Joana Vasconcelos I’M YOUR MIRROR at Kunsthal, Rotterdam

Joana Vasconcelos Marylin 2011 Stainless steel saucepans

The idea of using objets trouvé as works of art was first conceived and presented by Marcel Duchamp with his 1917 piece I. Mutt, a signed porcelain urinal. The idea that anything could become art simply by (metaphorically or literally) putting it on a plinth and showing it in a gallery has continued to the current day. It is the presentation which marks the object out as something special, that and any additions, alterations or comments the artist choses to make.

Joana Vasconcelos takes, with much of her work, the whole genre a giant step forward. Her 2012 piece Lilicoptère must be the ultimate objet trouvé – it’s a helicopter, a real gold-plated helicopter. Where she found that and what it cost, I hate to imagine. Adorned with Swarovski crystals and pink ostrich feathers it becomes a fantastic flying dream, a dream your average earth-bound ostrich will never realise. The soft machine has taken on a real personality, its cheeky Tweety Pie face demanding that you love it.

The ironically named Call Centre is a three meter Colt automatic pistol made from about 150 black telephones, their lifeless receivers dangling helplessly from the barrel.

There is a giant pair of high-heel shoes, entitled Marylin, made from goodness-knows-how-many shiny new saucepans and their lids. There is an armchair made from aspirin blister packs and the piece which gives its name to the exhibition, I’m Your Mirror, a giant eye-mask made from hundreds of mirrors set in bronze.

With many of the sculptures it is not immediately obvious what they are made from, like the huge chandelier made from 14,000 tampons or the group of three giant flower-like sculptures put together using hundreds of brand-new irons – perhaps with an acknowledgement of another iconic Dada piece, Man Ray’s The Gift – a flat iron with a neat row of small nails stuck to the smooth surface. But perhaps the definitive homage piece is a urinal set at usable height on the wall but covered in brightly coloured, intricate crochet.

And it is this softness that defines les objets not trouvé, many of which are made from bright, gaudy even, soft fabrics. But with all pieces, it is the juxta-positioning, the contrasts, that creates the impact – a flying machine adorned with feathers from a bird that cannot fly, objects usually concealed in dark places giving light and a mask that reveals rather than conceals – and I won’t even mention the urinal.

This is a monumental exhibition by a Portuguese artist whom I suspect you will either love or hate, but an artist whose work you will not be able to ignore. Highly recommended.   Michael Hasted   30th July 2019

I Am Your Mirror continues at Kunsthal until 17th November