Joana Vasconcelos (and her workshop) makes big, brash works that make up for in spectacle what they lack in subtlety. She’s taken over an indoors gallery and an outdoor section of the fabulous Yorkshire Sculpture Park, near Wakefield. I saw this show on a lovely sunny Sunday, and ate it up like an ice cream with extra sprinkles and a flake.
Or maybe a pastel de nata? A major theme of Vasconcelos’ work is Portugueseness, and she takes a typically more-is-more approach to her ancestral homeland. It’s not enough, then, to reference the Barcelos rooster, an iconic national symbol that features on a hefty proportion of fridge magnets sold in Portugal, in Pop Galo. She clads this giant sculpture of the rooster in another icon, the azulejos (tiles) that clad so many buildings out there. And, like a spurt of strawberry sauce on top of the flake and sprinkles, the work’s lit up by thousands of LED lights at night - or, would be, if the flashing chicken hadn’t been sent back to the artist's studio when I visited.
Red Independent Heart (2013)
Similarly, in Red Independent Heart, it’s not enough to reference the Heart of Viana, a religious symbol that’s a popular Portuguese jewellery motif. The work slowly spins in a darkened gallery, accompanied by Fado music from Amália Rodrigues, the nation’s most famous singer. It's the Lusophone equivalent of a bust depicting Shakespeare eating a full English, rotating to the strains of We’ll meet again.
But at the same time, it’s hard not to appreciate the craft on show, as well as feel bowled over by the sheer visual wow factor. Looking closely at the spinning heart, you’ll see that it’s been built out of plastic cutlery. A three metre tall representation of a luxury object then, made of mass-market tat. It’s pretty arresting.
Again and again, sledgehammer symbolism gives way to satisfying spectacle. It’s enough to appreciate a gigantic pair of stiletto heels, made out of shiny saucepans, as a fabulous photo opportunity. And you can appreciate the work, even while thinking in the back of your mind that the choice of objects - representing the tension between the stereotypically female roles of domestic worker and sex object - are too obvious to be truly subversive.
Let go, enjoy, take the photo and move on. It’s sunny outside, and there’s so much to see!
Joana Vasconcelos: Beyond is at Yorkshire Sculpture Park (near Wakefield). 07 March 2020 - 09 January 2022