Haroon Mirza Curates the ACC

27 February 2018

For Towner Art Gallery’s latest National Partners Exhibition, We Stared at the Moon from the Centre of the Sun, award-winning artist Haroon Mirza has selected works from the Arts Council Collection alongside works from Towner's own Collection.

The exhibition at Towner includes Arts Council Collection works by Patrick CaulfieldIan KiaerLis RhodesRichard Wilson and Rose Wylie, as well as Mark Leckey’s feelinthecat, (2016), one of eight works commissioned to mark the Arts Council Collection 70th Anniversary in 2016.

Mirza considers how practical elements of individual artworks can combine to create new narratives. Throughout the exhibition new relationships are revealed between seemingly disparate objects. Mirza playfully combines separate works to infuse new meaning and create complex narratives that run through the exhibition. 

“The experience of working with the Arts Council Collection has been an unusual yet satisfying process for me.” Explains Mirza, “Not having quite the same responsibility as a curator, I was able to work relatively, freely and intuitively. Luckily there are always opportunities to transgress convention.”

Reflecting on his own practice, the artist says: ‘As I already work quite a lot with existing works by other artists, this process [of curating an Arts Council Collection exhibition] has enabled me to explore a wider aspect of my practice in a slightly different context.’

The product of this exploration is a harmonised selection of works divided across two ‘light’ and ‘dark’ areas. Each half of the exhibition becomes its own immersive experience.


As a conceptual starting point, Mirza places Patrick Caulfield’s Sculpture in a Landscape (1966) within the ‘light’ area of the exhibition space. He imagines the painting as the surface of a fantasy moon. The deliberately placed sculpture punctuates the peaceful emptiness of an otherwise barren landscape.

Mirza expands this lunar terrain across the exhibition space. Artworks such as Mark Leckey’s feelinthecat (2016) and William Tucker’s Cat's Cradle (1971) become extra-terrestrial structures found upon a moon’s surface. The artist considers how these works might be interpreted as traces of human activity. Perhaps a future or alternative civilisation would perceive the objects as relics of ritualistic process?

Musing on the moon’s metaphorical associations, the artist considers how, until almost 50 years ago, landing on the moon was an abstract future concept. For centuries this impossible idea influenced human imagination through stories from folklore to science fiction, not then considered as a potential reality. Today, we have not only achieved this seemingly impossible goal but we now look beyond the moon landing in previously unimagined ways.

Arts Council Collection: Haroon Mirza Curates the ACC
Arts Council Collection: Haroon Mirza Curates the ACC

Drawing on themes from science fiction, philosophy and mythology, the selected objects become representative of different ‘now’ states of past, present and future. This also plays with the notion of time as an abstract concept. Mirza considers how our own perceptions of the ‘now’ demonstrate our individual being.

As an exploration of the present ‘now’, the artist includes Ian Kiaer’s Black tulip, glasshouse (2012). This piece portrays Alexandre Dumas’s quest to breed an unnaturally-hued, perfectly black tulip. For Mirza, the impossibility of the flower, much like the impossibility of Tucker’s logic confounding structure or Leckey’s absurd cat transformation, makes us question the reality of our own existence. These journeys from impossible concepts to possible realities make up the human condition. How we interpret our past and our potential future ‘now’, defines our current ‘self’.

The artist considers the light and dark division of the exhibition space as suggestive of day and night. This also represents both sides of the moon as two manifestations of the same ‘now’ occurring simultaneously. Moving from the ‘light’ area of the exhibition into the ‘dark’ becomes synonymous with stepping away from our understanding of reality.

Within the ‘dark’ side of the curated space, artworks such as Seamus Nicolson’s Megatripolis (1996), a shadowy, c-type print depicting a crowd dancing in a night club, helps to invoke a sense of this nocturnal environment. In Patrick Caulfield's Dining Recess (1972) the hanging, moon-like lamp at the centre of the work continues the orb motif that reoccurs throughout the display, as does the enthralling circular light pattern Peter Sedgley’s Corona (1970).

The darkened area also serves to display a number of moving image works from the Arts Council Collection and the Towner collection, including Lis Rhodes’ seminal experimental film work, Dresden Dynamo (1971-2) and Tacita Dean’s The Green Ray (2001), which captures an elusive solar phenomenon that has attracted various mythological interpretations throughout history. Mirza was particularly interested in this as a demonstration of how we create stories and apply new meaning based on our individual context, our own ‘now’.

Arts Council Collection: Haroon Mirza Curates the ACC
Arts Council Collection: Haroon Mirza Curates the ACC

Playing on the idea of time as a human construct, a tool to make sense of our existence, our ‘now’, Mirza includes Jonathan Monk’s Blue without Hidden Noise (version 2) (2017) as part of the display. This work captures the sparse winter trees in Monk’s local park, an eternal recurrence that is part of the perpetual pattern of the seasons. Speaking of this piece Mirza comments on the cyclical nature of our environment and connects this to the process of ageing that is revealed through a tree’s inner circles.

The circular form that occurs throughout the display ultimately references the notion that we are incapable of living in a dimension of absolute singularity. Our reality is made up of not only our pasts and futures but also of our abstract imaginings, dreams and hypothetical ‘nows’. It is the balancing of these different faces, our ability to address the synonymous states of our existence, both the moon and the sun, that Mirza believes makes us human.

Liz Brooke, National Partners Coordinator, Arts Council Collection

We stared at the Moon from the centre of the Sun: Haroon Mirza Curates the Arts Council Collection is an Arts Council Collection National Partner Exhibition. Entry is free and the show will be on display from 20 January to 3 June 2018.


The Arts Council Collection is the UK's most widely seen collection of modern and contemporary art.

With nearly 8,000 works by over 2,000 artists, it can be seen in exhibitions and public displays across the country and beyondThis website offers unprecedented access to the Collection, and information about each work can be found on this site.