Joana Vasconcelos's Floating Pavilion For Portugal At The Venice Biennale

Helen Brady

The artist Joana Vasconcelos has been selected to represent Portugal at this year’s 55th Venice Biennale. Along with Curator Miguel Amado, the artist will display a project entitled Trafaria Praia, in which an acacilheiro, or ferry, will be transformed into a floating pavilion and artwork.

The theme of the international art exhibition has been chosen by Curator Massimiliano Gioni as Il Palazzo Enciclopedic, or “The Encyclopedic Palace.” Gioni explains that there is a clear correlation between artist’s visions of the classical period in relation to aspirations of the modern times. He wishes to “give tangible form to both, down to the present time when there is a real reversal.”

Vasconcelos expands this objective in her piece Trafaria Praia. The work addresses the similarities between the two cities in question: Lisbon and Venice. It examines three specific similarities that the geographical locations share: water, navigation, and the vessel. Both places maintain a significant role within history for broadening the European worldview during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The work is intended as an idealistic gesture on behalf of Joana Vasconcelos; a metaphorical circumvention of the power struggles that mark international relations today. This is a common practice for the artist who often appropriates everyday objects and meticulously transforms them.

Portugal does not have a typical pavilion in the Giardini, so the artist along with curator Miguel Amado, decided to bring to Venice the Trafaria Praia and present it as a floating pavilion. It was commissioned by Direção-Geral das Artes, a Portuguese state agency operating under the auspices of the Secretário de Estado da Cultura, Governo de Portugal. The ferry boat will be coated with a panel of tiles which reproduces a contemporary view of Lisbon, making reference to the Grande Panorama de Lisboa by Gabriel del Barco (dating from 1700).

The piece aims to give a contemporary view of Lisbon before the earthquake in 1755. The blue and white tones will continue into the interior of the boat, where the textile installation will occupy the whole deck. Tentacles of blue and white crochet will turn on and off slowly, giving the visitor the sensation of travelling in the interior of a “living organism” according to Vasconcelos herself. The quarterdeck will display a stage in which various Portuguese art-related public programmes will take place. Activities such as conferences, debates and live music, will serve to inform the international public about Portuguese culture. The ferry boat itself will sail around the Venice lagoon at regular intervals daily.
Born in 1971 in Lisbon, Joana Vasconcelos presently lives and works within the capital. She has exhibited regularly in Portugal and abroad since the mid-1990s. Last year in 2012, she became the first woman and the youngest artist ever to present her work at the Palace of Versailles in France. The Portuguese artist is represented by several international galleries such as Haunch of Venison (London and New York) and Galerie Nathalie Obadia (Paris and Brussels). She is known for her work on installations and sculpture which play on the banality of everyday objects with themes of irony and feminism.

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