When I came across the iron sculpture Miss Jasmine by Joana Vasconcelos, the way this artist transforms iron in a delicately filigreed tea pot reminded me of Cal Lane‘s work. But digging into Vasconcelos’ practice has revealed me an unexpectedly rich and explosive body of work that constantly escapes any definition.
Born in Paris and now Lisbon based, Joana Vasconcelos puts the everyday at the centre of her creative practice. It does not come as surprise, then, that she works with humble materials and that the visual universe she creates is constellated by immediate references to the most common experiences. But if Vasconcelos appropriates objects and materials from the most ordinary reality, she re-intrerprets them with a witty and almost subversive verve.
Take Tuttifrutti, a giant ice cream sculpture. First of all, who would like to have a menacingly hovering giant ice cream over the head? Absolutely pop in its artificially industrial colours, this work evokes toxic plasticity rather than delicious softness…
What is more, Joana Vasconcelos‘s handicraft skills add to her work a homely and feminine quality, with which she originally plays with wit and playfulness. A piece of hand-made crochet (like the one above) would look totally innocuous, if not for its shape and title: Big Booby. Yes, feminine by all means!
Vasconcelos often dresses pieces of furniture and objects with crocheted clothes. Her pieces inhabit a virtual house decorated with an undefinable taste (someone would rather say with a lack of it). I am suddenly reminded of the documentary In the best possible taste by artist Grayson Perry and the emerging idea that there is no such category as tasteful or tasteless. Our negative perception of something as simpering, or tacky, or kitsch is just the result of the social and cultural context that has shaped our taste. Joana Vasconcelos challenges any taste-related label and her pieces call for a personal reaction that does not bear unambiguous classification.
For instance, would I have ever considered this faience piece something more than an eccentrically exuberant ceramic object, if not for the fact that it represents a frog (I have a personal obsession with frogs) and that it is titled Bowie (I have a seemingly strong obsession with David Bowie)?
And certainly the installation War Games would have been nothing more than an amusing ready-made work for me. But in a personal world of references, it made me think of the Drive-by Shooting Range that took place in 1994 during Burning Man: in an arguably liberating gesture, stuffed animals were shot from a moving pickup truck, as can be seen here. For me, War Games represents the virtual revenge of the stuffed-animals species.
All images courtesy of Atelier Joana Vasconcelos.