The Folkestone Mermaid

Artist: Cornelia Parker
Location: Folkestone, UK
Year of completion: 2011
Researcher: Hannah Pierce

Drawing influence from Copenhagen’s TheLittle Mermaid, Cornelia Parker’s The Folkestone Mermaid is a life-size bronze body cast perched on top of a rock overlooking Folkestone’s Sunny Sands Beach. The work was installed on a temporary basis for the second instalment of Folkestone Triennial in 2011, however funds are currently being raised to acquire the work for Folkestone permanently.

The nude statue is perched in the distinctive mermaid pose, on a large rock looking out towards the horizon. She is cast with legs rather a tail and subtle outlines of seaweed are laid into her hair and draped across her feet. The work is located at the end of Sunny Sands beach, which was chosen to reflect The Little Mermaid’s position in Copenhagen harbour. The beach is in very close proximity to Folkestone’s harbour and is the town’s only long stretch of sand, attracting large numbers of visitors during the summer months and high footfall for the sculpture. The proposal for The Folkestone Mermaid was developed in 2009, during which time the Copenhagen Climate conference was taking place. Drawing upon the artist’s ecological concerns that can be indentified as a motif in her previous work, as in Chomskian Abstract (2007), the mermaid looks out to sea, gaze falling upon the line of the horizon. The Folkestone Mermaid is a guardian in this sense, quietly observing the potentially rising tides and the potential climatic concerns that this presents.

In response to the artist brief, Parker proposed to use a local woman to model as the mermaid. In 2010 the artist invited all of the women of Folkestone to apply to be cast as the mermaid through an open submission. Advertisements were distributed throughout the town appealing to potential mermaids to send images of themselves in swimwear to the artist for consideration. The only specification was that the model was over the age of 18, and not of the romanticised figure of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairytale, but a more realistic representation of a woman who could be more widely identified with. When the submission process was launched in Parker stated, “This is not a beauty contest. I am not looking for a look-alike of the idealised Copenhagen Mermaid, but for a real person, a free spirit, so any shape or size welcome!” From the 50 applicants, Georgina Baker, mother of two, born and living still in Folkestone was selected by the artist to be cast as The Folkestone Mermaid.

The Folkestone Mermaid is a celebration of the local. While the sculpture shares the pose of its Copenhagen counterpart, The Folkestone Mermaid makes reference to a more local literary figure, The Sea Lady, a H.G. Wells novella written by the author while he was living in the Sandgate Area of Folkestone. In further contrast to The Little Mermaid this is a life-size sculpture of a local mother. The life-casting process lends the work a level of verisimilitude impossible to achieve through carving. The sculpture was cast at a small local foundry, Meltdowns in Ramsgate, who had no prior experience of producing works of this scale but worked closely with the artist and the Triennial to deliver the project.

All copyright belongs to Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University.

Progress Agency