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Issue 78 - A Garden of Tradition and Delight

Scotland Magazine Issue 78
December 2014


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A Garden of Tradition and Delight

Rory Knight Bruce visits Jupiter Artland at Bonnington House

Few would deny that the flights into Edinburgh’s Turnhouse airport, passing as many do along the Firth of Forth past the historic houses of Dalmeny, Hopetoun and Broomhall, offer a dramatic panorama on coming in to land. For the eagle eyed passenger, however, there is now, not three miles south of the airport, the additional attraction of the hundred acre Jupiter Artland sculpture park at Bonnington House.

Here, sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy, Marc Quinn and Ian Hamilton Finlay nestle amongst woodland and gentle landscapes and a sublime water feature and ‘life mounds’ created by renowned architect Charles Jencks. The home of former Camberwell art student Nicky Wilson and her husband Robert, has, since it opened six years ago, become an inspiring environment to provide free education to all visiting children.

“To create an awakening in a child, is to unlock potential and that, along with confidence in thinking for themselves, are the ingredients to a broad minded and thoughtful adult,” says Nicky Wilson, for whom the 19th Century Bonnington House, seven miles west of Edinburgh, is also home to her family of four children.

It seemed only right to visit this courageous artistic undertaking with my Slade trained artist wife Kirsty, now a noted garden designer, and our nine year old daughter Evie, to gauge their reactions and to take the twenty minute drive from Edinburgh into this rural, farming part of West Lothian. Nothing, however, over the next three hours, prepared us for the sheer tranquillity of peace which enveloped us with every stride, nor the magical illumination of the sculptures and installations.

The entrance to Jupiter Artland is by the shining silver and star-studded gates created by Edinburgh architect Ben Tindall, then up a long drive which winds past woodlands, and a paddock of fine fettled and friendly donkeys and russet coated llamas, to the parking area. The temptation is to stop, aghast, and peek but that is to spoil the ‘journey’ in store, for which a very clear map on arrival at the ‘Proposal Room’ is provided.

‘The Proposal Room’ gives an indication of the artistic playfulness and delight which is to come. On the walls are 134 framed, informative and sometimes humorous typewritten proposals by artist Peter Liversidge, written, as has been much of his work over the past decade, on an Olivetti. It was our daughter who immediately exclaimed: “It’s like your typewriter Daddy.”

When in 1973, I began my reporting career, my mother had given me her old Olivetti Lettera 22 portable typewriter from the 1950s, and I, in turn have given it to my daughter. Here before us was the very typeface with which my career had begun.

‘I propose to install a mono rail at Jupiter Artland. The mono-rail installed would be based on the German system in Wuppertal, which is the oldest monorail in the world, it opened in 1901,’ reads one of Peter Liversidge’s proposals, complete with Typexed errata. I don’t think I ever got such erudition out of my Olivetti.

Eager to commence the walk (for which sensible shoes or wellies and a rain mac are advised) we trod wonderfully level hogged paths and every few minutes came across another arresting sculpture. “How do they mow the grass?” our daughter asked about the verdure within the cage of Anish Kapoor’s
Suck. That one beat me too, but it must be a delight for the staff or volunteers who work at Jupiter to be asked such questions.

Of obvious delights to all three of us (my wife is from the island of Mull and I am a Devon farmer) was Andy Goldsworthy’s
Stone House with its uneven floor of local stone, like some ancient cow byre. Then, not much further on, came Ian Hamilton Finlay’s neo-classical Temple of Apollo in soft Portland stone where children are invited to be the ‘statue-within’, to which my daughter readily obliged.

Nathan Coley’s eerie cemetery
In Memory, with its squeeze through entrance and headstones with names removed, asks us to think about how we mark lives that are passed. I was reminded, in poignancy, of Poussin’s The Shepherds in the National Gallery of Scotland, with its inscription Et in Arcadia Ego.

Humour again informs Cornelia Parker’s
Landscape with Gun and Tree, a play on Gainsborough’s famous formal portrait, Mr and Mrs Andrews and Shane Waltener’s Over Here a spider’s web of Shetland lace inspired fishing line. This had our daughter throwing her teddy over it with unalloyed joy.

Now half way round, we exited the gladed woodland to be astounded by Charles Jencks' terraced earthworks and water. The mounds are like enormous single rinds of oranges
discarded by a skilful knife, circling to a narrow plateau. We separated and took one each, calling to each other (to which only I felt a twinge of vertigo) and looking down onto the clear water, carved out with the agility of ballerinas.

Star of the garden for Evie was undoubtedly the underground chamber of cave crystals, shimmering like sea-urchins, created by Anya Gallacio to create
The Light that Pours Out of Me. “Why don’t we have bronze barbed wire on the farm?” Evie asked.

A delight at the boat house at the Duck Pond are the names of 100 of Britain’s great rivers, water from each of which has been collected and brought here. “Look, our river, the Exe, is named,” said Evie, delighted to spot the name of our Devon river which she can see from her bedroom window at home.

From the boathouse, there are perfect vistas to the life mounds which now resemble, from this angle, slugs racked up together in slumber. In the distance, the ochre of Bonnington House, with its ha-ha and formal lawns, looked down on us, smiling.

From the air, possibly the most noticeable feature is at the front of the house and is Marc Quinn’s 40 ft tall stainless steel orchid sculpture
Love Bomb. He describes it as ‘A modified flower at once monstrous and seductively beautiful.’ Children might also detect about it the bewitching gaud of a fairground attraction.

Cornelia Parker’s
Nocturne: A Moon Landing made me laugh out loud. I did not know whether to marvel at its audacity or believe its truth. Did a lunar meteorite really fall here on 9 May, 2009, during a full moon, and was lost? It is one of the quests and wonders of Jupiter Artworld to come, visit, and attempt to answer and unravel these questions.

More than 20,000 children have visited since 2009, and Jupiter Artland’s Education Foundation offers free visits for nurseries, schools, colleges, universities and community groups. There are also ever changing exhibitions and talks.

As we left, with one last look at
Love Bomb, I remembered that, in about 1990, I had taken Marc Quinn out to dinner in a Greek Restaurant in London’s Bayswater, about the time he was making head sculptures with transfusions of his own blood. Never mind about his head, mine was somewhat sore the next day as well. But I dutifully wrote up our encounter on my old Olivetti, naturally.


Jupiter Artland, Bonnington House Steadings, Wilkieston, Edinburgh EH27 8BB
Tel: +44 (0) 1506 889 900 Email:

Please Note: Jupiter Artland is closed for the winter and will re-open from 14 May to 15 September 2015.

Jupiter Artland Education Foundation operates throughout the year offering free visits to schools and universities. To make an enquiry: