Art galleries are often confined white boxes that gives artwork a neutral surrounding in which the pieces can exist without distracting backdrops. The Yorkshire Sculpture Park flouts the typical gallery setting. What is most striking about the Yorkshire Sculpture Park is the vast difference in it’s art space. A free entry park that is surrounded by trees, lakes and sculptures, the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (situated in Wakefield) brings “Great Art to the Great Outdoors”: sculpture with a natural backdrop. Providing art history walks, exhibitions, and other outdoor inspired events, the space is a unique environment to fine artwork, including artwork by Giuseppe Penone, Anthony Caro and Barbara Hepworth. Much like Modern theatres, which extensively aim to block the outside world to suck audiences into the world created on the stage, the white box gallery or black box theatre exhibits art without the distraction of weather, light or any other environmental factors. The Yorkshire Sculpture Park, however, has more in common with Renaissance theatres, which embraced the effect of performing above the sky. The pieces in the sculpture park are placed in the outdoors to enhance the concepts the artwork conveys.
Hilary Jack’s art is a featured opening piece in the park. Jack works across different media including site referential artworks, sculptural installations, and interventions. An artist who is inspired by activism specifically commenting on politics of place, socio-political issues and the impact of human activities on the earth, Jack’s work has been exhibited across the UK and internationally. Her piece No Borders, brought to the park in 2018, is white neon text with Amelia Earhart’s words “NO BORDERS / JUST HORIZONS / ONLY FREEDOM”. The celebrated American aviator was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean and remains a feminist icon after her striding support of opportunities and rights for women. Jack’s use of Earheart’s words strikes as deeply relevant in light of contemporary politics, as controversy continues around issues such as Brexit, the Irish border, and Scottish independence, as well as global issues including migration, border crossings, citizenship, and personal freedoms. In bright illuminated letters Jack’s bold reading of Earheart’s hopeful message stands as a call for unification: emphasising what unites people, rather than what divides them.
The call for breaking borders and only seeing natural borders, “horizons”, is a message that perfectly fits the outdoor space. The billboard artwork fits in the open green setting as it’s words rebels against confinement. A perfect example of how the park’s artwork isn’t just a park with art but art that is meant to be in a natural environment.
When first seeing the piece, Teju Cole’s novel Open City instantly came to mind. Cole’s novel explores themes of identity, nationhood, belonging and ownership of culture. His narrator, Julius, compares his outsider immigrant status to flying birds: ignorant to human borders. The novel poses the question: why are humans seen as products of their country and not products of the world? “I used to look out the window…hoping to see the miracle of natural immigration…I caught sight of geese swooping in formation across the sky, I wondered how our life below might look from their perspective…I searched the sky, all I saw was rain, or the faint contrail of an airplane bisecting the window, and I doubted some part of myself”.
Both Cole and Jack approach heated current topics of today. The limitations and governance of borders leave many shadowed by nationality. Both the art and book shed light on the beauty in freedom. Their questioning brings an imagining of the earth without borders: a gallery without walls.