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In the studio with… Joana Vasconcelos

31 August 2022

The Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos creates colourful, large-scale installations which often envelop everyday things – decorative objects, laptops, pianos – in crocheted or knitted material. Through such works, Vasconcelos tests the boundaries between the domestic environment and public space, the mass-produced and the handcrafted. Installations such as ‘A Noiva (The Bride)’ (2001–05), a chandelier crafted from 25,000 tampons, also address traditional roles assigned to women, specifically in relationship to the body and craft practices. Her latest site-specific work, titled ‘Tree of Life’ (2022), takes inspiration from Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s masterpiece ‘Daphne and Apollo’  (1622–25), which follows the story of the river nymph Daphne who is transformed into a laurel tree, and comprises 140,000 handmade embroidered textile leaves. The installation is on show at the Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes in Paris from 14 September–15 January 2023.

What do you like most about your studio and workshop?

The people. I also love that it’s by the riverside. I am in the middle of the city [Libson], but in the dock area, which means that I can see the water from my room, which is pretty cool. Being close to the water is important to me.

Do you have a studio routine or is each day different?

That’s a good question – I try to have a routine! I have an agenda filled with a lot of dates and I try to follow it strictly. Diana is the keeper of the agenda. But as you know, every day changes every minute – we try to follow schedule as much as we can, and we try to adapt as much as we can. Some days we adapt better than others. But sometimes strange things happen!

Lilicoptere Joana Vasconcelos

Lilicoptere (2012), Joana Vasconcelos. Photo: © Luís Vasconcelos

Your latest installation, Tree of Life, takes inspiration from Bernini’s Apollo and Daphne – are there any other artists who have inspired you?

I have made works inspired by Duchamp’s works, Louise Bourgeois and Donald Judd. Sometimes I am inspired by other artists and I make pieces connected to their work, but most of the time, I don’t.

Who’s the most interesting visitor you’ve ever had to the studio?

I have had many strange visitors, but when John Galliano knocked on the door I couldn’t believe it! Somebody told me that Galliano was in town and that he might visit; I completely forgot and then, a week later there he was at my door. I ended up walking with him through the studio. We talked a lot and it was very beautiful – this super star is actually a human being with his own traits and problems. I think it was in November, so we were preparing for our Christmas party. That year we were training to do Bollywood dancing because one of our collaborators was from India. We had a rehearsal on the day Galliano visited, so I invited him to join. Many of the pieces in his following collection featured Indian motifs, so maybe he was influenced by the Bollywood dancing that he saw!

Joana Vasconcelos Libson studio

Photo: © Atelier Joana Vasconcelos

When people come to the studio, I always do the same thing which is to give them a tour and try to explain to them what we do. It doesn’t matter who they are – I have had Valentino, Madonna, the Queen of Denmark, princes, ministers, prime ministers, Lord Rothschild – it’s always the same. The studio is a place with a certain energy and when people come what they really love is to see people working and to understand how the artist lives. When you come here, you can see the artists working, you can see the vibration of the team. Everyone that visits comes out with this nice feeling that it was a well-spent moment. People feel happy here and I’m happy that people can experience this place. Sometimes, being used to it, I don’t really notice, but then people come and say, Oh this has a really good vibe, it seems so nice to work here’ and I realise that they come from other environments where it’s maybe not like that. It makes me think we must be doing something right.

What’s the most well-thumbed book in your studio?

My notebooks. They are filled with meetings, drawings, sketches – this one [holds up notebook] is number 52. It is my way of keeping track of the studio.

Joana Vasconcelos studio

A work in progress (2012). Photo: © Luís Vasconcelos

What’s the strangest object in your studio?

The ice machine. I always think why do I have an ice machine – but I do! I think at a party, somebody left it. It’s a strange object that I don’t relate to, but…. we have an ice machine.

‘Joana Vasconcelos: Tree of Life (Arbre de Vie)’ is at Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes, Paris from 14 September–15 January 2023.