Artists in Wonderland: an oasis of artistic calm in West Lothian, Jupiter Artland continues to thrive and excite
Co-creator and curator Nicky Wilson explains why this labour of love is an exhibition space like no other
As the name implies, once you step through the gates of Jupiter Artland, you’re in another world. While Edinburgh’s city centre feels like a constant building site, a half-hour bus ride to West Lothian offers sanctuary of the most imaginative kind. For a decade now, Jupiter Artland’s science-fiction styled sculptured landscape has hosted a series of architectural interventions that allow contemporary artists’ work to breathe in a way that the restraints of a walled institution wouldn’t allow for.
Beyond the verdant greens and lush blue pools in ‘Cells of Life’ (the manufactured landform by American architecture theorist and critic Charles Jencks which greets visitors) are more than 30 permanent works. These include pieces by the likes of Nathan Coley, Andy Goldsworthy, Antony Gormley, Jim Lambie and Ian Hamilton Finlay.
When Jupiter Artland opened for this year’s season in May, the permanent collection received two new additions. ‘Animitas’ is French sculptor Christian Boltanski’s first outdoor work in the UK, while Scottish artist Alec Finlay has made a new orchard-based piece, ‘A Variety of Cultures’. Temporary works include ‘Piss Flowers’ by the late Helen Chadwick, songbirds creating music with electric guitars by French artist, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot in ‘From Here to Ear’, and a new floor-based piece by Glasgow-based Hayley Tompkins.
Jupiter Artland was created by art collectors Robert and Nicky Wilson in the 100-acre grounds of their 17th century Jacobean home, Bonnington House. The grounds have been open to the public since 2009, with Jupiter Artland developing an expansive programme which has tapped into an increasing profile for sound and environmental-based art.
For the Wilsons, this is clearly a labour of love which, despite its non-institutional status, has been shortlisted for the 2016 Museum of the Year Award. ‘It was our dream,’ says Nicky Wilson of her front garden. ‘We couldn't just keep the door locked and have all this to ourselves; since we opened, it quite literally has grown. Charles Jencks’ works took five years to grow, and that was a real test of our mettle.’
With an ongoing emphasis on showcasing younger artists alongside more seasoned practitioners, Wilson resists theming her choices, although she does concede that this year’s work, ‘all has a sense of humour and slight subversion of the norm, but in a way that audiences can continue to engage with’.
A new indoor gallery space was completed in 2015, while an ongoing learning programme is becoming an increasingly key component of the Jupiter Artland ethos. ‘There’s a huge need for cultural engagement with schools and mental health groups,’ says Wilson. ‘Art is a very valuable part of life’s richness. One thing property developers never consider is how people relate to their environment. What we do at Jupiter is continue to honour and beautify the landscape so that people can engage with art.’
Wilson’s personal connection to her programme at Jupiter Artland is plain. ‘I was taught by Helen Chadwick,’ she says of the Turner-nominated artist. ‘And seeing Christian Boltanski’s early exhibition when I was a young artist in London completely changed my world: I want Jupiter Artland to be a Wonderland which everyone can explore. We live in the middle of it, and I live and breathe it. I go to bed looking at the sculptures, and we are absolutely rooted in it. We're not a huge, heavy institution, so it becomes about joy and community. Jupiter Artland is meant to be magic. People’s lives need a bit of Wonderland.’
Jupiter Artland, Bonnington House Steadings, Wilkieston, 01506 889900, until 31 Aug, Mon–Sun, 10am–5pm; 1–25 Sep, Thu–Sun, 10am–5pm, £8.50 (£4.50–£6; family tickets £23.50–£31.50).