Oú le noir est couleur
The oeuvre of Joana Vasconcelos has been unanimously associated with the lineage which stems from the Ready-made, Pop Art or Post-modernism. Albeit insufficient, this classification functions as an operative archaeology to better understand the formal nature of the artist's creative process, based on the appropriation and subversion of pre-existent objects and the realities of the quotidian. Starting out from ingenious displacement operations, the artist offers us a complicit vision, but one which is at the same time critical of contemporary society and the several features which serve the enunciations of collective identity, especially those that concern the status of women, class distinction or national identity. From this process there derives a speech which is attentive to contemporary idiosyncrasies, where the usual dichotomies of tradition/modernity and popular culture/erudite culture are critically rendered in supplements of signification.
Oú le noir est couleur, the title of the exhibition which brings together a collection of recent works - "Big Booby", from 2007; "Euphrosyne", "Thalie", "Aglaia", "Victoria" and "Red Independent Heart #3", works finished in 2008; and the video installation "www.fatimashop", from 2002 - refers to the promotional slogan of a well known brand of Port wine: Bienvenue au pays oú le noir est couleur. The country is, obviously, Portugal, and the promotional catch-frase tries to demystify the stereotype which was, above all, associated with Portuguese women, for their traditional wearing of black. Nevertheless, there is no point in going here into the particularities of this or other stereotypes associated with Portugal, nor to justify them or contest their fairness, because in Oú le noir est couleur, the specific is taken as a reflection of the universal.
"www.fatimashop" (2002), the of which is taken from a website that sells religious products, emerges as a biting and mocking document on the inconsequent relationship between religious spirituality and consumerist materialism. It is an installation composed of a road video, the account of a trip undertaken by the artist to Fatima; a Piaggio panel van and its respective trailer, used in the same journey; and by the products acquired in Fatima, in the form of statues of Our Lady of Fatima set up inside the small trailer as if it were a shrine. The work reflects not only the reality of Fatima , but it also offers a fragmentary inventory of the social territory which serves the aesthetical intentions of Joana Vasconcelos.
With respect to this let us refer to the three interior pieces, "Euphrosyne", "Thalie", "Aglaia" , conceived from ordinary mass-produced statues, rendered popular in the decoration of gardens in Portuguese houses. The pieces, afterwards hand-painted and covered in elegant hand-worked black crochet, combine unlikely associations between erudite art and popular art, tradition and contemporaneity, reflection of the present tastes and consumerist motivations, flexible and free of the old class cultures.
"Red Independent Heart" summons up two traditional Portuguese symbols - Fado and the Coração de Viana (the Viana Heart) - and industrially produced objects - red plastic cutlery - in order to question the still existing difference in valuing between pop culture and elitist culture, or between luxury object and ordinary object. By multiplying the use of plastic cutlery to the abstraction of their original shape, in order to turn them into a different object - the Coração de Viana -, the initial referents are transfigured by way of new proposed social and artistic schemes.
In "Big Booby" , Joana Vasconcelos amplifies an ordinary household object - the traditional kitchen pot-holder - until she manages to annul the perception of the initial referral, which is evocative of the abstract paintings of Kenneth Noland and Frank Stella. If, on the one hand, the shapes, the materials and the techniques resorted to confer some sense of familiarity and comfort, on the other, the monumentality of scale, together with the forced anchorage of the piece by the six hooks which secure it to the wall, seem to want to transfer an epic and heroic substratum to domestic functions.
Created from the combination of materials and pre-existent mass-produced objects, along with others, hand-crafted in crochet and knitting, "Victoria", a title which refers to Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom (1819-1901), follows the sequence of works started out in "Valkyrie 1" (2004). "Victoria", just like the works which preceded it, maintains the exuberance in the use of different types of textures, in order to create the unlikely organic forms of a strange creature that is displayed hanging from the ceiling; resuming, in this case, the explosion of colours which characterise the ones that preceded it, in the monochromatic option in black. "Victoria" celebrates the conquests of women and the permanence of love, highlighting the ambiguity of such a feeling, through the reference of the figure of who might have eventually been the first queen, to date, to have married truly out of love.
Black - an element which is common to almost all of the works on display, whether because of its association with religion ("www.fatimashop"), with Fado ("Red Independent Heart"), or with chromatic elements of the pieces ("Euphrosyne", "Thalie", "Aglaia" and "Victoria") -, is possibly the colour that best expresses the idea of paradox. The absence of light, colour or non-colour, Black is charged, in the eye of western culture, with contradictory connotations - the colour of austerity, of renunciation and religion, but also of elegance, luxury and modernity; the colour of authority at the same time as the flag for Anarchism - thus emerging as the metaphor for norms and antithetical principles which rule contemporaneity. In this light, the "Oú" in the title of the exhibition, should not refer to a specific place, but rather to present time, where the philosophy of happiness claims to be more and more " fragmented and pluralist more eclectic than sceptical, more changeable than definite."
Lisbon, 30th of December 2007
OÙ LE NOIR EST COULEUR | JOANA VASCONCELOS
Opening reception, Saturday, 12 January, at 4 pm
13 January to 1 March 2008
GALERIE NATHALIE OBADIA
3, rue du Cloître Saint-Merri, 75004 Paris