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Art in the Garden

Even the driveway is part of the art in Scotland’s inspiring private sculpture park, Jupiter Artland.

The crowds that cram the path between Bronte and Bondi every spring when Sculpture by the Sea sets up along the coast is an indication of just how much we love to see sculpture in an intimate relationship with its environment.

Words and images by Robin Powell


Welcome to Jupiter Artland. 'Cells of Life' by Charles Jencks


The pieces that each year are the firm crowd favourites are those that match position, idea, materials and workmanship in a way that creates a total much more than the sum of its parts.

That same intimate link between environment and artwork is the key to the success of Jupiter Artland, a sculpture garden in West Lothian, 45 minutes south of the Scottish capital Edinburgh. The garden belongs to Nicky and Robert Wilson, who bought Bonnington Manor, a 17th-century manor house set in a 100-acre estate, in 1999. Robert, a keen sporting shooter, was envisioning an 18th-century style hunting park, but Nicky had other ideas. Trained as an artist, and inspired by the nearby creations of artist-gardeners Ian Hamilton Finlay at Little Sparta and Charles Jencks at The Garden of Cosmic Speculation near Dumfries, her idea was to devote the property to art, by commissioning sculptors to make site specific works, or collaborating with them to position and landscape their work.


'Firmament' by Anthony Gormley


And so Jupiter Artland was born, opened in 2009, and christened in reference to both to the Roman god of creation and to the largest planet in our solar system. It was envisaged as the centre of gravity for a wide range of art projects which will orbit Jupiter Artland like the planet’s moons, but more of that later.

The Wilson’s first commission was to Charles Jencks, who makes landform art on a massive and deeply intellectual scale. His own Garden of Cosmic Speculation traces the development of the universe since the Big Bang, outlines ideas about fractal geometry, celebrates DNA, and considers the possibility of time travel. Given that heavy agenda you might be surprised to hear that itis also beautiful and serenely restful. Jencks’ work at Jupiter Artland is called ‘Life Mounds’, and you arrive by driving through it, which is a disconcerting but wonderful experience.The roadway snakes through a series of perfectly turfed hillocks and curving reflective pools that makes you impatient to explore it on foot. The land forms are based on human cells, with a nucleus at their peak, but you don’t have to think about how human life is embedded in the land to feel a spiritual connection as you walk the paths through the work.


'Landscape with gun and tree' by Cornelia Parker


The Jencks piece took five years to construct, and while it was underway the Wilsons approached other artists. Fellow artist-neighbour Ian Hamilton Finlay, famous for both his garden, and for his poems, either on paper, or carved into stone, explored the site and found a faultline in the bedrock. He created a small arched bridge of Northumbrian limestone that connects the two sides. At each end of the bridge are milestones inscribed with the words ‘Only Connect’, a plea for different worlds to find common ground.

Other artworks weren’t built on site, instead their position was chosen by the artist in collaboration with the Wilsons. So Antony Gormley’s giant steel figure is positioned as if just fallen to earth, in a clearing framed by oaks. The clearing is kept at just the right level of wildess by a head gardener and team of 15 full and part-time gardeners. Other artworks, such as Pablo Bronstein’s ‘The Rose Walk’are much more intensively gardened, and the mind boggles at the job of mowing the Jenks landforms (twice a week in summer).

There are 35 permanent site-specific works, as well as many more temporary works, five galleries, and a cafe. Jupiter continues to expand its ideas and its engagement, from an ambition to connect with every child in Scotland, to participation in the Edinburgh Festival this year, with a performance by choreographer Trisha Brown which takes place on floating rafts on the water lily-filled lakes.


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Jupiter Artland is open every day from Saturday May 18 to 29 September 2019, 10am - 5pm.



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Author: Robin Powell