Trafaria Praia is Joana Vasconcelos' project for Portugal's participation in the 55th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia. The project analyses the historical connection between Portugal and Italy, which developed through trade, diplomacy and art. Lisbon and Venice intersect at various points; the two cities played key roles in the expansion of the European worldview during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, redefining the imago mundi by establishing networks between the West and the East.
Trafaria Praia addresses the proximity between Lisbon and Venice in contemporary times through a reflection on three fundamental aspects that the cities both share: water, navigation and ships.
Vasconcelos proposes an allegorical parallel between the cacilheiro, Lisbon's iconic ferryboat, and Venice's picturesque vaporetto. The cacilheiros cross the River Tagus every day, taking passengers from Almada to Lisbon and vice versa. Its regular users are inhabitants of the South Bank who work in Lisbon. Until the first bridge between Lisbon and Almada was built in 1966, these ships were the only means of public transport between the city and that region. This is why the cacilheiros have always been associated with the working and middle classes and are a well-known social symbol with political undertones in Portugal.
Vasconcelos brought a cacilheiro to Venice, where it was presented as the Portuguese Ppavilion. The Trafaria Praia belongs to Transtejo, which de-activated the ship in 2011. Over the last six months, the ship has undergone significant transformations at the Navaltagus shipyard in Seixal. In Venice, the Trafaria Praia docks next to the Giardini vaporetto stop and cruises around the lagoon according to a predetermined timetable during the Venice Biennale. So instead of a conventional pavilion with a fixed location, Vasconcelos creates an idealised floating pavilion. The artist deterritorialises the land, thus metaphorically overcoming the power struggles that so often mark international relations.
Vasconcelos also exhibits Trafaria Praia as art. Following the logic of the assisted ready-made, inaugurated by Marcel Duchamp, the artist changed the object without de-functionalising it. On the outside of the ship, from bow to stern, the artist has applied a large-scale, hand-painted blue and white tile panel that reproduces a contemporary view of Lisbon, from the Bugio Tower to the Vasco da Gama Tower. The work is inspired by another large-scale tile panel, the Grande Panorama de Lisboa, which shows Lisbon before the 1755 earthquake, and is a fundamental expression of the baroque style of the golden age of tile production in Portugal. As in her previous works, the artist covers an object with tiles, thus evoking the architectural dimension of tiles.
On the deck of Trafaria Praia, Vasconcelos creates an environment based on textiles and light. This also echoes previous works, such as Contamination (2008-10) and the "Valkyries" series (ongoing since 2004). These works consist of organic forms, usually coloured and usually suspended from the ceiling, which interact with the surrounding architectural structures. The new work is a complex blue and white patchwork covering the ceiling and walls, from which emerges a tangle of crocheted pieces incorporating LEDs. The installation suggests a uterine atmosphere, with a surreal tendency, that refers to the bottom of the sea - a scenario perhaps evocative of Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea or alluding to the biblical narrative of Jonah and the Whale. The work engages visitors, thus provoking both an intellectual and a sensory experience.
MATERIALS: 1960 motor-driven steel passenger ferry, cork covering and furniture
DIMENSIONS: 1430 x 750 x 3010 cm
MATERIALS: Viúva Lamego hand-painted, tin-glazed ceramic tiles on a sandwich-structured composite panel
DIMENSIONS: 220 x 6000 cm
MATERIALS: Handmade woollen crochet, felt appliqués, fabrics, ornaments, polyester, LEDs and electric system
DIMENSIONS: Variable dimensions