Joana Vasconcelos thinks big for Jupiter Artland’s tenth birthday
Jupiter Artland – the evocatively named sculpture park nestled in a pocket of rural Scotland – has turned a decade old, and opened a fresh season last month with an ambitious new programme. Sprawling across 100 acres of lawns, meadows and woodland on Edinburgh’s fringe, the park is owned, funded and inhabited by collectors Nicky and Robert Wilson.
It’s a tough task to find a focal point in such a vibrant, diverse and star-studded space. Perhaps the utopian ‘turf mounds’ of Charles Jencks’ Cells of Life, or Antony Gormley’s tangled Firmament, or even Cornelia Parker’s brooding landscape with Gun and Tree? Perhaps it’s better to home in on Jupiter’s most recent recruits: two illustrious female artists dominating both the contemporary art and Scottish landscape.
A new exhibition by Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos tackles themes of gender, socio-politics and intercultural craftsmanship. In 2005, the artist seized attention with her provocative use of materials at the 51st Venice Biennale; in 2012, she became the first woman and youngest artist to have ever exhibited in the Palace of Versailles with A Noiva (The Bride), a chandelier work composed of 25,000 tampons.
Valkyrie #3, 2004, by Joana Vasoncelos. Photography: Ruth Clark. Courtesy of Jupiter Artland
Her work is consistently outsized and adventurous. ‘I’m not afraid of many things that were in the past were used as problems for women,’ she says. In a place so dense with Scottish history, Vasconcelos’ work – though firmly rooted in Portuguese tradition – feels very much at home. And there are links: tradition marries tradition and seemingly opulent sculptures sit within an opulent environment.
Take Red Independent Heart #3 (2008), a colossal rotating sculpture hung in the centre of Jupiter’s Jacobean ballroom. The crimson construction sparkles as it rotates to a traditional Portuguese soundtrack. From afar, the heart appears to be made from thousands of precious jewels; up close the viewer is blinded by iridescence, realising that in fact comprises 1,000 pieces of plastic cutlery, bent and bound together using the filigree technique; Vasconcelos has engineered a trompe l’oeil that leaves us questioning how fell into its deception.
Coração Independente Vermelho (Red Independent Heart), 2005, by Joana Vasoncelos. Photography: Ruth Clark. Courtesy of Jupiter Artland
This theme continues on the lawn of the Ballroom Garden, where another of her pieces, Carmen Miranda (2008) glistens in the sun. This huge metallic stiletto – made from industrial stainless steel pans and lids – is a commentary on femininity and the role of women in a domestic environment.
‘All my engineers and architects said, “It’s not going to sustain itself, it’s going to fall down,”’ presuming that as a woman, Vasconcelos would have no idea about engineering and construction. ‘I [retorted], “It’s going to sustain,”’ she recalls. ‘“You don’t know about high heels, I know about high heels.”’ And sustain it has, in all its surreal majesty.
Quarry, 2018, by Phyllida Barlow. Photography: Anna Kunst. Courtesy of Jupiter Artland
Vasconcelos’ presentation sits alongside British artist Phyllida Barlow’s new large-scale sculptural installation. ‘Times have changed for women,’ says Vasconcelos. ‘If you look at Phyllida’s and my career, they are 30 years apart – a lot has changed in the world.’
Barlow’s first permanent outdoor commission, Quarry, is well woven into its surroundings. Occupying a woodland clearing, the trio of site-specific sculptures complement their environment. Two immense, dystopian concrete pillars with ‘sky frames’ stand adjacent to a mountainous boulder with a haphazard flight of steps, reflecting reflect Barlow’s signature textures and imposing scale. ‘There was the complex issue of meddling with nature,’ Barlow says, ‘to have empathy, but also be in stark contrast.’ §