Jupiter Artland 2016: Garden of Earthly Delights

What does it feel like living in Scotland's only contemporary sculpture park and waking up to a Marc Quinn every day? Nicky Wilson tells all and gives some details about the upcoming spring and summer programmes before Jupiter reopens this month.

Article by Adam Benmakhlouf | 28 Apr 2016

Now in its eighth year, the reopening of Jupiter Artland in May is becoming as much a sign of summer (at least in the art calendar) as degree shows and the Transmission party. Founded by Robert and Nicky Wilson, the park houses their private art collection across 100 acres. Still a work in progress, Jupiter already comprises of 30 site-specific permanent works from well-known artists like Andy Goldsworthy, Anya Gallaccio, Laura Ford and Anish Kapoor.

14 May sees the beginning of their spring programme, with newly installed works as well as the award-winning existing collection being opened to the public again. For one, there is Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s Songbirds. “That work is a big deal,” says director Nicky Wilson. “Electrified guitars have been set up flat in a room with no ledges. Then 50 zebra finches are let loose and they start to learn it's their habitat. The birds get used to perching on them. Each time they move, the amplifiers produce a little sound, so they’re not traumatised. They slowly create sound and music with their perching and their movement. And it’s a rather lovely, eccentric room.”

The programme also features late Turner prize nominee Helen Chadwick. “I’m her number one fan,” Nicky explains. Made from casts of men and women pissing in the snow, Nicky “borrowed it from [Chadwick’s] foundation because it would be so perfect for Jupiter. … The Piss Flowers have this strong feminist narrative, but equally they are white flowers and are very deliberately childlike daisies.”

Thinking about the Piss Flowers in the context of day-trippers in the park and expanded art audience this encourages, is there any danger of offence being taken to Chadwick’s work? Responding, Nicky’s sure “the Piss Flowers are very quickly understood as a beautiful joyous action. The look just like wet sand dribbling between your hands, or pouring a drink into snow or a slush puppy. There’s something about the visceral and bodily fluid that we might think of as slightly yucky but is really fascinating.”

Along with Boursier-Mougenot and Chadwick, new work also comes from Scottish poet and artist Alec Finlay, who will install ladders around the community orchard. As a permanent work, it will encompass the native apple and plum trees in the grounds.

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Hayley Tompkins

Later in the summer, from 30 July, the summer programme is unveiled. As well as works from Glasgow-based Hayley Tompkins in the Tin Roof gallery there are works from French artists Caroline Mesquita and Christian Boltanski. Mesquita will scatter figurines and fragments through the woods, and Boltanski presents his first permanent work in Britain. Along with two exhibitions in the galleries, he will attach hundreds of Japanese bells to long stems planted in the ground. He describes the bells' chiming as “music of the souls.”

Within the variety and diversity of the new works, Nicky remarks that “everything is very natural this year. We’ve got Alec Finlay picking apples, the birds in captivity, the flowers made out of piss in the snow and the woven willow objects [mammoth wicker baskets by Dutch artist Ditte Gantris]. Nature is being impersonated, they are quirky and music takes … poking a little bit at the celebrity of nature and its power. In each one of the pieces, the artists are talking about something serious throughout this childlike imaginative emulation of nature. There’s not a narrative between them, but there’s a thread that’s drawn.”

While Nicky thinks of the theme of nature as joining Finlay, Chadwick, Gantris and Boursier-Mougenot, “quite often you see that in the group shows that are created here. The artist has taken the opportunity to respond to something outside that then gets fragmented and reworked in terms of the discussion of nature.”

Any talk of thematic coherence might give the wrong impression of some kind of house style. For Nicky, it’s important that Jupiter’s not “curated in the way that galleries with four walls are. We don’t have an over-message. Only work that Robert and I really like will show at Jupiter, so there’s more of a personal journey behind it. We’re not talking the direct curator’s roles in that sense. We show work that’s suitable to Jupiter and are finding out what that means.”

Just shy of its first decade, Nicky considers Jupiter as “very young. It’s very ambitious and it’s got a big heart.” Of special mention, “We really love the education programme, we do lots and lots of it. It’s become central to the whole output of the parkland.” All of the money raised by ticket and event proceeds goes directly into providing free access and resources to schools, universities and community groups from across the UK. Their ambition is for every child in Scotland to have the opportunity to come and see Artland.

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Speaking of having her family home in the middle of an art park, for the Wilsons, the work “is a manifestation of our life. Every day I look at the Marc Quinn [Lovebomb, a 12-metre high orchid] come rain or shine. So I really live with the work. I suppose that new work comes in and refreshes our palette.” Nevertheless, when it comes to the permanent work, “You’re committed, it’s like a long term relationship. It’s not friends with benefits with these works, and we all know the difference… you start to go deeper [with the permanent works], and luxuriating.”

This personal experience comes to saturate all of the running and programme decisions they make. “It’s [Jupiter] run by a family, and the thing about family is it’s not about personalities. Instead of being run by public money or whatever, everything is very personal. You’ve got individuals working on it. I’m not saying all publicly run places are lacking that. It’s just that Jupiter is on a different pathway or trajectory, it’s got a bit more eccentricity to it.”

Opening every year, and lending itself well to daylong trips and wandering, there’s a different texture of audience experience as well. “Anybody who goes around with their eyes open has a favourite thing. Then they might walk past and it changes. It might disappoint one day, and then it’s fabulous and charming the next day. It’s about that, it’s the same as in relationships with human beings.”

As well as the different relationship between the works and time within the park, Nicky also thinks of the site of the park as an important feature. “This was the powerhouse of industry at one point. The beautiful landscapes have been chopped up at one point by new housing schemes.” There’s already a sense of interrupted nature, even without the large-scale sculpture park.

Overall, Nicky hopes “we’re a bit challenging, a bit brave, a bit difficult, lovely and generous, shocking sometimes. All those things I think are a benefit to our audience in a away. Lots of young families come and lots of teenagers. I think also we just have a magic quality to coming here, the whole day is an experience. People will come here for a long time, if they can.”

Jupiter Artland opens Saturday 14 May, adult ticket £8.50, student £4.50, concession £6