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  • Gateway by JoanaVasconcelos (2019)

Artist Joana Vasconcelos’ new pool in Edinburgh is covered in 11,500 hand-glazed tiles

Ahead of its opening at Jupiter Artland, she tells us how it took shape 

The installation at Jupiter Artland sculpture park in Edinburgh Image: Allan Pollok-Morris, courtesy Jupiter Artland

'I’ve worked on commissions all around the world and people always say they’re giving you complete freedom, then tell you what they’d like. It took me a while to accept the concept of the pool. But once I understood that it could be both a sculpture and a landscape, it became interesting. I could create something I’d never done before and could learn from it. I said, OK, I’m going to expand my horizons with this work.

When I visited Jupiter Artland, I was astonished by how each artwork is connected with the land. Bonnington is at the centre of various sacred sites across Scotland and there’s a ley line running through the garden. I began learning about ley lines and thinking about how I could connect with the energy of the earth. The commission became something very unexpected. I’ve orientated the pool with the ley line and I’ve adapted the lines in my drawings on the tiles. I used red, yellow and different blues to represent waves and ripples, and there’s also an astrological and spiritual aspect to the design. From above, the form of the pool is a huge splash, as if a giant drop of water has fallen from the sky. It’s called Gateway because it’s like a threshold to another universe.

It took two years to make the tiles. Every one is completely handmade and had to have two or three colours, which each had to be fired separately. When we were assembling them, we had to develop a map to help us identify which tile went where, because it was a huge puzzle. I’ve done many projects with tile manufacturers Viúva Lamego but this was the most demanding.

Vasconcelos at work. Image: Courtesy Jupiter Artland. Dário Branco and Viúva Lamego

My training as a jewellery designer taught me about scale and detail. Jewellery is about small scale and the human body. Over the years my projects have got bigger and I’ve worked with architectural space. Now I’m working with landscape. That evolution is exciting for me. Even this project involves a connection with the body.

I see myself as a craftsperson and an artist. Through my work I draw on historic techniques but translate them into something contemporary and conceptual. I don’t want to repeat the past. We’ve lost the connection with craft in our cities and I want to bring it back. In my studio in Lisbon [with a team of over 50 people] we have craftspeople with different disciplines – crochet, embroidery and sewing. We welcome kids into the studio and teach them a variety of specialisms and techniques. We try to pass on knowledge and skills to the next generation. 

People in Edinburgh don’t use tiles like they do in Portugal, so there was an interesting cultural connection through materials. That’s what craft is all about: passing on knowledge between generations and countries.'

‘Gateway’ opens at Jupiter Artland, Edinburgh EH27 8BY, on 28 July. Visitors can book a dip in the pool via jupiterartland.org

This is an abridged article from our July/August issue - out now.

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