When Joana Vasconcelos steps into the pool area where her new permanent sculptural intervention sits in the grounds of Jupiter Artland, it is with the other-worldly grace of a Greek goddess walking among us. The multi-coloured robe the Portuguese artist is wearing adds to the effect, a perfect match with the criss-crossing network of coloured lines that navigate more than 11,000 hand-painted tiles that map out the customised nine-metre swimming pool she calls Gateway.
Commissioned as the latest permanent work at Jupiter Artland, Gateway looks for all the world as if some giant celestial raindrop fell from the heavens, crash-landing dead centre in what Vasconcelos describes with a nod to David Hockney as ‘a big splash.’ The force of such a seismic event appears to have sent waves spilling outwards, so it now looks like a giant flower, while its colour-coded tentacles snake out from the centre to the landscape beyond.
If creating the aftermath of such a transcendent explosion in Jupiter Artland’s garden of earthly delights was Vasconcelos’ goal, getting there was a more painstakingly intricate affair.
“It was such a long process,” Vasconcelos explains while reclining in a deckchair again branded with the pattern of the pool that inspired her robe. “It felt impossible at times. There was so much complexity involved, and we never knew until the end how everything would connect.”
The initial idea for Gateway focused on Jupiter Artland’s founders, Robert and Nicky Wilson, who commissioned Vasconcelos. Last year, they showed work by her that included Carman Miranda (2008), a giant stiletto shoe made of pots and pans, and Coracao Indepedendente Vermelho (Red Independent Heart) (2005), a hanging heart constructed of plastic knives and forks, and accompanied by the soft crooning of a Portuguese Fado song.
“The idea was to first connect the family,” Vasconcelos says of Gateway. “The pool has six petals, one for each member of the family, and it was about bringing them together, so it’s both a public and a private project, where people can come and swim in a very open way.”
This is borne out by the presence of a starfish-shaped inflatable that bobs on the water’s surface bearing matching markings to those on the pool’s floor. Even the two lifeguards watching the swim sessions sport identically patterned t-shirts.
Gateway took three years to build, with Vasconcelos working closely with architects to build both the pool and the space-age looking pod beside the topiary that surrounds both. A key influence came from the ley lines that shoot through Jupiter Artland, bringing a natural cosmic energy to the project that also saw her incorporate her own astrological chart.
“I didn’t know much about ley lines or the chakras of the earth when I started,” Vasconcelos says, “but it was very interesting, because when I learnt about this specific ley line at Jupiter Artland, I discovered it goes on to various different locations, and one of them is Fatima in Portugal.”
It was here Vasconcelos made Suspensao, a giant glow-in-the-dark rosary first illuminated in 2017 during a visit by Pope Francis.
“I realised I was working on the same ley line,” she says.
Such celestial synchronicity made Gateway a very personal project for Vasconcelos.
“The important thing is the ability it has to connect things that wouldn’t otherwise be connected,” she says. “Art projects can do many things, they can show you things and make you think, but in a way they’re all about connecting. This project specifically connects a lot of dimensions that I wasn’t expecting to be able to work with – private and public, sky and water, all these different elements, but water is what I know best. I’m from a water country, my studio is in front of the water, so to connect everything to that says something about me as well.”
The List, August 2019