‘Joana Vasconcelos’ at Haunch of Venison
On the one hand, Lisbon-based artist Joana Vasconcelos’ latest exhibition at the Mayfair home of Haunch of Venison, is one of the sunniest I’ve ever seen. On the other, Vasconcelos’ interests in referencing national identity and gender politics mean this is a deeper, more thought-provoking show than its tactile, colourful aesthetic initially suggests.
The first work, ‘Full Steam Ahead (Red #1)’, which occupies the entire front gallery, is a bit of an anomaly. Vasconcelos has transformed steam irons into an intricate and beautiful water lily; the ‘petals’ open and close, with a noise that flowers generally don’t make, and emit steam. The installation is funny, because it’s such an odd marriage, but it isn’t too hard to see representations of female stereotyping that make the work more than an entertaining gimmick.
The second gallery sets the tone for the remainder of the exhibition. Again it contains just one piece, ‘Tetris 17thCentury’, which does indeed resemble a Tetris block – albeit one made up of replica 17th century Portuguese tiles and draped with textile tentacles. Close up, ‘Tetris 17th Century’ is even more impressively lovely than it is from a distance – Vasconcelos made all the tentacles by hand, joining together cuts of sumptuous fabrics and knitted segments, then decorating them with jewels. It’s bright and cheerful and inevitably reminiscent of summer holidays. It’s also a commentary on traditional ‘women’s work’, though it’s debatable whether many women would have the talent or the patience to create something this stunning.
In the third room, three more ‘Tetris’ pieces compete for floor space. Again, prettily tiled blocks sit in the middle of massive fabric snakes constructed from traditional Portuguese textile, which insist that visitors step over them in order to look closely at the works. Visitors interacting with her art is one of Vasconcelos’ intentions – at her delightfully decadent Versailles show earlier this year she said: “I do want the art to have an interaction with the public, but people no longer interact with art. They leave it to children, which I think is a problem. Adults should keep on interacting – [playing] is not synonymous with childhood.”
Draping itself down the stairs and mingling with ‘Tetris Waves’ is ‘Valkyrie Crown’ – well worth climbing the stairs for. Visually reminiscent of ‘Mary Poppins’, from Vasceoncelos’ first Haunch show in 2010, ‘Valkyrie Crown’ celebrates Queen Elizabeth II’s Diamond Jubilee, though it takes its name from a terrifying Norse figure who decides who dies in battle… It’s an interesting juxtaposition between women with power and those who sew.
By all means go purely to admire the artistic skill and marvel at the gorgeousness of this exhibition, but remember that Vasconcelos wants you to see more than that.
by Jennie Gillions
‘Joana Vasconcelos’ (running until 17th November 2012)
Haunch of Venison, 103 Bond Street, London W1S 1ST
Opening hours: Mon – Fri 10am – 6pm; Sat 10am – 5pm