Pushing the Boundaries


Joana Vasconcelos is considered the pre-eminent Portuguese artist of her generation. Finding inspiration in the popular imagination, and examining various themes of daily life, Vasconcelos focuses on the identity politics of gender, religion, class and nationality. While consistent in occupation her approach remains exhilaratingly open-ended. Following the principles of the 1960s art movement Nouveau Reálisme and inspired by the readymades of Marcel Duchamp, Vasconcelos work frequently incorporates objects and materials from daily life into expansive and intricate assemblages.

Having pushed the boundaries of traditional crafts and techniques and the use of textiles as a medium, Vasconcelos crafts her work from a combination of pre-existing materials and mass-produced objects, along with hand-made crochet and knitted fabrics. Local women are invited to participate in the making process, while visitor interaction also features in other examples of the artist’s work, alongside elements of theatre and performance.

Explorations of womanhood are fundamental to Vasconcelos’ practice. Her interest in the feminine condition deals with issues associated with womanliness, family and conjugal life. The use of crochet alludes to an activity usually associated with women and traditional crafts, but in this instance such perceptions are rendered obsolete. Portuguese culture and history also feature in the form of traditional materials (ceramics), techniques (embroidery), and subject matter (maritime history).

I Will Survive the title taken from Gloria Gaynor’s popular hit song – is the first survey show of Joana Vasconcelos to take place in London. Exploring the relationship between art, nature and technology and questioning our vision of future paradise or utopia, the exhibition transports us to the unique universe of the artist. As a witty and often provocative response to the way technological and ethical advancements affect traditional ideas, Vasconcelos has reveled in the challenges brought on by these accelerated changes and the unfettered freedom contemporary culture can provide in return.

Exploring the nature of reality in an age where so many of our ideas and means of communication have been radically modified, the notion of artifice is at the very heart of this: flowers are plastic, dogs are ceramic, people are foam. Vasconcelos oeuvre asserts itself as an antidote to the insipid and the banal; de-constructing the formulas governing contemporaneity, arousing the senses and challenging the crystallised frame of daily torpor with a fanciful sculptural installation of diaphanous colour.

Joana Vasconcelos came to public attention for her display at the 2005 Venice Biennale that greeted visitors to the Arsenale. Her sculpture A Noiva (The Bride) took the form of a grand chandelier made from around 25,000 tampons. Born in Paris, Vasconcelos now lives and works in Lisbon. She studied Visual Arts at the Ar.Co Centro de Arte e Communicacao Visual between 1989 and 1996. In 2006, she won the award The Winner Takes It All from the Berardo Foundation. This enabled the creation of Nectar for the Berardo Collection Museum. In 2003 Vasconcelos won the Tabaqueira Fund for Public Art in Lisbon. In 2000, she won the Young Artists EDP Prize.

Commissions and site-specific public art installations assume a special relevance in Vasconcelos work. Some of the most recent and important of these are; La Théière, Le Royal Monceau, Paris (2010); Sr. Vinho, Mercado Municipal de Torres Vedras, Torres Vedras (2010); Jardim Bordallo Pinheiro, Jardim do Museu da Cidade, Lisbon (2009); Varina, Ponte D. Luis I, Porto (2008); The Jewel of the Tagus, Tower of Belem, Lisbon (2008).

Vasconcelos has been exhibiting in Portugal and abroad since 1994, and her work is represented in both national and international private and public collections.

This article first appeared in Haunch of Venison, http://www.haunchofvenison.com/en/#page=london.artists.joana_vasconcelos.