It was Joana Vasconcelos’ contribution, ‘A Noiva (The Bride)’, to the Venice Biennale in 2005 that truly consolidated her career as a celebrated international artist. The 20ft high sculpture took the form of a ginormous chandelier, ablaze with thousands of white tampons in place of candles or bulbs. The piece is emblematic of the feminist concerns that lie at the heart of her practice, lending visibility to an aspect of female experience that has historically been hidden from public discourse and bound-up in shame. Eight years later and the Portuguese sculptor caused a stir at the Biennale once again with ‘Trafaria Praia’, an old passenger ferry that she converted into a floating pavilion, drawing attention to her country’s lack of a permanent space within the Giardini. Through her unconventional use of everyday materials and objects, Vasconcelos’ work never fails to surprise and provoke.
Her major exhibition at Yorkshire Sculpture Park represents her largest UK solo show to date and will feature several important works, including her monumental ‘Material Girls’ (2015) – a bright pink, tentacled mass made from hand-stitched fabrics, sequins and LED lights suspended from the ceiling. The piece belongs to Vasconcelos’ ‘valkries’ series which explores the powerful female figures from Norse mythology who selected warriors on the battlefield worthy of a place in Valhalla. Though less menacing than Louise Bourgeois’ giant anthropoids, they nonetheless bring the work and feminist concerns of the great 20th century French artist to mind. (Another significant influence on Vasconcelos’ work is Marcel Duchamp and his surreal readymades, though her work simultaneously challenges the male-dominated history of conceptual sculpture and installation.)
The exhibition headlines YSP’s 2020 offer and will be presented throughout its Underground Gallery and surrounding parkland, taking full advantage of the centre’s abundant open space. With this in mind we have high hopes for the show and look forward to being engulfed by Vasconcelos’ intoxicating approach to scale, form and colour.