Figure 1. The tree above the artwork “In Memory” by Nathan Coley
Me and my Dad recently visited Jupiter Artland which is a large, beautiful park area outside Edinburgh hosting a series of predominately sculptural art pieces. I last visited the park five years ago in 2009. Looking back at my photographic images captured in 2009, it was a beautiful sunny day. However, our visit on the 15th September 2013, was the last day on which Jupiter Artland was open for the autumn before it closes for the winter period from September to February, and it was a day filled with dramatic outbursts of rain and mist covering large “life mounds” these large plateaued hills create a fascinating green landscape of sculptural abstract grass.
As we made our way along the path through Jupiter Artland we came across the first piece of art consisting of a large metal cage that holds a large piece of square grass within it, and a hole into stone constructed hole that leads down into the earth. Perhaps this piece entitled Suck by Anish Kapoor (figure 2.) is suggestive of a prison which presents a locale for escape only in the form of a hole to swallow or, dissipate the prisoner to another earthly realm below the ground.
Figure 2. Suck by Anish Kappor.
Figure 3. Firmament (2008) by Anthony Gormley.
Wandering through the beautiful forests of the park, in the grey gloom of this overcast day, I spot the next piece slowly emerging from the thicket of trees. This Anthony Gormley sculpture entitled Firmament (2008) of a vast giant figure of a man lying down upon the grass; this piece solely constructed from metal, is a depiction both of the importance and the futility of a humans place within its kind and hostile world. Gormley’s art piece inhabits a sculptural world where gestures are yielded and broken. The figures metal construction creates a paradoxical place for a questioning between the material weight of the gesture of this reclining figure and the universe where it resides. The wire-like structure of the figure’s body leaves gaps for air and sky to seep through, both creating an abstraction and a sense of immaterial weight, a place in which the body is present but also absent. Gormley therefore entertains a questioning of the body as a site for reemergence and passage in addition to the materiality and the carnal physique of the physical body. The body therefore becomes a site for the world, in this case the sky and the clouds to look into the interior anatomy of the body itself, indicating its sculptural qualities entwined among the form of the landscape. The landscape of the world and the landscape of the post-womb body are in this way transfused as an exchangeable identity, a kind of casting of impressions of the human animal, upon the nature from which it was born. The positioned gesture of the figure is indicative of an act of looking towards the earth, thus contemplating the natural, material world, the place where it will materially end it’s life. While the sky above it transfigures, another identity, that which is incarnated in the soul of every human, the sky and the air become a transgressive, escapist realm; now which Gormley’s sculptural incarnation indicates is living inside the soul of this transfigured human body. Living through the gaps in the creature’s anatomy, are those passages for air and reflection, that however belied, are resting somewhere beneath the creature’s conscience, in a place that remains still mentally touchable for the creature, despite the creature’s seemingly despairing demeanour. (Figure 4.)
“Gaps of sky seemed poised for a site of new entry, creating a kind of emergent travesty of the human body, where the body is an immaculate material fabric for possession, obstruction, action and inaction, and the soul flies from it, gaping at its ardour of the earth, and the sordid physicality of the utterances of arms and legs upon the earth, which the material body will eventually rot into.”
Figure 4. Firmament (2008)
Gormely remarks upon this sculptural work to the notion that it poses a thought process “…about the endless condition of the sky and the conditioned space of architecture.” The sites of entry into the body of the sculptural, remind the viewer of Gormely’s principle ideal – that of the body and the soul, and how the sculptural place where the body is situated defines this body-soul relationship. Gormely’s sculpture indicates that the artist not only sculpts physical matter, but he also sculpts air. Gaps of sky seemed poised for a site of new entry, creating a kind of emergent travesty of the human body, where the body is an immaculate material fabric for possession, obstruction, action and inaction, and the soul flies from it, gaping at its ardour of the earth, and the sordid physicality of the utterances of arms and legs upon the earth, which the material body will eventually rot into. The soul sees them as effigies that can only travel so far, before the soul carries them to a realm that is strange and new.
Figure 5. Firmament (2008)
The shadows upon the ground beneath the sculpture indicate this facility between physical structure and invisible presence. (Figure 5.) In the ardour of this physical structure, light is seen both through the gaping holes in the body’s structure, but also in the effect it has in creating the shadows upon the ground. Light creates this medium for transference between these two actualities, permeating the landscape with imprints of the interior and exterior of form and their realities.
