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Five-year-old curator leads summer art exhibition in Bath

Mark Brown Arts correspondent
·3-min read

She is the curator of a complicated contemporary art show and it’s fair to say she is proving pretty hopeless with the paperwork.

Unusually, she is also insisting that her own artwork is included in the exhibition but, given Astrid Cooper is five, that could very quickly change.

Details have been announced of a summer show titled ‘My Kid Could’ve Done That’, which will display the work of about 15 contemporary artists, all of it a collaboration between the artist and their young child or children.

It is curated by Will Cooper and his daughter Astrid and so far the working partnership has been going well, he said.

“There are bits of it that she isn’t going to do,” Cooper said. “She’s not written any loan requests with me.

“Obviously a five-year-old can’t do everything but I think when I’ve done other shows there has been a lead and one person who does the writing and the paperwork. I guess she is the lead and I’m doing the paperwork.”

Father and daughter will soon be making Zoom studio visits to artists and their children who have signed up to a project which is fun and slightly mad, but one which Cooper hopes has real grit in that it explores wider issues around parenting and work.

The artists include Harriet Bowman and Len, who plan ceramic works and a recording of conversations made during the artistic process; Dickon Drury and Cosmo, who are planning framed drawings; and Jesse Darling and Lux, working on scratch drawings of Tyrannosaurus rex.

Other artists include Ryan Gander and kids; Emily Speed and Wilbur; Jasleen Kaur and Rai; and Kenneth Alme and Heine.

The show comes after a year when most parents have been doing more creative things with their children, in some cases more than ever.

“The separation of professional and personal life, at least for me and my family, has completely eroded,” said Cooper, who uses the bedroom as his place of work four days a week, his wife in the same space three days a week. “We don’t have weekends because we need to use the seven days so we can both do our jobs.”

Quite often Astrid will be playing with her toys under the desk while Cooper taps at his computer.

“The hope is that this exhibition is an exploration of what spending time with our families can be,” he said.

“There is a layer of the show which is joy and fun and messiness and eccentricity and lack of rules that come with making stuff with your kids. But underneath that there is an important, I think, socio-political conversation about what we expect creative people to be able to do and what we expect parents and predominantly mothers to do.”

The exhibition will be held at the Edge arts centre at the University of Bath which has recently embarked on a new partnership with the city’s Holburne museum, where Cooper is curator of contemporary programmes.

He said it had to be a true collaboration, not just the child putting a finishing brushstroke to the adult’s painting. All the children are around primary age. “It becomes a different exhibition if you have your 18-year-old in the show.”

Cooper said Astrid is very keen for the walls to be colourful and is insisting her work is in it because that’s how she thinks it works.

“In my head I’m thinking ‘no, no, no, that’s not what a curator does …’ But then if that’s what she feels she needs to do, then we probably need to find a way to make it work.”

The exhibition will run from July to September and precisely what the actual artworks will look like remains to be seen.

“I’m trying not to be prescriptive and it is the only exhibition I’ve ever made where I won’t really know what the content is until it all arrives,” said Cooper. “Things are subject to change until one minute to bedtime.”