Onwards to the Tourist Information Centre at the Landmark Theatre and the Memory Map, an interactive artwork sharing memories of Ilfracombe.

Outside Ilfracombe Museum are illustrations inspired by Ilfracombe’s tranquil beauty and Victorian heritage by Hannah Davies and Lianne Harrison. I could look at them for hours.

Finally, Sean Puleston’s triptych in Runnymede Gardens recalls William Blake’s ‘glorious Devon’ comment, for Ilfracombe is truly: Glorious.

As a resident of Ilfracombe for almost 10 years, Ilfra-Expo has opened up my eyes to the town to see things I have not yet discovered and re-examine those I take for granted. We have still to see several of the exhibits, but even so the trail has achieved what many have been striving to do: to create an experience that brings together all areas and aspects of the town: high street, Fore Street, harbour, quay, St James Place and the seafront. What is more remarkable is that the whole event has been created on a shoestring budget. This demonstrates that communities can often achieve more faster with volunteers than rooms full of officials in meeting after meeting.

Another spin-off for me was visiting new places to eat and drink. We all have our favourite restaurants and cafés, which we tend to stick to, but Ilfra-Expo created within us a feeling to explore, to try something new. Ilfracombe is lucky to be the restaurant capital of North Devon and even its modest cafés you can experience great food, which we did.

A massive thank you to Erin Rickard for having the vision and commitment to organise Ilfra-Expo and to her team of volunteers. I’ve been round most exhibits twice now and I hope to visit many again during the next two weeks. It is wonderful too that some exhibits are permanent, adding to the visual attraction of Ilfracombe even more.

There are plans to make Ilfra-Expo an annual event to attract even more artists to Ilfracombe. Yes, please.

With six art galleries in town and Damien Hirst’s Verity, Ilfra-Expo demonstrates that Ilfracombe is fast becoming the art capital of North Devon.

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