Making a Splash at Jupiter Artland

It is rare to be invited to “bring a swimming costume” to a press launch, but then the owners of a West Lothian sculpture park have a reputation for doing things differently.

Robert and Nicky Wilson have created a unique sculpture park in West Lothian, where 30-plus artworks are located in meadows and woodland surrounding their Jacobean manor, Bonnington House. By introducing new permanent and temporary installations each year, visitors are encouraged to make return visits to see what new artists have dreamt up, creating site-specific artworks which range from a giant gun to a serene woodland temple.

The latest permanent commission took three years to complete with a team of 60 people, over 11,000 hand painted tiles and 3,000 trees and bushes. The result is Gateway, a 9 metre swimming pool, in which visitors can take a dip for a fully immersive experience.

Created by Lisbon artist Joana Vasconcelos , who is known for her over-stated pieces, the thinking behind Gateway works on several levels – the basic idea is of swimming pools being places for communities to gather.

On seeing an aerial photograph of Gateway, a 10 year-old boy in our group straight away commented: “It’s a giant splash.” Bold primary colours, flowing lines and shaped like a flower with curving petals, Gateway is a joy to the eye.

Against a background of near-black tiles, the colours are even more striking and stand out vividly against the surrounding greenery of yew trees, boxwood, beech and Portuguese laurel. Joana deliberately omitted green from the pool area so that the colour would come only from the natural greenery.

The designs on the tiles (each one unique and made in by a 200 year-old tile producer in Portugal) represent the signs of the zodiac; the artist’s Scorpio sign is below the pool and above the pool, in the six petals of the flower, are the members of the Wilson family – Robert and Nicky Wilson and their four children.

Arriving in a flowing kaftan, printed with the same pattern as the pool, Joana explained that the site is thought to be on a leyline, believed to channel the earth’s energy  connecting sacred and spiritual sites across the world, including Rosslyn Chapel, in Mid Lothian.

She said: “I had to discover about the energy meridians of the earth. We adapted to these things and the pool is a way of maintaining energy flow. It’s a magical power connecting us to the earth. In the universe, you are always connected to the stars and so connecting with the sky and earth seemed proper.”

Entering the pool down a short flight of steps is a bit like a baptism, and once in the water (heated to 30 degrees) it is easy to contemplate the beauty of the environment with Bonnington House as a backdrop plucked straight out of a fairytale.

Gateway is open to the public for bathing session throughout August as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival – but hurry, as it is proving to be a popular way of cooling down and doing something a little different this summer.

Also opening in time for the holidays, is an exhibition of work by the late choreographer and artist Tricia Brown. Made up of several films and sketches, there will be special performances of one of her works, In Plain Site at three of the sculpture park’s locations.

Jupiter Artland is open every day, 10am-5pm, until 29th September. Public bathing in Gateway until 22 August, £5 (in additional to general entry fee). Booking essential.

In Plain Site will be performed at various times on August 9, 10 and 11.

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