Ali Pretty is the Artistic Director of Kinetika, an internationally renowned company which sets out to change the way people feel about where they live. Here she explains why she will be walking 500 miles from Lowestoft to Tilbury this summer, and how you can get involved, too
Anyone lucky enough to live near the Suffolk coast will have that one stretch of coastline which holds extra special memories for them. Which is why Beach of Dreams, a collaborative 500-mile walk from Lowestoft to Tilbury, is an inspired idea for local people to get involved in. The project promises to be an epic journey to discover the hidden gems of the East Coast of England, inviting collaboration from communities and artists along the way in both Suffolk and Essex.
And it’s the latest project from Kinetika, an internationally renowned company, specialising in creating large-scale hand-painted silks. For more 20 years they have been combining world-class design with community projects to produce spectacular outdoor commissions that engage diverse audiences wherever they work.
Founded by artistic director Ali Pretty in 1997 and inspired by her training in carnival arts in Trinidad and India, Kinetika now has a reputation for working with local communities on projects that change the way people feel about where they live. From local community walks in Essex to high streets and city squares across the UK, out to the Great Wall of China, Ethiopia and West Bengal.
Since 2012, Ali’s practice has been to develop transformational walking arts projects with diverse communities – bringing people together by walking, talking and painting large-scale silk creations. ‘I became interested in walking as a way of inspiring others,’ she says.
Kinetika has been based in Purfleet on Thames since 2014. The move has led Ali to think more about her East Anglian roots. ‘I was keen to explore the East of England, as my father grew up in Norfolk. He isn’t alive anymore – I’m reconnecting to part of my family.’
Before now, she has led walking projects in Wiltshire, the Isle of Wight, Lincolnshire, Essex and Thurrock, where she has developed an annual walking and talking festival, the Thurrock 100. The concept of walking in that part of the world was something of a revelation to her. ‘I never thought it was possible to walk in Thurrock – it’s not Suffolk,’ says Ali.
‘That was the beginning of the model,’ she adds. ‘In 2017 we took that model to a different level with Salt River.’ Commissioned by the British Council as part of the UK/India year of Culture in 2017, the ambitious project explored the unique relationship between London and Kolkata in India, through a year’s artistic exchange between 10 communities along the Thames Estuary and 10 communities along the Hooghly River. This pioneering place-making model has been replicated internationally in various forms in Ethiopia, Chile and India.
Over 35 days this summer, Ali will walk 500 miles with Guardian journalist Kevin Rushby, and record the journey on a daily basis – capturing the narrative of Beach of Dreams as it unfolds. ‘I met him on a Guardian masterclass,’ she says of Kevin. They then collaborated on Silk River, with Kevin writing a daily blog of the entire journey.
Ali recalls: ‘On day eight, when we were walking from Tilbury to East Tilbury, it was a beautiful sunny afternoon and Kevin disappeared off to the foreshore.’ It turns out that glass ‘gems’ glittering in the sunlight had caught his eye. It’s a place where London had dumped its debris from the Blitz and, as Ali explains: ‘the glass and ceramics keep washing up on the foreshore.’ Kevin named it the Beach of Broken Dreams.
It got Ali thinking: ‘What would it take to turn this into a ‘Beach of Dreams? What would happen if we picked up these glittering gems, in ourselves, our communities and our coastline? We’ve been working on this since 2017 as a concept.’ The result is the 500-mile walk from Lowestoft to Tilbury, involving 500 people and 500 dreams. ‘Altogether it’s a collective dream,’ says Ali, ‘and a pilgrimage into the future.
Images submitted by April 9 will be used as inspiration for the design of 500 silk pennants illustrating the beautiful coastal landscape and its challenges, the first edition of an evolving national artwork. These pennants will be hand painted using natural dyes by the Kinetika Design Studio and form spectacular installations during the event. And if you join the walk along the stretch you have chosen, you can carry the pennant inspired by your own photo!
Between now and then, there will be drop in Zoom sessions, led by the artists involved and Ali, who will be available to demonstrate the process to people who have signed up. ‘It’s lovely to meet a few people beforehand. I love working with people and communities.’
She ‘can’t wait’ to get going with the walk, as she knows from experience that anything could happen: ‘I know from Salt River it was a very, very transformative experience.’
An installation of all 500 pennants will mark the beginning of the walk on June 27, at sunrise on the beach at Lowestoft, during the First Light Summer Solstice.
The timing couldn’t be any better. ‘We are literally going to be walking out of Covid – blinking in the sunshine. We’ve been underground for a year,’ says Ali. The idea is that they will be joined by artists, writers, scientist and local residents. Together, guided by strong environmental themes and the challenges of our current time, they will consider the question: ‘How can we creatively reimagine our future?’
Roadmap permitting, there shouldn’t – in theory – be any restrictions in force at the time the walk begins. And if there are? ‘Kevin and I as two people could walk it,’ says Ali, ‘and if we are in the rule of six, we could definitely do it.’ Considering T100 still went ahead last year, she adds: ‘We learnt a lot last year – we are ready for anything.’
The route follows the coast, taking in stunning scenery, wild landscapes and seaside towns. There are 35 walks in all, beginning with the 16-mile stretch from Lowestoft to Southwold. Further installations and events take place along the way including Harwich Festival on July 10 and the finale at Tilbury Fort on August 1. Ali adds: ‘We will launch a story map where we will present all the content. It will be there as a collective piece of work.’
And the project has legs. Beach of Dreams is conceived as a national project that will unfold over two years along the UK coastline, starting this summer and culminating in 2023, running in parallel with Year of The Coast. Ali, whose mother’s Scottish, adds: ‘I’m taking it to Scotland in September – to small, coastal towns in the Highlands.’
We’ve all become more aware of the benefits of walking and talking over this past year. And the project really couldn’t have come at a better time. Ali would agree: ‘In 2017 I was saying, ‘come on, we need to live more responsibly. We need to think about the future. Before. it seemed to be a luxury – or not necessary – to think about the future – now everyone is questioning everything.’
Visit Beach of Dreams | Kinetika. To get involved with Beach of Dreams people are encouraged to select their mile, then submit images and words to show what it means to them, or why it is special. Booking one-mile sections is done on the walk pages of the website. Each day of the 500-mile walk has its own page, and a booking form for the one-mile sections that occur on it. Booking forms are at the bottom of each walk page (unless they are full already) When the form is submitted, a confirmation email is sent to the participant with a record of the information they selected/ sent and instructions about what to do next. This includes the link where they can submit their images and words. Follow Beach of Dreams on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Featured image credit: Mike Johnston