Joana Vasconcelos for Portugal – Venice Biennale 2013Posted: March 31, 2015
By Lauren Gidwitz
originally published 6.30.2013 for Thred Projects
Rather than join the crowds, and take a normative place in a land-locked pavilion, Portugal decided to choose and artist who reflected, with beautiful nuance and subtlety, on her own identity as a citizen of a country largely dependent on the ocean. They chose well. The floating effervescent world of Joana Vasconcelos habituated itself on Praia, a tubby ferryboat from Lisbon, and spent the Biennale moving through the watery surroundings of the city. The outer shell was covered with tiles made in Portugal, depicting the city of Lisbon in blue on a white background. At key moments the floating pavilion would pull up to a pier and welcome wary and excited visitors onto the deck’s lounge and down into its belly.
Upon entrance into the lower level, we were enveloped into an environment akin to a visceral representation of the interior of the human body, as well as the bioluminescent underbelly of the deep ocean, complete with the sounds of the lapping waves from the outside. Our eyes were lit by a subtle harmony of blues vibrating underneath swirls of slow dimming and brightening LED lights in cadence with our breathing; bulbous forms enveloped by knit yarn and rows of tassels, and long ropey tendrils snaked out and into our physical space. A series of questions nagged at the back of my mind… was it pushing into our bodily space? Was it allowing us in? Or were we the intruders in this habitat? Through its intervention on the exterior and interior of the boat, bringing to mind the outside and inside of the body, and the surface and depths of the ocean, as well as integration of both technology and handicraft, the experience, though tranquil, required active and mindful engagement from its visitors.
It was a beautiful reminder of the unseen beauty of the darkest depths of our ocean, the strong cultural connection and interdependence with the coastal country of Portugal, the future of Venice as it slowly sinks into the depths of the ocean, and the vital and beautiful ecological role it plays in all of our lives. In both content and formal execution, this is the most eloquent political work I have come across in a long time. Brava.