Joana Vasconcelos‘ twenty year career as an artist has been celebrated by collectors, critics and admirers alike. One of her latest admirers is creative director of Swatch, Carlo Giordanetti. Their love affair first came to light during this year’s opening of the 56th Venice Biennale where she transformed the Swatch pavilion into the Garden of Eden. Most recently, she fully rekindles her knowledge as a jeweller to design a watch for a brand that is in many ways her counterpart: unpretentious, inventive, free-spirited.
“Charity begins at home” was a phrase that my mother would frequently repeat time and time again whenever she would instil the importance . A phrase I would later repeat, to myself in times of doubt and share with others in times of necessity. Celebrated Portuguese artist, Joana Vasconcelos embodies this phrase, as her art over the years, is in itself a tribute to glorious, age-old Portuguese traditions and her atelier, a factory providing jobs for 50 Portuguese people in the colourful city of Lisbon.
The bright city has more soft pink, pale yellow and mint green buildings adorning the sky and lining the streets than the typical white, grey and beige buildings; a city with historical charm and vibrant characters. Like her city and country, which she so proudly references in her artwork, Vasconcelos’ manner and energy radiates a warming charm. Her smile and spontaneous humour electrifies.
Like many of us, I have been conditioned to have an aversion to the appearance of too many colours on one entity, although this was not always the case. A younger version of myself would wear at any given time a minimum of four colours, anything less than that was simply unacceptable. But after being told repeatedly that I looked like a Christmas tree by my mother and sister, those initial instincts to adorn myself in colour, would eventually change. Had I known of Vasconcelos then, I would have told them my style was inspired by a young Portuguese artist who just created waves at the 2005 Venice Biennale, and whose signature was light, colour and crotchet. Now I stick to a maximum of two colours, if I am feeling frisky three. Vasconcelos does not particularly dress in many colours, but her work is a festival of pinks, blues, reds, greens, yellows, oranges, purples. When we met she was dressed all in black and wore a long, large golden necklace, crafted using the traditional Portuguese filigree (an ancient, intricate style of ornamental work of fine [typically gold or silver] wire formed into delicate tracery often for jewellery).
This month an ancient tradition becomes a modern accessory. Filigree, a handcrafted method that has been passed down through generations has been contemporised and internationalised by Vasconcelos and Swatch, a brand synonymous with innovation, artistic creation and toleration. For this collaboration with Swatch, Vasconcelos visually strays away from her signature: knit work, lights and colour. Though conceptually, her signature is as strong as ever: internationalising the local (Portugal), reviving and stimulating tradition, and working with an everyday object (the watch).
“When I started thinking conceptually about my culture and my country, all the traditions that were hidden here and passed on from generation to generation, I said well, one of those [traditions] is knitting, and I said why not use knitting? […] Why not use it before it disappears, before it becomes only a tradition and not a reality. This watch is pretty much that too, [meant] to keep alive a tradition that still makes sense today,” says Vasconcelos describing the inspiration behind the recently launched Swatch, ironically titled Lookseasy. The intricately simple, handcrafted silver gold-plated face is anything but easy. The engraved details in filigree take time to complete, so only 999 special edition pieces will be available for sale, exclusively in Swatch stores.
Lookseasy is not the first collaboration between Vasconcelos and Swatch. They first flaunted their affair at this year’s 56th Venice Biennale where the artist transformed the Swatch pavilion at Giardini with her work Garden of Eden.
“It was like a spaceship that just landed in the Biennale, everything looks like it’s from the 19th century and then you have this crazy silver inflated [building]…everybody was like have you seen what was inside the inflated [building] with the lights and the flowers. We added a performance of Jonas Runa wearing a very special suit, all the movements that he does are a musical composition because they produce sound and light. It gave this project a new dimension it was not only an installation but also became a performance and composition,” she says explaining the work.
“To be in the Biennale is difficult but to be talked [about] in the Biennale is even more [special]…which was amazing because that’s what’s important about the Biennale, to be remembered,” she says and then adds jokingly “Of course we had air conditioning inside so that helped a lot.” Humbly referring to the long lines of eager people queuing to enter the crazy silver inflated spaceship during the hot summer day of the opening week of the 56th Venice Biennale.
It seems the love affair between the artist and international brand shall continue. “The hope is to take the Garden of Eden with Swatch to the Vatican, they are in conversation,” she adds.
Arriving at the Biennale, the Garden of Eden was the first pavilion we visited, a strong representative for All the World’s Futures.
“This project reflects on how we are dealing with the world today. I tried to create an atmosphere where nature does not exist but poetry does. We are artificializing too much, but even then you can still have poetry…a space of dreams, a space of poetry, a space of creation, because creation doesn’t have anything to do with nature. It has to do with you,” explains the artist.
“So if you artificialize too much you might loose your poetry,” she adds with a laugh.
Photos courtesy of Swatch