Is it a helicopter or a bird?

Exhibition review as published by The Mancunion, Britain’s biggest weekly student newspaper. The Mancunian Arts & Culture brings you a review of Joana Vasconcelos: Time Machine, a new exhibition at the Manchester Art Gallery.

Modern poetic inversions infused within the historic collection of the Manchester Art Gallery

Time Machine is an exhibition in Manchester Art Gallery by Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos, expressing her exquisitely crafted sculptures and on-site installations. Her work subverts and decontextualizes everyday objects and common ambiguities that engage with elements from the past, present and future. She is uncontrolled with her use of colour, which adds comic effect and helps to invert reality and challenge narratives about identity, class and the status of women.

Vasconcelos uses symbolism in many of her artworks to present dichotomies between public/private, handmade/industrial, and male/female. As you enter the ground floor of the Gallery, two sculpted lions in white marble, known as Hwarang, welcome you where dubiously a feminine lace black crochet net has restrained their masculine pride.

1- Hwarang

Hwarang [Image © Raphae Memon]

As you continue into the permanent collection galleries, it becomes exciting to see how Vasconcelos has positioned some unexpected sculptures amongst the major permanent collection galleries. These modern art pieces permeate within and respond to both the historic pieces of fine and decorative artwork, and the palazzo style architecture of the galleries. An example of how this has been done quite effectively and comically would be her new artwork Cottonopolis. Inspired by the William de Morgan and Pilkington tiles on display nearby, this piece combines masculinity with feminism and offers a playful, lively and colourful installation of overlapping textile tubes. It frames The Shadow of Death by William Holman. Perhaps because this painting also explores themes of identity, it was chosen by Vasconcelos to incorporate with her artwork.

2- Cottonopolis

Cottonopolis [Image © Raphae Memon]

On the second floor, there are two impressive vehicle works that present an assemblage of juxtaposing worlds. As you enter, you are thrown back by uneasy tensions between life and death, depicted within War Games. This piece is made of a black 1960s Morris Oxford, which from the outside is adorned with black toy rifles and strips of LEDs to simulate speed and movement. From the inside, colourful toys convey a world of innocence. In the next room you find Lilicoptere, a vision of contradictions. Is it a helicopter or a bird? As you walk around the installation, you notice how it changes between looking like a pink ostrich to a mechanism clad in Swarovski crystals and gold leaf – a perverse metamorphosis from machine to animal conveyed by kitsch taste and overloaded opulence. Nonetheless, it dazzles in technicality and intricacy.

3- War Games

War Games [Image © Raphae Memon]

4- Lilicoptere

Lilicoptere [Image © Raphae Memon]

On your way out, make sure you don’t miss Britannia, a new textile work that has been specially commissioned for the building. Suspended organic forms of vibrant colour and texture are juxtaposed between the steel and glass architecture, creating an emotive response as they cascade down the three floors of the glass atrium and frame the main circulation.

5- Britannia

Britannia [Image © Raphae Memon]

On the whole, Vasconcelos’ Time Machine is an exciting collection of work exploring modern poetic inversions, set in the context of the historic collection of the Gallery. Not bound by a closed space, the interventions infiltrate physically within the gallery spaces, and whimsically in our thoughts, stimulating our discernment with what is real and what is imaginary.

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