Figure 6. Weeping girls: Laura Ford
The exhibition at Jupiter Artland is not only a place for a enacting contemplation, is is also a place for weeping. After you have travelled off on a path into the forest, you eventually come to see some grey figures of weeping girls situated in relevant places in the landscape. These figures in Weeping Girls by Laura Ford are mostly depicted with their heads down and their long hair obscuring their faces, both concealing their expressions but also allowing their emotions to be read without these signs of facial expression. The girls are weeping in the landscape, but as much as they attempt to disguise their sorrow or pain, they cannot escape the enormity of the landscape that now contains and is permeated with their interior suffering. It is therefore when the viewer reflects on the landscape and watches the girls weeping within it, that the audience transforms their perceptions of this surrounding environment. The environment becomes a vessel or container, not unlike the body, upon which thoughts are felt, blamed, praised and ingrained within. The external environment becomes a repository for tears, a place where tears evoked by thoughts, emotions and memories, some derived from far of places are inflected, resonated and then shattered. The act of mourning transforms this external environment, clothing it in the invisible spaces of other times past in seconds, years, or decades.
Figure 7. Stone House, Bonnington by Andy Goldsworthy. External source: Jupiter Artland website.
After emerging out of the landscape of the Weeping Girls, we come across a stone house (Stone House, Bonnington) by Andy Goldsworthy, when you enter the house you realise that instead of the occupants and evidence of a human dwelling, the interior is filled with a rough undulating landscape of stone, as it has become reoccupied by nature. Not only does the interior of the house startle the viewer, it suggests both the harmony and the disharmony of humans living beside nature, both questioning our identity within the landscape of the natural world.
While I indicated how Gormley’s Firmament sculpture of a single figure alone in the landscape, showed how the merger of landscape and human form, is ascribed through the construction of gaps and spaces within the figure for nature to reengage, both as metaphors for spiritual reengagement, and as reclaim of the material world in decomposition of the body, Goldswothy’s Stone House depicts such a human-nature engagement in a different way. The contrast between Firmament and Stone House is displayed partially through the viewers differing visual-physical participation in the work; instead of observing gaps in the anatomy of the figure, the viewer observes a direct physical incision or kinetic trajectory into the landscape of the sculpture, culminating in a “meeting point” in the a physical threshold of the doorway as a place to question domesticity and the environment. Therefore, Gormley’s and Goldswothy’s works are both about the portals of incisions of gaps and doorways, but they are achieved through different invitations into the sculptural works physical and visual viewing experiences.
Figure 8. The interior of Stone House, Bonnington by Andy Goldsworthy.
Goldsworthy’s Stone House, explicitly depicts a transfusion between the domesticity and comfort of the primarily human construction and inhabited domain of the house, with the invasion of nature, a natural world from which this human domain was sourced and constructed from. Goldswothy states, “There is something unnerving about entering a building in which nature is the occupant” and this work is sufficiently concerned with the edifice of human activity, as it is with the edifice of humans’ conception of their own identity. The sculptural and the three-dimensional nature of the artwork elegantly portray both a temporal dimension to the artwork and a temporal dimension to the viewing experience of the artwork. The nature of the expectations of the house is questioned, through the use of sculptures’ kinetic and tactile means of revelation. Upon viewing the house from outside, you immediately accept it as a means to cultivate and protect human life, both in its ability to shelter, retain warmth and provide comfort and you can also reflect on its place within the landscape of nature. However, as you step through the threshold of the doorway, you realise that these assumptions have been fundamentally questioned, namely that nature lives inside humans’ construction.
The sculpture both invites and thrives upon the human viewer’s discursive movement through it, creating a shift in the perception of the viewer as they move from the outside before the threshold towards the interior beyond. This kinetic movement is a vehicle that both demolishes and reconfigures perception of the domestic and the wild environment and it achieves this through the free will of human engagement, in a revelation of information in resting in the bedrock of time. The invitation of the doorway provokes a sense of carrying the weight of thoughts of the outside world into the interior space. The sculpture that thrives on this spatial and temporal relation, displays not only this invitation for revelatory sense of kinetic movement, but also a temporal contrast between the lasting time of the stone, and the lasting time of the wood of the house’s roof. However, the Stone House is ultimately a place of reengagement between nature and humans, as Goldsworthy states, “These houses become a forum in which the nature of the place and human nature meet.”
