Joana Vasconcelos: Stupid Furniture
The Portuguese artist who deconstructs reality by reimagining furniture.
Mimmo Scognamiglio Artecontemporanea, Milan
Until 29th July 2022
“ALL THESE OBJECTS are things that you can live without – that’s why they end up in flea markets. They’re not essential for anything and are really stupid,” says Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos about the recycled pieces of furniture that provided the basis for her exhibition, ‘Stupid Furniture’, at Mimmo Scognamiglio in Milan.
Various pieces of vernacular furniture, from wooden consoles to porcelain columns and an old-fashioned hair dryer, have been vibrantly dressed up in crochet, lace, beading and embroidery. Through this intervention, Vasconcelos has given them a new lease of life as artworks, simultaneously changing their status as objects and rendering them utterly useless. In contrast to the ‘functional sculpture’ championed by collectible design galleries, Vasconcelos’s works displayed in a contemporary art gallery are ‘dysfunctional furniture’.
“By placing them in a new context, they become much more related to the art world and embody a psychological question about why these things exist,” Vasconcelos says. “It’s a deconstruction of reality, displacing them into a world where dreaming, imagining and construction meet reality.”
Vasconcelos, 50, is best known for large-scale sculptural works and installations that reinterpret and elevate women’s craftsmanship, exploring feminism and the perception of domestic objects. In 2005, her breakout piece, ‘A Noiva’ (The Bride) – a chandelier made from 25,000 tampons – was exhibited at the Venice Biennale. Then eight years later, when she represented Portugal at the Venice Biennale, Vasconcelos created a floating pavilion with an immersive aquatic sculptural environment inside a boat. Vasconcelos was also the first female artist invited to exhibit at the Château de Versailles in 2012. ‘Marilyn’ (2011), a monumental pair of high heels made from stainless steel pans and lids, was installed in the Hall of Mirrors while various red and black sculptures individually titled ‘Independent Heart’ (2005/6), fashioned from plastic cutlery and based on the heart of Viana, a filigree piece of traditional Portuguese jewellery, were suspended in the adjacent salons.
Her Milan exhibition sees Vasconcelos working on a more intimate scale with an intricate attention to detail. “Everything – all the lace, crochet and embroidery – was made specifically for these pieces,” Vasconcelos says.
Vasconcelos began by trawling through Lisbon’s flea market, looking out for the discarded pieces that spoke to her. As she explains, “I love going to flea markets and buying things, and sometimes I ask myself: Why does this object exist? I bought them for nothing and transformed them into a more artificial existence and new language. It’s talking about why we accessorise our lives so much with stupid things.”
Eschewing any particular aesthetic in her choice of objects, Vasconcelos reflected upon the “collective idea of the European home – like if you go to your auntie’s or grandmother’s house”. After bringing the pieces back to her studio, she would make sketches and drawings based on how she imagined the evolution of each piece and would collaborate with her team of craftswomen who help bring her ideas to fruition. “We’ve had lots of fun,” she recounts, “It’s a very organic and dynamic process.”
Indeed, whimsy and humour are employed to emphasise the kitschy aspect of the pieces. A five-tier corner shelf becomes a wedding cake with looped crochet icing; a gilded console is adorned with a richly beaded, emperor-like bust; a disused fireplace appears strangled by a brightly coloured crochet octopus; and a porcelain column is festooned with exotic fruit.
Joana Vasconcelos, ‘Pasticcino’, 2021
COURTESY: Joana Vasconcelos
“It’s talking about why we accessorise our lives so much with stupid things.”
Joana Vasconcelos, ‘Torta della Nonna’, 2021
COURTESY: Joana Vasconcelos
“We’ve had lots of fun, it’s a very organic and dynamic process.”
Vasconcelos, who had made a few artworks using domestic furniture in the past, had already embarked on the project before the opportunity for the exhibition arose. “Mimmo asked me to do a show, I told him about this project and he loved it,” Vasconcelos recalls. “His gallery is in an apartment, so the furniture fits into it like in a house.”