the Valkyries by Joana Vasconcelos


The ceremony is coming, the last customers are leaving and the pace slows down but doesn’t stop. In a shopping mall, even at night, there is never complete silence and absence of life. When the lights are dimmed and most stores pull down the railing, a whole new adventure begins.

NiT followed the second and third day of Joana Vasconcelos’ exhibition in Norteshopping last weekend and will not believe in everything that happens before the “Valkyries” show themselves to the public in all their glory in the central commercial of Matosinhos.

“Mary Poppins” was put together on the first day, July 16th, but don’t think it was finished right away. The artist team works very carefully and pays attention to details that escape the untrained eye of the ordinary visitor. Everything has to be perfect and three people are responsible for this, ensuring that no cable is too tight or that the structure is not placed two centimeters above or below the assumption.

The hustle and bustle of the second day begins around midnight. There is another team with around four elements that deals with the most technical part, from assembling the structure that supports the sculpture to adjusting the cables or whatever is necessary to ensure the success of the assembly.

Here the numbers are impressive. Each of the pieces weighs more than 200 kilos, is over seven meters in size, and around 300 meters of cable were used to secure them in the air. This also means that the entire assembly took three days and almost 30 hours.

To get back to the start of that second night of work, the technical team quickly brings the aluminum structure that will support the “Royal Valkyrie” to the central square of Norteshop. It’s divided into four rectangles that are quickly bolted together into a single giant and divided into several pieces that support each arm of the work.

All assembly is meticulous

It’s all done in less than an hour, but the invisible part of the work is still missing. One of the experts has to climb onto the roof of the building, guide ropes, cables and anything else needed to lift and carry the structure. At the same time, check the first plans, plans, sketches and calculations to see if everything is in order and how you can best protect everything.

Meanwhile, the team, which is directly connected to Joana Vasconcelos, uses the opportunity to add a few accents to “Mary Poppins”. Here the cables and structure have to be readjusted so that the air conditioning does not rotate the part, fill some of the parts a little more with styrofoam so that the shapes are correct, remove the protective paper films that cover the more delicate tags and combed – yes, literally with it a hair comb – the bangs must be placed impeccably.

All of this is meticulous work, you go into detail, check photos from previous exhibitions to make sure everything is as the artist intended. There is no margin for error and even if everything seems to be in order, it is necessary to look at the piece from the first floor, from the second, from different angles. Nothing can fail.

It is shortly before three in the morning when the structure of the second Valkyrie finally lifts off the ground. All sorts of arms are needed to help with the task, as well as the two machines with lifts to help with the assembly.

More than an hour later, there is still no telling that the job is done, so together they decide that it is best not to put the work together tonight. You can only work until 8 a.m. and the piece cannot be halfway through. So it wouldn’t make sense to start building and then have to take it down in time for the mall to open.

The rise of the exhibition

The second day of editing starts a little earlier, around 11 p.m., and a different dynamic can soon be felt. There is more movement and more things happening. All machines and parts needed to assemble the sculpture will be brought in soon.

Unlike the “Mary Poppins”, the “Royal Valkyrie” is inflatable. This means that two or three relatively small packages will arrive to bring it. It comes neatly packaged, wrapped in plastic and protective paper that can be quickly removed so the pieces can be unrolled.

From here it is necessary to fill each of the pieces with air using a special machine and assemble the motors that will ensure that the sculpture does not deflate on its own in the weeks that it will be here. Everything seems to be going well until the unexpected happens.

After all, the engines don’t work as they should and the parts quickly lose air, which is impossible to happen. The movement of people, which until then seemed rhythmic, begins to get hectic: A solution has to be found quickly.

It could be that the order of the motors has been changed, the cables are not working properly, are incorrectly connected, or there is some other problem. The central body of the piece is raised a little while trying unsuccessfully to solve the problem.

It was after one in the morning when, after several attempts, it was necessary to call a specialist in the field of inflatables. Despite the late hour – and the fact that he was certainly asleep – he appeared within minutes and quickly resolved the problem.

In the meantime, the time was used to work on “Mary Poppins” by some team members on the other side of the field. Do not think that it is all over, it was still necessary to better fix the piece to the structure, smooth out some wrinkled details and put a forgotten tassel.

