About Joana Vasconcelos: Beyond
The UK’s largest ever exhibition by celebrated Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos (b. 1971).
Joana Vasconcelos creates vibrant, often monumental sculpture, using fabric, needlework and crochet alongside everyday objects from saucepans to wheel hubs. She frequently uses items associated with domestic work and craft to comment from a feminist perspective on national and collective identity, cultural tradition and women’s roles in society.
Vasconcelos’ work has been recognised with major exhibitions at the Palace of Versailles, Paris (2012), where she was the first woman and youngest artist to present a solo exhibition; and the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (2018), where she was the first Portuguese artist to present a solo exhibition.
Within the Underground Gallery, the exhibition contains works that celebrate the artist’s unbridled imagination. The monumental 12-metre-long Valkyrie Marina Rinaldi (2014), which hangs suspended from the ceiling, is one of a series of dramatic works that represent ‘valkyries’, female figures from Norse mythology who selected warriors on the battlefield worthy of a place in Valhalla. Made from multicoloured woollen crochet, fabric and flamboyant embellishments with tentacle limbs that reach across the gallery, Valkyrie Marina Rinaldi embodies the power of these figures through a dynamic mass of texture and colour that is intended to be both menacing and protective.
In the open air stands Solitário [Solitaire] (2018), a seven-metre-high ring made of golden car wheel rims topped with a huge diamond crafted from crystal whisky glasses. Representing the stereotypical ambition of our society to acquire wealth and material possessions, the work unites symbols of luxury – cars, jewellery and alcohol – which bridge social classes. Sited at one of the highest points in the park and drawing attention to one of the most wonderful views across the landscape, Solitário entices visitors uphill and creates delight in the discovery of its fabrication.
Made from stainless-steel saucepans, the iconic oversized silver stilettos of Marilyn (2009/2011) comment on social conventions and highlight the division between women’s traditional domestic and contemporary public roles. Referencing Marilyn Monroe, one of the most notable American actresses to symbolise female sexuality, the work pays homage to her absent figure. Marilyn proposes a revision of femininity by drawing attention to dichotomies which play a significant role in Vasconcelos’ practice, including private versus public life, tradition versus modernity, and ‘pop’ culture versus ‘high’ culture.
These sculptures are joined by the stunning and elaborate Red Independent Heart #3 (2013). For this work, Vasconcelos makes use of the form of a well-known Portuguese emblem, the Heart of Viana, which symbolises honesty and generosity, and scales it up to over three metres high. The sculpture rotates in the gallery space and is made entirely of red plastic cutlery, which has been abstracted to such an extent that the lines between luxury and coarseness are blurred. Dramatically lit, it is accompanied by recorded Portuguese fado songs, which speak of love, loss and the conflict between emotion and reason.
Vista Interior (2000) presents as a minimalist sculpture whilst within we encounter items associated with domestic work and household cleaning. All purchased in 2000, they provide a snapshot of that time and visitors will recognise the subtle changes in design and taste over the last 20 years. Call Center (2014- 16) brings stereotypical masculinity to the fore and takes the form of an enlarged Beretta pistol comprised of 168 rotary-dial telephones. Embodying ideas of strength, power and dominance, the gun is made lyrical by Vasconcelos’ incorporation of an electro-acoustic symphony by composer Jonas Runa, which projects out from the telephones.
Vasconcelos’ incorporation of traditional Portuguese crochet with everyday objects is explored in works such as Big Booby #4 (2018), which references the ordinary household object of a kitchen potholder. Using colourful crocheted designs reminiscent of abstract paintings by Kenneth Noland and Frank Stella, Vasconcelos makes a poignant nod to domestic life. Referencing Marcel Duchamp’s famed Urinal, Vasconcelos’ Purple Rain (2017) questions notions of identity and feminises this masculine object by covering it with crochet. The disruption of our expectations of familiar objects is central to Vasconcelos’ practice and through these reconfigurations, her works confront important social and political issues, whilst maintaining humour and joyfulness.
Some of the artworks in Joana Vasconcelos: Beyond exhibition have sound.
Vasconcelos' Pop Galo (2016) is no longer on display as part of the exhibition at YSP. The nine-metre-high, ceramic-tiled rooster has now returned to its native Portugal.
The Significance of Contexts; Playing with Frames
Essay by PhD student Anna J Hawthorne written during a collaborative research placement at YSP. Hawthorne considers Vasconcelos’ sculpture in the context of Surrealism and Nonsense Literature. Hawthorne is an English Literature PhD student at the University of Sheffield.
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