On a recent visit to Edinburgh I took a short bus ride to the outskirts of the city to discover Jupiter Artland. It was here that I was to experience Cells of Life, a landform completed in 2010 by Charles Jencks, the American architectural theorist, landscape architect and designer. You enter the artwork on a curved road, opening up from the woods directly into the landforms. This sweeping road forms the central component to the arrangement. Arriving on foot I walk through two terraced earth mounds of which there are eight in total and take in the rhythm of the curvilinear patterns created by the configuration of earth mounds, water, paths, road, island and rill. The shapes are fluid and reflect nature in their essence but are neatly clipped and maintained to leave a defined and accurately measured landscape.
The patterns created, seen most clearly from atop the tallest landforms are based on mitosis, the process of dividing cells, as seen through a microscope. This fascination with bringing scientific ideas to life as an aesthetic using landform and nature is a prevailing theme in Jencks work. It is also a direct response to contemporary art forms and architecture, which Jencks feels are ephemeral in nature and propelled by economics. “My work differs from this in being more content-driven. Nearly every design has some concept of nature or the cosmos behind it, motivating the patterns and the rhythms.” Jencks.
The landform takes you on a circular journey ascending and descending the mounds, changing the landscape in dimension and light from every viewpoint. This journey taken throughout the forms also relates in a less literal form to the splitting of the cells, for good or bad, and to Jencks own life journey (now in his 70’s Jencks is fit and healthy but suffered great loss when his wife Maggie Jencks, died of cancer in 1995, he has since opened many cancer centres in her memory – Maggie’s Centres). Traversing the artwork encourages a slow a steady pace and therefore becomes a place for contemplation and reflection.