After these problems are solved, the weapons of the “Royal Valkyrie” are assembled. They are all full of air and you just have to climb them and connect them to their appropriate place. This process is faster, but it still takes a few minutes for each of the nine arms.

After fastening to the main structure, it is necessary to repeat the entire already known procedure, firmly fastening each point with the cables connected to the ceiling structure, checking all the details, combing the fringes and aligning the tassels. All of this goes on until morning, of course.

The Valkyries

For those who go to the mall and find the sculptures there, everything looks majestic, imposing and interesting, but they cannot imagine how much work it would take to get the works to look like this. On the one hand, it may even seem sad not to see the pieces inflated or protected by papers, but there is also an inexplicable feeling of seeing the work emerge.

We can guarantee without a doubt that the more we look at the two Valkyries, the more we will see. There is always a new perspective, a detail that we had never seen before, a part that seemed to be made one way and in the end, if we look closer, we realize that it is another. Still, of course, it’s hard to imagine how it got there. No, it didn’t all come assembled in a truck to be parked there as we see it.

The artist and her work

In order to better understand what these sculptures are about, it is necessary to know their origin. All are inspired by important women, each in their field or time. In recent years they have even been exhibited in large palaces and museums.

“In the Nordic tradition, the Valkyries are warriors who fly over battlefields and rescue brave warriors. These chosen warriors will work for Valhalla, for the army of the gods. These Valkyries don’t fly over the battlefield here, but over the trading center and will basically grab the attention of people who have a relationship with them and are interested in art. The public that visits museums also comes to shopping malls. There will be people here who feel more interacting with work because they are used to it and others who are not, but somehow this dialogue also arises with people who don’t normally go to museums and who may be going out now go ”, explains Joana Vasconcelos to NiT.

Each of them represents about a year of work. Long hours are spent sewing, crocheting, embroidering, adding details, or other techniques. Everything is done by a team from the artist’s studio with around 50 people. With these two Valkyries there is also the complementary work of several artisans from Nisa who produce the embroidery typical of this region, which can be seen in the middle part of the two pieces and in some arms of the “Royal Valkyrie”. .

Inspired by the character from the film, “Mary Poppins” shows herself as a descending figure with elements that are reminiscent of her open arms and the umbrella she brought with her. What is striking is the color of the fabrics from Liberty’s, a well-known London store, which are often used to decorate English houses. It was exhibited in the Château de Versailles or Maastricht.

The “Royal Valkyrie” on the other hand – and somewhat in contrast to it – is more imposing, has more reference to luxury and palaces. There can be several reasons for this. It’s inspired by Marie Antoinette and all the changes she made in Versailles when she moved there. So and in collaboration with the Prelle manufactory, which is responsible for the fabrics that line this mythical French woman’s bedroom, it is possible to find natural silks and parts of these fabrics here. We can say that these are very rare details and small strips of less than a meter cost around 700 euros.

This piece has also been exhibited in Versailles as well as in the Royal Academy of Arts in London and in the Ajuda National Palace in Lisbon. Now these two Valkyries together form a unique dynamic by contrasting the luxury of one with the color of the other.

“There is no list [de locais onde gostaria de expor], the taste we have of our work always arrives where people value us, and that is a case in point. It is a pleasure to be here at Norteshopping, to be well received, to have an audience, to photograph people and to talk about the work – that is what makes the artist live. “

Joana Vasconcelos had already exhibited in the Silo, an artistic space in the same shopping center, in 2000. The return seems to please the artist: “I never thought that this would happen, it means that I have managed to continue my career.” Since then “.

During this time he experienced several adventures, especially abroad, where his works are very much appreciated. If a few years ago his work was perhaps not so recognized in our country, this idea seems to have already changed.

“There was a time when it wasn’t like that, but I think it’s kind of over.”

The exhibition “Valquírias by Joana Vasconcelos” will stay in the Norteshop until September 2nd and will offer two factory tours on August 10th and 24th, each at 7pm. Crochet workshops for families are planned on July 24th and August 7th, 21st and 28th and on July 31st and August 14th they will be dedicated to the more adult audience. The number of participants in these activities is limited, so prior registration at the information desk is required.

Click on the gallery to see more details on the entire exhibition structure.