A NOIVA, 2001 © Joana Vasconcelos
Vast sculptures created from a variety of domestic objects are currently filling the spacious galleries of the New Art Gallery Walsall.
They have been created by Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos for her first major UK exhibition, which runs at the gallery until November 25 2007.
Vasconcelos came to the attention of many during her appearance at the Venice Biennale in 2005. Her stunning sculpture, A Noiva (The Bride) took the form of a chandelier made from around 25,000 tampons and greeted visitors to the Arsenale.
The remarkable structure is typical of her often witty and provocative work, which mainly consists of very large-scale sculptures that on closer inspection are made up of familiar objects. They also utilise a degree of handicraft, such as meticulously and ingeniously engineered crochet or knitting.
Caração Independente Vermelho (Red Independent Heart, detail) 2005 collection João de Sousa, Lisbon. © Joana Vasconcelos
A major component of the exhibition is the newly commissioned Garden of Eden, an ambitious piece that explores the relationship between art, nature and technology and ponders on our perception of nature in the future.
Visitors can wander through this completely artificial and multi-sensory garden, which attempts to marry beauty with something slightly chilling.
Coração Independente Vermelho (Red Independent Heart) is an elegant structure that on close inspection reveals an elaborate inter-weaving of plastic cutlery.
The piece refers to the Viana do Castelo Heart, traditionally worn on pendants by women from the town of Viana do Castelo in Portugal, famous for its folklore traditions and decorative filigree jewellery. It is an example of the way Vasconcelos is concerned with Portuguese culture and national identity.
Jardim do Eden (detail) 2007 © Joana Vasconcelos
Also included in the exhibition is a rare example of a Vasoncelos’ video work. Eurovisão is a found piece containing footage from the 1982 Eurovision Song Contest, which that year, was actually broadcast from Harrogate, England.
Gallery visitors may be amused to hear the familiar and whimsical tones of Terry Wogan over the footage, which was filmed and relayed throughout Europe by the BBC. The Portuguese entry is a suitably trashy effort by a girl-band called Doce and the film reflects how the Eurovision Song Contest has become a bizarre vehicle by which national identity is expressed, challenged or re-worked.
The television itself is covered with a spider’s web of crochet, which binds the work together whilst obscuring our view of the screen. Doce, by the way, didn’t do particularly well that year and the contest was won by the German entry, Nicole.
Passerelle (detail) 2005 © Joana Vasconcelos
Elsewhere in the exhibition are two works that use ceramic dogs of the type commonly found in Portuguese homes – as ironic status symbols or as substitutes for the real thing. In Matilha, a group of dogs are wrapped in an elaborate coat of crochet while Passerelle sees the dogs locked in a relentless parade where, on impact with each other, they slowly break into pieces on the floor.
Vasconcelos has also used the gallery’s innovative project space, the Window Box (so called because it is visible from the street) to display a large woollen sculpture called Pega 4.
In Portuguese, the title refers to a small hand-knitted object that is used to take hot items from the oven. It is often made from strands of wool left over from knitting and usually has a loop sewn onto it from which it can be hung on the wall.
The artist has magnified the pega to create a huge magnified object crudely pinned to the wall with hooks.
Joana Vasconcelos will be talking about her work on Saturday October 13 2007 at the New Art Gallery Walsall at 2pm. Places are limited but you can reserve a place in advance by calling 01922 654400.