A fusion of art and nature

13th April 2012 at 01:00
The gardens of Jupiter Artland provide the perfect setting to engage pupils' artistic sides and introduce them to sculpture. Raymond Ross reports

Many a learned thesis has been written about the function of art, but maybe P7 pupil Connor Preston goes to the heart of the matter when he says, quite simply, "Art makes you feel happy."

Along with a group of fellow pupils from Juniper Green Primary, Edinburgh, we are tramping through the woods at Jupiter Artland, home to 24 sculptures by some of the world's best-known artists, including Ian Hamilton Finlay, Andy Goldsworthy, Antony Gormley, Cornelia Parker, Charles Jencks and Laura Ford.

"The art works here make you feel happy because it's crazy, different and well thought-through," says Connor. "Coming here is like an adventure, like a treasure hunt where you discover all the sculptures."

Connor and his fellow pupils are no strangers to Jupiter Artland, situated to the west of Edinburgh just beyond the village of Wilkieston. They're here today to put the finishing touches to recordings of stories they've written in response to the various art works, stories that have been uploaded on to MP3s to be used by other children and school groups visiting the sculpture park over the coming months and years.

Opened in 2009, the 90-acre site attracts more than 2,000 pupils a year, from nursery to secondary, as well as some 18,000 paying summer visitors.

"Education is at the centre of what we do here," says Jupiter Artland's education director, Diana McMicking.

"We offer free visits and workshops for schools during term-time. These involve a tour and a workshop or just a tour with free-range sketching. Every school visit is bespoke, tailored specifically to each school's needs.

"It's not just about contemporary art. We do a lot of writing activities from stories to poetry as well as storytelling and nature exploration and looking at art in nature," she says.

Juniper Green's association with Jupiter Artland is a case in point. One hundred pupils from the school visited the site in 2009 and then wrote stories about the sculptures, which have recently been published by Jupiter Artland. The pupils adapted the stories as plays, which they performed in school and, now, they have re-adapted and recorded them for the audio guide. They have also made the Jupiter Board Game, which, along with the book of stories, is to be sold in the Jupiter shop.

"Our workshops are often seasonal," says Mrs McMicking. "In autumn we might do a Goldsworthy workshop and make a magic carpet out of fallen leaves, with each pupil contributing their own picture or pattern.

"In spring we could do a Shane Waltener workshop, where we make big woven nests - human nests - out of willow and grasses as well as smaller ones to hang from trees.

"In summer we might opt for a Cornelia Parker workshop using berries to make prints," she says.

As we weave our way through the woods, a dramatic series of half-hidden figures emerges: Laura Ford's Weeping Girls.

"They're different. They're not full of life and happy," says Connor. "When you first see them they give you a fright, like they're ghosts or like they've gone a bit crazy. Then you ask - what's happened to the girls? Have they lost out on something?

"Then you might feel sorry for them. Then it looks like they're having a tantrum. It's intriguing. You want to know," he says.

It is more than apparent that this "wanting to know" is central to the pupils' engagement with the Jupiter artworks as they stare up at Marc Quinn's Love Bomb, a 12-metre tall orchid; follow the paths around Charles Jencks' huge landscaped Life Mounds; or consider the giant hunting rifle that reaches from the earth almost to the top of the tree against which it rests in Cornelia Parker's Landscape with Gun and Tree.

All the artworks have been specially created for the site, sometimes using materials from the site itself, and this, says Mrs McMicking, makes Jupiter Artland unique in Scotland.

Or, as Connor puts it: "Every time you come is like turning a new page in a book."



Karen Noble, headteacher, Juniper Green Primary

"Jupiter Artland offers a great opportunity for creative stimulus. It makes the pupils more aware of creative arts and of sculpture in particular, especially as most children think of art as painting.

From our initial visits we developed an enterprise project that began when we collaborated with Jupiter to make and publish the book Stories Inspired by Art last year, as well as producing the Jupiter Board Game, which they are marketing this summer.

The audio guide was the pupils' idea and it's great seeing it come to fruition. The children chose the stories and they are recorded in their own voices at a studio at Napier University, which has been really exciting for them.

The project has spanned three years in vertical groups, which means that many pupils have grown up through our ongoing partnership with Jupiter.

They're seeing the project through to a real-life commercial culmination, as the MP3s are going to be hired out to other visiting schools and family groups.

The whole project has also made the children much more aesthetically aware. It's part of educating the whole child and that means valuing beauty and wonder.

It makes them confident learners, working in a real-life context, and it makes them much more aware of what is around them."

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