Joana Vasconcelos (1971)
Joana Vasconcelos was born in exile in Paris in 1971 but her parents returned to Portugal after the Carnation Revolution of April 1974. She gained international recognition from around 2005, something all the more remarkable because her work goes counter to the tendency in contemporary art for a widespread rejection of material and beauty. She says she "uses all the rules of design, fashion and luxury, and disguises them with everyday materials", and thinks of her work "as manufacturing poetry [...], with the spirit of travel, the taste for research and discovery."
Indeed Joana Vasconcelos often seizes upon familiar objects that she transforms to give them new life, by integrating them within forms that are linked to the real world or to phantasmagoria, yet very often on a huge scale. Female sculptors rarely risk such imposing monumentality, yet it supports the artist's approach that is centred on women's place in society, starting with the Portuguese woman who for a long time was tied only to domestic work. She transports them into another context which then reveals a woman who is free to do what she wants. Although she might use first-class materials that recall the splendour of yesteryear, the notion of luxury is often manipulated by using 'democratic materials' to create sublime objects of beauty, or by using materials that are both industrial and precious, mixing refinement and kitsch in aesthetic eccentricity. But this is about denouncing the artificiality of barriers between popular culture and an elite culture of luxury and vulgarity.
The art of Joana Vasconcelos is meant to convey universal political engagement, for example against absolute power - notably demonstrated at her exhibition at the Château of Versailles in 2012 - but she is vigorously opposed to the dissolution of native cultures through globalisation, often drawing on Portuguese historical and cultural roots (the recuperation of a 'cacilheiro' boat and updating of 'azulejos' – new use of needle-point lace from the Azores - for the Venice Biennale in 2013), which forge her identity in order to give free expression to her creativity.
Depending on the piece, this very personal art might bring to mind Calder (mobiles), Marcel Duchamp (ready-made) or the New Realists (recuperation of materials). Immediately striking with its extravagant splendour – that conveys humour and even dreams – it serves as a vehicle to look more closely at a lucid and ironic vision of this world with a view to building the future: "Basically, I am a journalist."
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