In the courtyard, a grove of soaring trees invites an upward gaze. A dense mist fills the space. The atmosphere is heavy, our vision is blurred. Water trickles from a pipe into a ceramic tile fountain. There is the sound of a voice from afar, and it smells like fresh earth.
Cura’s Garden by Ben Thorp Brown brings the courtyard of the former 13th century monastery into Kunsthal Gent's “Endless Exhibition”. Unfolding over time through choreographed and natural processes, this installation creates an idyllic and foreboding landscape that deepens links between our senses, emotions, and earth itself.
Cura’s Garden is named after the ancient Roman goddess Cura, the personification of care; a returning figure in Ben Thorp Brown’s work about humanity’s relationship with architecture and environment. Following on Brown’s project The Arcadia Center, this work creates a new space for attention to a landscape that transcends its own boundaries. Gardening itself is an act of empathy with non-human living things. The garden evokes images of the sublime, metamorphosis, and regeneration and invites visitors to develop a relationship with this place over time.
Working together with Jan Minne, the garden was planned to create a vision of Arcadia. A grove of large trees that resemble bodies (such as Cryptomeria Japonica ‘Jindai’, Trachycarpus fortunei, Abies Procera ‘Glauca,’ Hamamelis virginiana, Pinus Strobus ‘pendula,’ Sequoiadendron giganteum ‘Pendulum’) was carefully selected, along with smaller plants, for their unique forms. The garden was designed to make people feel both wonder and unease. These plants are situated amidst a fog sculpture, titled Embrace. It fills the environment with a cloud of mist, that alters our senses, as the space in front of us becomes fully obscured. Perceptual shifts disorient and also create playful forms of connection, suggestive of the dynamic conditions of collectivity itself.
In this unique spatial and sonic environment, at the center of the garden is a ceramic sculpture: Fountain (After Cura). The sculpture depicts a human form as it emerges from clay and water. In the myth of Cura the human body was formed out of clay alongside a riverbank, and after caring for it, the goddess Cura sought to name the body. In the story, a dispute ensued between the gods, and because the body was made of the earth (humus), this new figure came to be called human. In Brown’s 2019 film (that was part of The Arcadia Center), Cura returns as a tortoise. This time, Cura’s shell returns in the ceramic sculpture Memento. It includes the voice of the goddess, as performed by Joan La Barbara.
Psychology is a recurring interesst in Brown's work. This project is based on British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott's concept of a "holding environment", where a state of unease alongside a feeling of safety is paramount for a transformation into a new way of being. The garden is intended as a place to wander and to observe this landscape composed of an ongoing system of relationships. A part of Kunsthal Gent's Endless Exhibition, Cura’s Garden initiates a new ecological and sculptural environment that evolves over time.
Ben Thorp Brown’s work seeks to expand the possibilities of sculptural and time based media practice. Expanding on his interests in video installations that incorporate sculpture, furniture, drawing, and photography with living plant life, and geological matter, Cura’s Garden marks the next step of the artist’s practice into a material and conceptual approach that creates an entire environmental work, one that will shift and develop over time.
Brown’s past films are a cross between documentary and experimental filmmaking, and address resurgences of myth and fantasy in everyday life, the effects of history, and architecture on the body.
His work has been presented in recent solo museum exhibitions at the Jeu de Paume, CAPC Bordeaux, Museo Amparo, and the St. Louis Art Museum. His work has been featured in significant group exhibitions including Empathy Revisited: Designs for More Than One at the Istanbul Biennial, The Supermarket of Images at the Jeu de Paume, Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1904-2016 at The Whitney Museum, Greater New York 2015 at MoMA PS1, Image Employment at MoMA PS1, In Practice: Chance Motives at SculptureCenter, and in film festivals such as The New York Film Festival and Rotterdam International Film Festival. His work has been reviewed in numerous media such as The New York Times, Art in America, NPR, ArtForum, Hyperallergic, Art Agenda, Mousse Magazine. He has received awards from Creative Capital, the Graham Foundation, the Shifting Foundation, and was an artist in residence at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas. He attended the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program, and is a graduate of Williams College and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Thanks to Spectrum Boombeheer for planting the trees in Cura's Garden.