Figure 9. In Memory by Nathan Coley and the surrounding landscape situating the art piece.
Following the trail through the beautiful forest to our next destination, there is a lustre in the air and the sound of wind whipping up the grasses of this September day, the sky is close to crying from the grey clouds, adorning an ashen hue to the faint, withering complexion of the trees. As you venture deeper into the forest, and follow this trail, you come to a small clearing off one side of the forest. By now the ashen hues of the sky are subdued and sunlight rakes through a skeletal tree that stands naked without its leaves, in contrast to the clothed trees surrounding the form of it. The lack of leaves and the shape of the branches, allow for an admiration of the form and structure of the tree, as it seems to touch the sky. Below the tree is a small stone structure with a narrow opening, inside there are gravestones, an art piece In Memory by Nathan Coley – this is another repository for human grieving, in continuing the theme established by the artworks Firmament and Weeping Girls. (Figures 9 and 1) It is as if the tree has been touched in some way by the connotations provoked by the place where it resides; here I find another place where the environment bends and transforms to the identity it hosts and lives. Rain builds, culminating in a torrential downpour, as a group of children and tourists cower beside the walls of this austere spectacle.
Figure 10. The path through the art trail in Jupiter Artland (2013).
Figure 11. Over Here by Shane Waltener.
Walking along the path and picking up the trail, I come across a gathering of trees looking onto a golden field; in the background are bales of harvest and between the trees I can discern a giant cobweb created from nylon, the work entitled Over Here, by Shane Waltener. (Figure 11) If these works have so far been about finding the self, displaying emotions of grief and weeping, but also entertaining the notion of capturing, and transfiguring our emotions through art, then this piece exemplifies this last ability to capture and transform. The giant cobweb as a work of art not only captures the insects it was designed for, but it also captures our sense of viewing the world. The web creates a place for looking. It is hard to recognise the web in the trees as you approach it, but as it catches the light, you can differentiate the whiteness of nylon from the whiteness of the sky. The illusion the web creates, of the seen and the unseen as a place of deception, creates a space for optical disguise and optical transmutability. As the web transfigures a site of optical visibility and invisibility, the work goes further in such an exploration. The transparency of the web, allows the external backdrop of the environment behind it to be viewed and in this way the web, in all of its immateriality, briefly optically transforms the landscape which it veils, as if it is capturing the landscape itself; capturing all of vision and enslaving it to the complex labyrinthine fabric of the web. The viewed world, from this position is only articulated clearly through the view of the circular hole in the centre of the web, a place both for the eye and the insect to escape. As insects might weep in the web, with the notion of capture invading their minds, the eye is caught briefly by the aesthetics of web as it lingers on its complex patterns and shapes, before traversing it like the insect, as it explores its intricate passageways and routes.
The web as art displays a conjecture of immateriality, but it also preserves the notion of its endurance as an art piece. This nylon web lasts longer than many of the insects it attempts to capture; yet the web seems unable to temporally capture the landscape it straddles, to the changing nature of seasons and time. When I looked at images captured in the summer of 2009, I saw a green field of summer in the background, but bales of the recent harvest covered the field of this 2013 visit.
Figure 12. Cells of Life by Charles Jencks.
