Curated by Sarah Lowndes for Kunsthalle Cromer, East Beach Cromer, 2017
Sarah Lowndes established Kunsthalle Cromer in 2017, to enhance the cultural provision available within the seaside town of Cromer and the wider area of Norfolk through the promotion of visual art, music, literature, cinema, performance and interdisciplinary art forms. Kunsthalle Cromer works together with relevant local community organisations, developing positive, supportive and sustainable relationships and offering accessible, free and exciting cultural activity which brings people from diverse backgrounds together to enjoy meaningful shared experiences.
The first public art event initiated by Lowndes under the auspices of Kunsthalle Cromer was the Panoramic Sea Happening on East Beach, Cromer in June 2017. This event was a re-enactment of part of the 1967 happening, The Sea Concert (The Panoramic Sea Happening) by Tadeusz Kantor, first staged at Osieki on the Polish coast, with conceptual artist Edward Krasiński, dressed in a black tailcoat, conducting the waves from a stepladder while being watched by spectators in striped deck chairs. In Lowndes’s re-enactment, which took place 50 years after the original happening, the conductor was played by the proprietor of Norwich’s The Book Hive and Propolis publisher, Henry Layte. In re-staging Kantor’s seminal work in this new context, Lowndes hoped to reach new audiences, who would directly experience the wit and magic of part of Kantor’s original “score”, but this time imbued with local resonances and the multivalent possibilities of the live situation. While Kantor’s original work had several movements, which included motorbikes scrambling on the sand, the artist himself shouting instructions through a megaphone and the audience being pelted with fish, Lowndes’s re-enactment deliberated focussed on the best-known aspect of the work – the first movement, captured in Eustachy Kossakowski’s magical photograph of Krasiński conducting the symphony of the sea.
Kantor’s work is an invitation to be fully present in the natural world and to see, feel and hear the beach, where, as he put it, proximity to the sea, works to “impose motion, rhythm and sound values not surpassing the abilities of human perception.” The sizeable audience who assembled in the bright June sunlight on Cromer beach to watch the re-enactment, consisted of those involved in the art world and academia in the South East of England (including attendees from Outpost Gallery, originalprojects, University of East Anglia, Norwich University of the Arts, the Courtauld Institute and Coventry University), but also many locals who had attended out of curiosity after reading about the event in the Eastern Daily Press, or simply stumbled upon the happening and been drawn in, whether watching quietly or being inspired to get in the sea themselves. Gary Clark lives locally and brought his family along to watch the event. He said: “It’s very fitting to the atmosphere here on the beach. We all think it’s marvellous.” Another spectator who came across the event by chance, tourist Anna Hill, said: “What a unique thing to do. It’s not a sight I was expecting to see, that’s for sure.” There were a wide range of ages present, including elderly people and many children, neither of whom had been in evidence in photographs of Kantor’s original piece, which had been performed during a three-week-long meeting of artists and art theorists. Lowndes provided free drinks and a barbeque for the audience, and after the performance, the communal picnicking on the beach continued for some time. Some local residents afterwards wrote describing their experience (their first of attending a Happening): “So we wandered along the beach feeling a little self-conscious to be honest. But soon we were joined by a lot more people. Some deck chairs were unfolded and lined up, flapping in the wind and a podium was dragged into the sea. As the tide lapped up against the podium our conductor arrived, looking resplendent in black tail coat, carrying a baton. Everyone watched as he climbed the steps and began conducting the sea! Children splashed about in the waves and people sat having a drink in the deck chairs watching. It was all very exciting and…. well, different!”