Head of Collections, Sara Cooper, reflects on curating BRINK with Caroline Lucas MP

Posted on 22/04/2020

BRINK: Caroline Lucas curates the Towner Collection, 2019. Photo: Rob Harris

Inviting external curators to work with the Towner Collection is a way of opening it up to new voices, new contexts, and a way of addressing some of the wider concerns of the world right now.

Caroline Lucas certainly brought of all of this to her role in curating BRINK. Initially overwhelmed by the task of selecting from the 5000 works in the Collection, she approached it in the way I imagine she approaches most of the tasks she is faced with – with an open mind, an active interest, and a desire to delve into the subject matter.

Many works in the Towner Collection reflect and record our local landscape, often capturing a perspective on a particular place and time. However, the outlines of landscapes and seascapes that have long been taken for granted can no longer be assumed to be permanent and unchanging. Through these works, we can consider our relationship with the natural environment and address questions of continuity and change, and these are the some of the themes that Caroline extracted through her exploration of the Collection and in the choices of works that she made.

BRINK: Caroline Lucas curates the Towner Collection, 2019. Photo: Rob Harris

To my mind, one of the most interesting choices was Walking with Paul – an installation of 20 framed watercolour paintings by the artist Keir Smith (1950–2007). Smith’s practice moved through performance, drawing, painting and sculpture, meshing them and creating dialogues between the mediums. His performance works took the forms of slide shows in which he documented himself performing in the landscape using sculptural objects he had made.

Walking with Paul was made from a caravan in Grizedale Forest in Cumbria while Smith was undertaking a residency there. The piece was inspired by his lifelong fascination with the artist Paul Nash. Like Nash, Smith was interested in mythology and landscape archaeology, both areas that informed his work. Made in the early 1980s, Walking with Paul is one of his early performance works. The title suggests a physical journey with a fellow walker, but instead what Smith is describing is Nash’s influence throughout his career, likening it to having ‘walked’ with him.

BRINK: Caroline Lucas curates the Towner Collection, 2019. Photo: Rob Harris

However, the physical is also very much present in Smith’s series of walks. This is what drew Caroline to this work and its idea that, when we open our eyes to our surroundings, we can see patterns, shapes and forms in nature. Never more pertinent than now, when our physical world may have become narrower, our daily walks more repetitive or habitual – but maybe that enables us to see and appreciate the smaller details.

Through her selection of works to feature in BRINK – including Walking with Paul – Caroline invites you to appreciate the beauty, complexity and fragility of the natural world, and to question how it might change in the years ahead.