Joana Vasconcelos: the art of the ordinary

[ leer en español ]

Inspired by the work of Joana Vasconcelos I have made myself boots with sugar blocks. With them and a sweet step of sugar cane I cook this text at low heat, in order to bring the spectator closer to the creative world of this artist that I like so much.  

If Vasconcelos has created a shoe with a giant heel with pot lids, could I pay tribute creating a dress with my cutlery? I will dance to the rhythm of knives between every stew and paragraph. 

I have brought her great scale of work into my little world and have created a top with glasses I will wear to the next party I am invited to. I will not have to wait for a refill,  I will carry all the champagne I can drink in one night. 

That big spider lamp isn’t it made of tampons?

25.000 white and brilliant tampons. Her work was recognized internationally after her participation in the 51st Venice Biennale in 2005 with The Bride (A Noiva, 2001-05). She was the first woman, and the youngest artist, to do an exhibition in the Versailles Palace in 2012. Joana Vasconcelos, Portuguese but born in Paris in 1971, believes art is so monumental and vibrant like life itself. Life is made of small and simple things that can go on unnoticed until she amplifies them into a dazzling everything by assembling elemental parts. Intermingled nets and groups of mundane objects that lose their domestic, craft, technological identity to portray something bigger with another message.  

They are spectacular, made from atypical materials, from irons in Full Steam Ahead, to 4000 plastic red forks that compose Independent Red Heart, pots and steel caps in Marilyn, or a Venetian mask created by numerous mirrors in I´ll be your mirror.  Her works are created from ordinary materials: kitchen utensils, embroidery, crochet, ceramic tiles, urinary, telephones….Elements that search for a reaction in those who observe, through the narrative and emotional load they give off. An invitation to reflect on the feminine identity thanks to the use of direct, critical and humorous language. “Even if my works have a protest background, it is necessary for them to be beautiful, to grant them a positive vision. I use very lively colors, those which I see in the light of Lisbon, where I live and work. Those I know, from my country”, she says.

To undress things

For Vasconcelos, on top of everything, it is fundamental to communicate the world which surrounds her through metaphors converted into sculptures. Her personal artistic expression is loaded with esthetic mixes, with multiple cultural roots and artistic influences. In her work she refers to the famous urinary of Marcel Duchamp in Purple Rain, or to the traditional Portuguese ceramic rooster Pop Galo.

On occasions her vision of the women’s world has aroused controversy because as she expresses she undresses “a lot of things of which women are afraid of reflecting upon”. “This is the problem, and is that there are pieces that reflect the paradox of our days: from the private to the public; the family woman, the social woman, the shier woman, the more sexual woman, the most intelligent woman or the object woman. Because there are lots of women. Now there is no longer a pattern”, she assures.

What I most like about her work is that she does sculptures with materials not normally seen in traditional sculpture, elements associated with domestic work and traditional crafts. With them she presents her vision on the modern woman and her national and collective identity towards cultural tradition. I am astonished by her capacity to talk about things like the role of women in society, and place this in front of the viewers with humor and a subtle criticism at the same time.

In her work I will survive, the artist displayed an embroiled universe of embroideries, crochet and filigree as a sex, technology and ethical allegory. Only she is capable with such a mix of materials and concept, expressing something as recurring throughout all her artistic career: the gender problematic.

Where to visit her work?

Her work was exhibited in the Guggenheim of Bilbao (2018). Now her installation Valkyrie (2020), can be visited in the MassArt museum in Boston, while other works like Inner View, Solitaire, Tutti Frutti, Big Bobby4, amongst others, can be seen in the Sculture Park of Yorkshire until January 2022. Some of her sculptures, like Pop Galo, are given movement with LED lights and music. Immense Vasconcelos does not stop to surprise us…..

Photography: Óscar Rivilla

Music: Electrophorus

Translation: Covadonga López-Fanjul

Art Direction: Óscar Rivilla and Carolina Verd


Principal picture: Cup top made by me; pants by Ángel Schlesser courtesy from Koa Press

Picture 2: Cutlery dress made by me

Picture 3: dress and jacket by Mango, courtesy by Finally Press. And sugar boots made by me.