How Ben Thorp Brown transformed a monastery courtyard into an otherworldly garden
Taking its name from the ancient Roman goddess Cura, the personification of care, Ben Thorp Brown’s 2016 Creative Capital-funded project Cura’s Garden is now on view in Ghent, Belgium, offering an otherworldly environment for visitors to explore.
Cura’s Garden is a permanent installation in the courtyard of a former 13th century monastery in Ghent, Belgium, now run by Kunsthal Gent. 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 is a returning figure in Ben Thorp Brown’s work about humanity’s relationship with architecture and environment.
Below, read Ben Thorp Brown’s Creative Capital Artist Diary for a look into his most ambitious project to date.
In 2019 I started exhibiting a moving image work called Cura that was inspired by an ancient Roman creation myth. In the myth, the goddess Cura creates the human body using clay found alongside a riverbank and cares for this new being. In my film, Cura returns to our earth in the form of a tortoise who speaks and sings in the first person plural about the origins of humanity and empathy.
Cura lives in Richard Neutra’s VDLII house in Los Angeles, a unique modernist house that was built in 1932, destroyed in a fire, and then rebuilt in collaboration with his son, Dion Neutra, in 1964. As Cura meanders throughout the house and gardens, Cura speaks about how architecture is designed with particular psychological principles in mind, and how relationships between the built and natural environment affect how we empathize with one another.
The film is often presented in the context of an installation, The Arcadia Center, which is an imagined empathy training and rehabilitation center. Through developing a parafictional world, I was able to experiment with the design of an imagined training exercise that helps people listen and connect with one another again after a significant societal collapse.
The project was a hugely collaborative effort and was co-commissioned with exhibitions at the Jeu de Paume, CAPC Bordeaux, and Museo Amparo. A catalogue was released, and plans were made for future exhibitions and biennials, until March 2020 came along and ensuing lockdowns began.
During the subsequent waves of the pandemic, I became increasingly interested in making a new chapter to this project, however, I didn’t want to make a film. I was making ceramic sculptures and spending lots of time outdoors with my toddler. During this time, my sculptures were developed through observations of the landscape, of fatherhood, and material itself, trying to hold space for contingency and capture the sense of an unfolding crisis that remains unresolved.
With the ongoing support of my work from Creative Capital and the invitation from Kunsthal Gent, I began to develop Cura’s Garden.
Cura’s Garden is a permanent work situated in the courtyard of a former 13th century monastery in Ghent, Belgium run by Kunsthal Gent. Unfolding over time through choreographed and natural processes, this installation creates an idyllic and foreboding landscape.
Working in collaboration with landscape designer Jan Minne, a garden was planned to create a vision of Arcadia. A grove of large trees was carefully selected for their unique forms designed to make people feel both wonder and unease.
The plants are situated amidst a fog sculpture titled Embrace that fills the environment with a cloud of mist that alters our senses. At the center of the garden is a ceramic sculpture Fountain (After Cura) that depicts a human form emerging from clay and water. In another sculpture, Cura’s shell and voice return in a work performed by Joan La Barbara.
Cura’s Garden has been the most ambitious project that I’ve realized to date. In much of my past work, I’ve made video installations that incorporate sculpture, furniture, drawing, and photography with living plant life, and geological matter, however, Cura’s Garden marks the next step into a new material and conceptual approach that creates an entire environmental work.
Cura’s Garden is a project that will shift and develop over time.