The Portuguese Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale

 
By Martin Macdonald

Joana Vasconcelos, Trafaria Praia, 2013. The Trafaria Praia ferryboat/work in Venice.
Photograph: Luís Vasconcelos.
© Unidade Infinita Projectos.

Curated by Miguel Amado, the Portuguese Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale, Trafaria Praia (2013) is a project by artist Joana Vasconcelos. The floating pavilion consists of an old cacilheiro, a Lisbon ferryboat transformed into a work of art. Sailing the Venice lagoon at regular intervals, it addresses commonalities between Lisbon and Venice, namely their rich seafaring histories which for centuries helped expand Europe’s worldview. 

Vessels, navigation and water have enabled these two wonderful cities to grow and develop. Whereas riding a vaporetto is commonplace in Venice, having commuters board a cacilheiro to cross the Tagus is also a frequent sight in Lisbon. Vasconcelos therefore constructs an allegorical correspondence between the Lisbon cacilheiro and the Venetian vaporetto

Drawing inspiration from the Great Panorama of Lisbon, an old azulejo (tin-glazed, hand-painted ceramic tiles) masterpiece depicting the city before the great earthquake of 1755, Great Panorama of Lisbon (21st Century) (2013) sees the boat covered in panels of blue and white azulejos depicting the Lisbon skyline. On the deck, Valkyrie Azulejo (2013), an installation of white and blue fabric and LED lights covers the ceiling and walls. Enveloping the visitor, the piece is like being underwater, not simply floating on it. The quarterdeck includes a stage where experimental electronic and Portuguese fado music is played.

According to the press release, in putting together a navigable pavilion, Vasconcelos is “deterritorialising territory, which is intended as an idealistic gesture - a metaphorical circumvention of the power struggles that often mark international relations.” Like Portuguese seafarers of the past who created links between West and East, Vasconcelos’s Trafaria Praia is undeniably adventurous - so much so that it takes the visitor into a sea womb, if only metaphorically.


Joana Vasconcelos, Trafaria Praia, 2013. The Valkyrie Azulejo installation in progress within the Trafaria Praia ferryboat at Navaltagus shipyard in Seixal, Portugal.
Photograph: Luís Vasconcelos.
© Unidade Infinita Projectos.
Joana Vasconcelos, Trafaria Praia, 2013. The Valkyrie Azulejo installation in progress within the Trafaria Praia ferryboat at Navaltagus shipyard in Seixal, Portugal.
Photograph: Luís Vasconcelos.
© Unidade Infinita Projectos.

Joana Vasconcelos, Trafaria Praia, 2013. The Great Panorama of Lisbon (21st Century) installation in progress at Marghera Port in Venice.
Photograph: Bruno Portela.
© Unidade Infinita Projectos.
Joana Vasconcelos, Trafaria Praia, 2013. The Trafaria Praia ferryboat/work in Venice.
Photograph: Luís Vasconcelos.
© Unidade Infinita Projectos.
Joana Vasconcelos, Trafaria Praia, 2013. Detail of the Great Panorama of Lisbon (21st Century) installation on the outside of the Trafaria Praia ferryboat in Venice.
Photograph: Luís Vasconcelos.
© Unidade Infinita Projectos.