Friday, 2 August 2013

Venice Biennale: The Giardini - Portugal

When you've been to several Venice Biennales, you begin to associate some areas with distinctive objects you've seen in them. In 2005 I was struck, and impressed, by a beautiful chandelier in the Arsenale. When you looked at it closely, you discovered that it was completely made of tampons! I remembered the artist's name, Joana Vasconcelos (b. 1971). Two years ago she had an installation at the Palazzo Grassi, Contamination, that also caught my attention. With all kinds of objects stitched together, along with crocheting, it clambered up and down the stairs, protruded in many directions, and was said to be expanding during the course of its exhibition. I found it fascinating, a little scary, and quite funny.

So this year I was definitely looking for the pavilion from Portugal, which strictly speaking, is not in the Giardini, since Portugal does not have a permanent pavilion and Vasconcelos's entry is a refurbished Lisbon ferry boat, Trafaria Praia, docked just outside the Giardini entrance. Since this type of ferry was much used in Lisbon to transport commuters across the River Tagus, she compares it to the Venetian vaporetto, the boat bus that is the public transportation system in Venice.
Vasconcelos's images, accessable via the link, are much better than mine, but I'll put a few details here as well. Around the hull of the boat is a monumental blue and white tile (azulejos) mural of the city of Lisbon, in the style of traditional painted tiles.
When we boarded, a friendly crew gave us some literature and invited us on the noon or 5 p.m. half-hour sailing of the boat, which makes the round trip from the Giardini to the Dogana twice a day. While we never made the trip, we enjoyed seeing the ferry crossing the lagoon several times.
Vasconcelos has converted the interior of the boat into a sort of dark funhouse, using crocheting and patchwork, primarily in blue and white, with twinkling LED lights and protruding sections, to cover the entire inside of the boat. Dark and mysterious, but beautiful and enticing, it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of the Biennale. I didn't think of a womb, or Jonah and the Whale, or the undersea, as the brochure suggests, but I did feel it as a definitely feminine creation because of the materials. It's mysterious, visually exciting but also comforting, and strong.

Once we traversed the interior, we could go up to the deck, which she had outfitted with cork stools and bar, cork being a major Portuguese product.
Display cases showed Portuguese products and we could enjoy the view of the Riva and the lagoon from above. The curator of the Portuguese pavilion is Miguel Amado.

Vasconcelos is one of the artists in one part of the Biennale who reappeared in another. In Glasstress she showed a work in a similar medium, a chandelier titled Babylon, with tentacles, crocheted mostly in red, orange, and yellow and incorporating pieces of blown red Murano glass.

I'm impressed that the label indicates it as one in an edition of 10. She'll make more! Although I love seeing these richly organic and colorful constructions, I'm afraid they would be a bit of a dust catcher.

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