Joana Vasconcelos s’expose au Guggenheim Bilbao

« I’m Your Mirror »

Joana Vasconcelos reflects from the heart at the Guggenheim Bilbao

Think about what makes us who we are and we might talk about home, family, travel, displacement or gender.  We think about society, culture, politics, our surroundings, childhood environment and even the weather as shapers of our individual identity.  And all that inevitably sways how we view and express our potential creativity.

Plastician Joana Vasconcelos, one of Portugal’s most prominent contemporary artists reflects on the heritable link between past and future in her current retrospective at Bilbao’s Guggenheim.  Delivering visual clout, intelligent logic and humour, ‘I’m Your Mirror’ features a selection of some 30 works produced between 1997 and present day, including many well-known pieces and new works conceived especially for the show.

Exhibiting regularly since the 1990’s, Vasconcelos broke onto the international scene in 2005 at the 51st Venice Biennale with ‘A Noiva/The Bride’, a front and centre piece in the Arsenale.  At Versailles in 2012 where, as the first woman and the youngest artist to put on a displayat the palace, it was this work, a monumental, white 18th century chandelier crafted from 25,000 tampons that set tongues ablaze.  If it was too controversial for the likes of Versailles, her ambitious talent and subsequent projects turned heads and a scintillating art star was born.

036Galerias_Vasconcelos.jpgJoana Vasconcelos, The Bride (A Noiva), 2001–2005, OB tampons, stainless steel, cotton thread, steel cables, 600 x Ø 300 cm, Museu de Arte Contemporânea de Elvas –Coleção António Cachola, Work produced and restored with the support of Johnson & Johnson, Lda. © Joana Vasconcelos, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2018.

Vasconcelos’ artistic landscape is mapped out by contrasts –  tradition and modernity, local and global, private and public, freedom and repression, artisan and industrial – where the creative process is based on the appropriation, decontextualisation and subversion of pre-existing objects and quotidian realities. Her innovative designs are constructed in a large studio workshop on the docks just outside of Lisbon where a team of painters, seamstresses, architects, engineers and art historians from all over the world join creative forces to realize seemingly impossible pieces. Ordinary items such as saucepans, plastic cutlery, steam irons or old telephones are re-elaborated into a new context, becoming works of art taking on a new contemporaneity. The textile work is complex, all bells and whistles often incorporating sound, lights and trimmings on an inconceivable scale. Colours, fabrics and components are carefully chosen to fit each idea and Vasconcelos is known to scour supermarkets for her materials.

The creative ingenuity comes from a keen critique of society and culture and a recurrent theme threaded through her oeuvre is that of female identity. Here, she draws on her experiences as a Portuguese woman in today’s world, an approach which resonates cross-culturally, making sense in countries other than her own where tradition remains a defining part of contemporary life.  Her agenda addresses anthropological issues from immigration to gender-violence; a suspended, weighted-down Burka dropping down to the ground with alarming force or a ceramic urinal covered in intricate Portuguese crochet and lace state loudly and clearly what Vasconcelos wants to say.

011Galerias_Vasconcelos.jpgJoana Vasconcelos, Marilyn (AP), 2011, Stainless steel pans and lids, concrete, (2x) 297 x 155 x 410 cm, Collection of the artist. Work produced with the support of Silampos, S.A.
© Joana Vasconcelos, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2018.

Other works are familiar fairytale props calling to our inner childhood dreams. The audience is charmed to attention only to realise that exterior aesthetics hide a disquieting flip-side. ‘Marilyn (AP)’, a pair of ginormous high-heeled stilettos glimmer in polished steel, in reality stacked pots and pans. A monumental diamond ring ‘Solitaire’ glints in the sun as light hits the whisky tumblers and guilded wheelrims from which it is made and typifies two of the most stereotyped, consumerist symbols of feminine and masculine desire – diamonds and luxury cars. In a side room, the relentless ‘Call Centre’ rings 168 analogue telephones to the tune of Jonas Runa’s electroacoustic symphony.  Built in the shape of a Beretta revolver, it aims directly towards the potential violence triggered by the power of manipulative mass communication evoking the dehumanised excess of many call centres.

