Curator Blog: Slippery Spaces

Posted on 26/07/2021

Weirdly, on the way to work the other week, I cried. I was in the car, a conducive space to look back at things passing. There is a certain sense of calm about moving through a landscape and I felt like I was in the eddy looking back at the rapid flow of projects we have been working on since I started at Towner, a week before the pandemic in 2020.  

I was thinking about how a few days previously I had been casually asked if I’d like to join a group of carers who have been meeting regularly over Zoom. This group, the Association of Carers were one of the recipient organisations of our Creative Kit Bags made in partnership with the South Downs National Park. So the invitation was to join them in a session using the materials Towner had sent out. 

This time is precious: the adults in this group each care full time for a partner or family member and I was aware of that responsibility as a presence although it wasn’t the focus. The group is set up and held each week by Jane. She sets the tone, and makes everyone feel at ease. Joining them, I was brought straight into personal spaces- their front rooms and bedrooms. I felt humbled they had chosen to share this feeling, this connection through the screen, with me.

Each person in the group chose which materials to use, and techniques or imagery to employ. Drawings of imagined animals appeared, a garden scene, someone used acrylics with a hairdryer (a diversion from the kit bags) and two members were using charcoal for the first time ever. I spent most of the session trying out a set of watercolours. I was engrossed in testing the agency of water and pigments; how solid colours carried in liquid bleed, blur, thin, and condense. I made something that looked a bit like Christmas baubles, or interstellar bodies. 

It felt such a luxury to pretend this was a common-day experience for me. We passed a couple of hours together sharing casual comments or conversation, and silences with just the noise of charcoal on rough paper coming through the group audio into my office. It was actually the nearest thing to the sculpture studio I have been in for twenty-five years. 

This time is not easy to find- working or caring full time it’s hard to prioritise being playful, creative, and exploratory. This was time for me. For us. This time was precious. It felt so fragile and vulnerable to other demands. And it was fleeting. But something of it stayed with me. And made me proud. 

Esther Collins, Head of Learning & Engagement