Passing this sculpture and wandering back into the forest, there was time to admire the grey leaden sky and follow the path to the next destination. As you emerge from the trees, there are two giant masses of plateaued grass, these hills offer a portal into the world of Charles Jencks’ landscape artwork entitled, “Cells of Life”. (Figure 12). This last piece examines the interior anatomy of the body, by externalising it in eight landforms, with a connecting causeway round four lakes with flat summits, creating multiple locales for reflection upon the paradoxically smallest and microcosmic structure of the life-form itself. The thematic concept of the work is the notion of describing the life of a cell through the principle of a single cellular division called mitosis. The concentric circles that make up these landmasses conceive a relation to the many organelles present inside the units of life and from an above view the anatomy of this landscape can be discerned as a representation of the early divisions of the cell into membranes and nuclei. (Jupiter Artland website). As much as this sculptural and architectural work “is a landform celebration of the cell as the basis of life” (Jupiter Artland website, 2013), it is also a piece that engages a place for self-reflexivity to take place. The works’ integration with the landscape, and the audience’s interaction with the work, form a two-way dialogue with the work. As people wander through this work and explore the interior anatomy from which they are part, the externalising and enlarging process confronts the schema for identity, as a locale for interior reflection. Interior reflection seems caught in the vestiges that this landscape leaves imprinted upon us both visually and viscerally as we walk through this world. I could not help but recognise the sense of curious naive exploration of the small gathering of people in the rain. There is certainly a feeling of naivety at what you are looking at, when you are unfamiliar with the structure of cells, but the landscape exudes another kind of primeval impression upon you, as you encounter something unknown yet so close inside you, as a revelatory structure that is part of your body and every living organism. The space Jencks creates is as much about contemplation as traversal; the narrow causeway that runs through the lakes, creates a sense of intimate incision into the landscape, a dimensional portal into a unknown world. A curving, spiral path that climaxes in a small summit of a hill, appears like an ammonite, one of the most primal forms of life, and a fold in the plateau presents a border in the cell wall of an organism.
Figure 13. A view from above one of the cell resembling structures in “Cells of Life” by Charles Jencks.
Figure 14. Cells of Life by Charles Jencks.
Unlike Kappors’ prison resembling work, Suck, Jenks Cells of Life is not a place of entrapment of stratification, Cells of life, assumes expanse, growth and immersion. The path of the narrow causeways and the spiralling forms of the life mounds themselves, entertain and engage with the encouraged notion of “taking a walk”, the sense of moving three-dimensionally through space, both physically and in the optical-haptic engagement of vision upon the visuality of the art, creates a sense of liberation provoking a thought of celebration, and evoking the concept of interior growth. (Figure 14). Three-dimensional movement both creates a kinetic sense of aesthetic pleasure but also engages fervently with the viewing experience as a mode of discovery and the recovery of ideas. These landmasses offer both climaxes of looking at their summits, where you can experience the cartography of the landscape in its whole, as a synecdoche at the cellular level, and a climatic build up to this moment of omnipresent altitude. (Figure 13). The passages formed by walking both stimulate the mind, and the desire to reach conclusions, those that may be gained from the geographical view above; however Cells of Life does not answer questions but poses them, it creates questions of form and identity, and our place within that world and identity, by engaging with these concepts both schematically and subconsciously. The organic nature of the life forms nurtures our walk, and the unique line we choose to take through it, helps to shape both the landscape and our conceptions of it. During my journey I was fascinated by the sheep that would run up the sides of these structures, seeming as enthralled by the work as humans, as the sheep explored another territory outside the prison of their enclosure. It was a moment that spoke perhaps the the universality of Jencks’ artwork, and our continued captivation and allure to it, derived from its address to the most fundamental building blocks of life. Walking across a small bridge that straddles one of Jencks’ incarnated cellular structures, I recognised the experience that the bridge represented – that notion of travelling to another unknown place beyond the mist, that the bridge hopes to symbolically depict.
Figure 15. Cells of Life by Charles Jencks.
Figure 16. Cells of Life by Charles Jencks.
The idea of travelling to another place, and reviewing the world with a fresh outlook are what these works by, Anish Kapoor, Anthony Gormely, Laura Ford, Nathan Coley, Shane Waltener and Charles Jenk’s, respectively, Suck, Firmament (2008), Weeping Girls, In Memory, Over Here and Cells of Life have fundamentally engaged with. The act of looking becomes a fundamental preoccupation for these artists; and following the trail through the forest and landscape of Jupiter Artland offers momentary glimpses into the artist’s notions of identity, place, space and time, as the journey describes an evolution in different themes and modes of looking and reflecting in awe. The Cells of Life is not a place for weeping, but a place for the celebratory, and the act of being induced to wonder or incredulity at the spectacle of these giant cellular building blocks of life. However, perhaps it is therefore a place for a different kind of weeping; if Jencks offers us a place to weep, both cartographically, situated in physical space and in our mental landscape, it is a place to weep in joy, crying warm tears of cathartic optimism.
Images 1-6 and 8-16 are original photography by Ad Howells (2013).
Image 7. Stone House, Bonnington by Andy Goldsworthy. External source: Jupiter Artland website.