We profiled some of Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos’ crochet-adorned ceramic animals previously. She also has a kennel’s worth of dogs in her body of work. These build on her process of appropriating and subverting pre-existing objects.
The dogs, as with some of her other works, are mass produced ceramic forms, which can be found decorating a typical home. Many of these dogs are adorned with her signature crochet work, but she also uses these figures to a disturbing effect in a comment about the commodification of animals.
A comment from the National Museum of Women in the Arts about Viriato, one of the artist’s dogs:
“Named for a first-century leader in the area of present-day Portugal, Viriato comprises a commercially-made ceramic dog clad in elaborate needlework. The lacy covering masks the details of the sculpture beneath and also competes visually for our attention. By combining what is essentially a mass-produced lawn ornament with traditional crochet, Vasconcelos reveals the dissonance between handcrafted and manufactured. At the same time, she forces viewers to confront their preconceptions about “feminine” craft and domesticity.”
In 2010 Vasconcelos had a solo exhibition at Haunch of Venison in London, titled I Will Survive. Among her works on display was Passerelle (Catwalk), a disturbing conveyer belt in which ceramic dogs hung from leather collars (though noose could apply here as well). The placid expressions on these mass produced forms starts to look accusatory. Writing for White Hot Magazine, Giovanni Aloi describes the diabolic contraption:
“In Passerelle (Catwalk) Vasconcelos uses ornamental ceramic dogs in order to address multiple concerns about our relationship with animals. The ceramic dogs in question belong to the family of kitsch objects that in Europe can be purchased in gardening centres as well as at refreshment stores in gas stations. Upon entering the gallery space, these dogs become symbols of our relationship with pure bred canines, referencing the manufacturing of perfect forms. The dogs hang from a mechanical overhead conveyor summoning the chilling echo of slaughterhouse processes. The conveyor lies still until a viewer pushes a foot pedal connected to the structure; as the machine is activated, the ceramic bodies begin to swing and hit each other. Noise of crashing ceramic invades the space; some bodies shatter, creating a field of dead animal fragments and shards on the floor underneath. I can’t help but stand bemused in front of the result, puzzled by the divergence of the emotional responses that the vision provokes. What brings us to push the pedal? As the carousel stops, would we want to see more and push it again?”
In the hands of a gifted artist like Vasconcelos even a lawn ornament can embody several themes, as her kennel proves.
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