The Wick - Joana Vasconcelos, photographed by Kenton Thatcher The Wick - Joana Vasconcelos, photographed by Kenton Thatcher
Monday Muse

Interview Conceptual Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos

Joana Vasconcelos
Kenton Thatcher
27 September 2021
Joana Vasconcelos
Kenton Thatcher
27 September 2021
Good news, Yorkshire Sculpture Park is open again, and its exhibition by celebrated Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos has been extended until January 2022. It’s the UK’s largest ever exhibition by Vasconcelos who is one of the most prominent female visual art practitioners in the world thanks to her monumental sculptures and impressive 25-year practice.

Her work frequently uses everyday items to question women’s roles in society, consumerism society, and national and collective identity – from stilettos made from pans to chandeliers made from tampons. It has also been recognised with a record-breaking exhibition at Paris’s Palace of Versailles in 2012, where she was the first woman and youngest artist to present a solo exhibition. It was also the most visited exhibition in France in 50 years. In 2018, Vasconcelos became the first Portuguese to present a solo exhibition at Guggenheim Bilbao too, which was one of the most visited in the museum’s history.

As she celebrates the 20th anniversary of her sculpture ‘The Bride’, which first brought her to the public attention, we caught up with Vasconcelos to discuss her career highlights and upcoming projects.

THE WICK:   Talk us through a typical Monday.

Joana Vasconcelos:   I wake up early to take my daughter to school and head to the studio for a yoga class (we have an in-house teacher and daily sessions for all the staff). We start the week with a board meeting with the studio directors to plan the works ahead. After that, we have lunch at the canteen and the afternoon continues with meetings or other commitments, which vary according to the projects at hand. Monday finishes off with a family diner and I usually relax in the evening watching television.

TW:   Your works are vast in size and bold in concept, touching on themes of feminism and consumerism. Who do you see as your audience?

JV:   Everybody. I don’t really aim for an audience in particular. My art conveys the themes close to my heart, but they are also universal themes, which bridge the private and public sphere and most people can relate to. There’s no bigger satisfaction than watching people smile as they walk through an exhibition of mine. I believe art should entice people to reflect upon the world around them, question reality and look at the world from a different perspective. But the main purpose is to bring people joy.

TW:   You recently created work for an olfactory art exhibition. What other projects do you have coming up?

JV:   My team and I are currently working on my biggest project to date: the ‘Wedding Cake’. It’s part building, part sculpture, 12-metres high and an immersive experience for people to walk into and up until they meet one another on top of the structure. It establishes the connection between architecture and patisserie and is, first and foremost, a temple to love.

TW:   This year marks a milestone birthday for you. What’s been the highlight of your career so far?

JV:   This year, we celebrated 20 years of ‘The Bride’, the 14,000 tampon chandelier that drew the world’s attention to my work, and that was an important milestone in a very difficult year for the art scene all over the world. But I prefer to look forward, focusing on the next idea turning into artwork.

“There’s no bigger satisfaction than watching people smile as they walk through an exhibition of mine”

TW:   What words do you live by?

JV:   Love. Peace. Creativity. Compassion.

TW:   Your works are incredibly physical, experiential and tactile. What do you make of the rise of digital art and NFTs?

JV:   Digital can be a good way to promote the artwork, but I believe nothing really replaces the experience of oneself in front of an art piece. Art is, and will continue to be, a sensorial experience.

TW:   You use a variety of materials in your practice. Tell us about the significance of the materials you choose.

JV:   Basically, what I do is take material objects from the domestic context and decontextualise them. They gain a new approach and a new dimension as they become recontextualised through a whole new meaning. By taking a pan usually used to cook rice and turning it into a shoe (‘Marilyn’), which is another object from the domestic environment, I create a new relationship between both objects. But I also play around with the concepts attached to them and their function, transporting them from the banal to the glamorous. By picking up a glass and turning it into a diamond (‘Solitaire’), something related to everyday use turns into a precious stone and gains a whole new meaning, which is also an illusion. The material objects are decontextualised from their function and reused in another way, ultimately recontextualised as a work of art.

TW:   How does nature inspire your work?

JV:   Some of my pieces incorporate seeds and plants into them (such as the teapot and the wine carboy), other sculptures focus on the luxury that water has become and one of them incorporates globes to make us think about our influence on the planet. Somehow, nature finds its way into my work, and I love to make it shine.

TW:   Who is your ultimate Monday Muse?

JV:   Daphne. She is a figure from Greek mythology. She refuses to marry Apollo and ends up turned into a laurel tree. She is a very interesting and strong character.

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