The title piece of the show ‘I’ll Be Your Mirror’ is a huge venetian mask, symbol of anonymity, discretion and status but revealed as a self-observing mirror where the viewer looks from inside or outside, never losing sight of the image reflected in the many baroque hand mirrors which make up this piece. Vasconcelos taps into the individual’s temptation to glance, offering an insistent invitation to scrutinize, reflect on and deconstruct the persona looking back.

Most ambitious of all is ‘Egeria’ from the giant Valkyries series conceived especially for Bilbao. Contrasting elegantly with Frank Gehry’s male-designed Guggenheim building, it connects the outer architecture to its inner sanctuary, softening the spaces between upper and lower floors and into the lift-shaft itself. Though the materials are playfully feminine, this textural sculpture dominates the central atrium that it occupies, reminding us that Vasconcelos has a big message to deliver. Expansive and triffid-like, it’s a monumental metaphor for the occupation of museums by women, and it’s as impressive as ever.

LV-250618-094.jpgJoana Vasconcelos, Egeria, 2018Handmade cotton crochet, fabrics, ornaments, LED, inflatable, microcontrollers, power supply units, and steel cables 3,000 x 3,630 x 4,496 cm
Photo: Luís Vasconcelos/ Cortesia Unidade Infinita Projectos. Collection of the artist
© Joana Vasconcelos, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2018.

With her colourful, extravagant pieces, Vasconcelos crosses public art with gallery and the show isn’t only confined to indoors. Some pieces tumble out into the vicinity – Solitaire is ostentaciously posed for all to see, reflecting in the water of a small pond and ‘Pop Rooster (Pop Galo)’ – paying homage to el Gallo de Barcelos, Portugal’s ubiquitous national emblem – serenades visitors in the adjoining park.

A formidable presence in today’s contemporary art movement, Vasconcelos’ success is in the surprise element she delivers in her work, her daring, inventive, humourous vision breaking the boundaries of age-old mores. Follow the future trajectory of this illuminating star because the light from her inner heart will be reflecting for some time to come.

171RP_Vasconcelos.jpgJoana Vasconcelos, I’ll Be Your Mirror, 2018Bronze, mirrors, Edition of 7 + 1 AP, 356 x 682 x 537 cm, Collection of the artist © Joana Vasconcelos, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2018.

IMG_0854_1.jpgJoana Vasconcelos, Solitaire (Solitário) 2018, 18 » light alloy golden wheel rims, crystal whisky glasses, metallized and thermolacquered iron, stainless steel, tempered and laminated glass, 720 x 604 x 209 cm. Edition of 7 + 1 AP. Collection of the artist © Joana Vasconcelos, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2018.

032Galerias_Vasconcelos.jpgJoana Vasconcelos, Full Steam Ahead (Yellow) [A Todo o Vapor (Amarelo)] #1/3, 2014, Full Steam Ahead (Green) [A Todo o Vapor (Verde)] #1/3, 2013, Full Steam Ahead (Red) [A Todo o Vapor (Vermelho)] #1/3, 2012, BOSCH steam irons, PLC gearmotor, microprocessor-based electronic control unit, low pressure hydraulic system, stainless steel, demineralized water (3x) 155 x Ø 170 cm. Collection of the artist. Work produced with the support of Robert Bosch Hausgeräte GmbH
© Joana Vasconcelos, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2018.

040Galerias_Vasconcelos.jpgJoana Vasconcelos, Call Center, 2014-2016, Analogue telephones, metallized and thermo-lacquered mild steel, sound system, oscillators driven by microcontroller. Music: Call Center: Electroacustic Symphony for 168 Telephones, composed by Jonas Runa, 20′ 210 x 80 x 299 cm. Tia Collection © Joana Vasconcelos, VEGAP, Bilbao, 2018

Joana Vasconcelos
I’m Your Mirror at the Museo Guggenheim, Bilbao, Spain until 11 November 2018
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