Joana Vasconcelos' Plug-In at MAAT, Lisbon

Words by
Sphere Editors

24th October 2023

Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos has left her hometown Lisbon in lights with her exhibition ‘Plug-In’ at the MAAT (Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology). Running now until March 2024, SPHERE investigates promised highlights (literally) of this eye-catching and abstract exhibition in all its luminosity.

Spreading itself across both of MAAT’s echoing buildings, this contemporary exhibition explores Joana’s most recent works whilst being laced with appearances from the EDP Foundation Art Collection. Bringing in some historical elements of her career.

Joana Vasconcelos' Plug-In at MAAT - Solitaire ring
The Solitaire Ring, 2018

Two exclusive pieces in this exhibition have left their post at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to be presented in Lisbon for the very first time. Both extravagant pieces can be spotted in the outside spaces before entering the museum. The Solitaire Ring (2018) positioned by the steps, allows the sunshine to refract through the colossal glass gem that sits atop the sculpture. The second piece, ‘I’ll be your mirror’ (2019) was popularised by its playful name taken from the famed Velvet Underground song, manifesting itself as an enormous Venetian mask encased in ovate mirrors. A remarkably post-worthy piece, that also becomes increasingly dazzling as the Portuguese sun hits.

Joana Vasconcelos' Plug-In at MAAT - I'll be your mirror
I'll be your mirror, 2019

Once stepping foot in the MAAT, a stunning highlight is the whimsical but astonishing Tree of Life or Árvoire da Vida. This towering piece is based upon the transformation myth of Apollo and Daphne. Representing the laurel tree that Daphne transforms herself into in order to escape the romantic advances of Apollo. In an aim to reinforce the links between both ‘earth and sky and mundane and spiritual’, this meticulous piece features a total of 140,000 hand-embroidered leaves on 354 branches. It is a magical spectacle that is surely not to be missed.

Joana Vasconcelos' Plug-In at MAAT - Tree of Life
Tree of Life, 2023

Joana’s work with grandeur doesn’t stop there. The exhibition also features her numerous works with cars, giving new life to vehicles through creative craft whether it be encrusting a classic Morris Oxford in rifles with her piece War Games (2011) or carving golden details of opulence into a Porsche 911 Targa Carrera with Drag Race (2023).

Joana Vasconcelos' Plug-In at MAAT - Drag Race and War Games
Drag Race (2023)
Joana Vasconcelos' Plug-In at MAAT - War Games (2011)
War Games (2011)

Another installation whose name is shared with a beloved song, this time Sinatra, is Strangers in the Night (2011). A continuously flashing piece consisting of a leather cushioned peep-show booth encased in repurposed car headlights, representing the men searching for casual love in cars at night and denying the idea of ‘fleeting love turning to lasting love’ as sung by Frank Sinatra in the featured song. This piece is a prime example of how Joana’s work, whilst eccentric, strives to communicate aspects of modern society.

Joana Vasconcelos Plug-In MAAT - Strangers in the Night (2011)
Strangers in the Night (2011)

The centralised showstopper of ‘Plug-In’, filling the high glass ceilings with its immense range of volumes, textures and colours sculpted from varied crochet, ornamental trimmings and fabrics is the Valkyrie Octopus (2015). This is an extraordinarily distinctive yet abstract sculpture consisting of a head, tail and arms that flail from the main body. Complete with the innovative ability to mimic vibration and breathing through the insertion of twinkling lights, the unique sculpture hones inspiration from the female figures of Norse mythology that had the power to bring warriors back to life and join the deities in Valhalla.

Joana Vasconcelos Plug-In MAAT - Valkyrie Octopus (2015)
Valkyrie Octopus (2015)

Joana Vasconcelos' Plug-In exhibition is on display from now until 31st March 2024 and promises to be a striking exhibition of fluorescence to weave into a trip to Lisbon. Book tickets here.

For more luxuriously cultural hotpots to add into the itinerary on a weekend to Lisbon, read Melanie Rickey's guide to spending 72 hours in Lisbon and Arrábida here.