A monumental new installation at Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes, Paris
28 April – 3 September 2023
Joana Vasconcelos will present a new installation, Tree of Life (Arbre de Vie) at Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes, Paris from 28 April 2023. Curated by Jean-François Chougnet, the site-specific work will take the form of a monumental tree sculpture and incorporate over 110,000 embroidered leaves, exploring the mythological tale of Apollo and Daphne. The project has been conceived in collaboration with the Centre des monuments nationaux as part of the Saison France Portugal 2022 which celebrated cross-cultural exchange between France and Portugal.
Eleven years after Joana Vasconcelos’ major exhibition at the Palace of Versailles, the Portugal-based, French-born artist returns to another French landmark, the Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes located on the eastern edge of Paris to present Tree of Life. The monumental new artwork takes inspiration from Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s masterpiece Apollo and Daphne (1622–1625), which depicts the mythological tale of the river nymph Daphne who transformed into a laurel tree to escape the lustful advances of the god of light Apollo. Vasconcelos’ work Tree of Life is a tribute to Daphne’s powerful gesture of independence and self-determination and depicts her final stage of transformation as the laurel tree which she becomes.
Measuring over 13 metres high and consisting of over 110,000 hand-made embroidered textile leaves, created using a traditional Portuguese technique, Tree of Life honours Daphne’s beauty and sensuality. The sculpture was created to work in dialogue with the architecture of Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes, filling the space and taking reference from the surrounding stained-glass windows, reinforcing the connection between heaven and earth.
Joana Vasconcelos, artist, said: “To honour Daphne’s beauty and sensuality, we had to create an elegant and eye-catching tree. Emerging from the floor of the Sainte-Chapelle, the artwork creates a dialogue with its stunning surroundings, using warm colours and lots of gold. We started the project working from home during lockdown and ended up creating a textile sculpture that parallels Daphne’s powerful gesture of independence and self-determination in a setting of limitation. It is a life affirming piece to come out of the constraints of the pandemic.”
The work also draws inspiration from Catherine de Medici’s role in finishing the Chapel Sainte-Chapelle de Vincennes where the work will be presented. She visited the Chateau de Vincennes regularly and took care to oversee the decoration of the chapel, a way of asserting her power as a woman at the time. Catherine de Medici also encouraged the planning of thousands of elm trees around Chateau de Vincennes.
Jean-François Chougnet, curator, said: “A vertical link between heaven and earth, in the Bible the tree is indeed a symbol of man’s relationship with God. Because it provides shade, it’s a place to stay, a privileged place to meet. The Bible ends in Apocalypse with a tree of life that bears fruit every month and whose leaves are medicine in the midst of heavenly Jerusalem. Symbol of prodigality, generosity and eternal life, it also reminds human beings that they do not have absolute power over people and things. The tree reminds us to live with respect for the environment.”
And on 8 June 2023, Vasconcelos will unveil Wedding Cake, her most ambitious project to date at Waddesdon Manor, UK.
About Joana Vasconcelos
Born in 1971, Joana Vasconcelos is a Portuguese contemporary visual artist with a 30-year career, renowned for her monumental sculptures. Drawing inspiration from everyday life, pop references, Portuguese traditions and the opulence of the Baroque, Joana Vasconcelos also establishes a dialogue with artists who preceded her, such as Bernini or Duchamp. In the footsteps of Niki de Saint Phalle or Louise Bourgeois, her work gathers a wide variety of media and materials, from video to textile. She updates the arts & crafts concept to the 21st century, channelling old techniques into contemporary practice. Her immersive site-specific sculptures and customised installations work in dialogue with the architecture of the place, calling upon the interaction of the viewer. Her thought-provoking yet colourful and uplifting art reaches audiences from all ages and walks of life.
International acclaim arrived with the first Venice Biennale ever curated by women with The Bride in 2005, followed by Trafaria Praia, the first floating pavilion in the Biennale representing Portugal in 2013. The youngest artist and the only woman ever to exhibit at the Palace of Versailles, her 2012 exhibition was the most visited in France in 50 years. In 2018, Joana Vasconcelos became the first Portuguese artist to exhibit at Guggenheim Bilbao with a major retrospective, which was one of the most visited in the museum’s history and reached 4th place in The Art Newspaper’s annual exhibitions’ Top 10.
Her work has graced major museums and galleries, such as Palazzo Grassi, The Thyssen-Bornemisza, Royal Academy of Arts, Manchester Art Gallery, São Paulo’s CCBB, Istanbul Modern, Moscow’s Garage Center for Contemporary Culture, La Monnaie Paris, Palais de Tokyo and the Hermitage. Joana Vasconcelos’ art can be found in major international collections, such as those of Calouste Gulbenkian, Coleção Berardo, The Ömer Koç, Tia Collection, François Pinault and Louis Vuitton’s Foundations.
In total, more than 30 awards have been granted to the visual artist throughout her career. In February 2022, Joana Vasconcelos became an Official of the Arts and Letters Order by the French Ministry of Culture, adding to the degree of Commander of Infante D. Henrique Order by the Presidency of the Portuguese Republic in 2009. She was considered Personality of the Year by the Foreign Press Association in 2012 and won the Contemporary Art Prize in Israel in 2013.
In 2012, the artist created Joana Vasconcelos Foundation aiming to promote arts for all. Besides managing her art collection, it collaborates regularly with other philanthropic entities to support social causes, develop fundraising initiatives, create special editions and/or prints. Every year it awards scholarships to encourage the study of the arts.
In May 2022, Joana Vasconcelos contributed to the carte blanche granted by Lille3000. With this, Vasconcelos brought together not only an exhibition for Maison Folie Wazemmes but also two large scale Valkyries. The first, inaugurated with a choreography performed by youngsters, created a dialogue with the local dance scene and its community. The second welcomed all travellers arriving to Gare Lille Flandres. Between 14 May and 02 October 2022, Joana took part in, Utopia, the sixth thematic edition of Lille3000 which offered an opportunity to engage with the sustainability of the planet, a theme very close to Joana’s heart.
In February 2023, in a special collaboration with the French House of Dior and using 20 fabrics from the Autumn/Winter 2023-2024 collection, Joana Vasconcelos created a monumental site-specific textile structure for the show, entitled Valkyrie Miss Dior. The simultaneous presentation to the world took place on February 28, 2023, in the Jardin des Tuileries, in Paris.
About Centre des monuments nationaux
The archaeological sites of Glanum and Carnac, the Montmajour and Mont-Saint-Michel abbeys, the Châteaux d’If and Azay-le-Rideau, the Domaine National de Saint-Cloud, the Arc de Triomphe and the Savoye and Cavrois villas are just some of the 100 state-owned national monuments entrusted to the Centre des monuments nationaux.
The leading public, cultural and tourism operator with nearly 10 million visitors per year, the Centre des monuments nationaux is responsible for the conservation of exceptional monuments, as well as their grounds and gardens, and their opening to the public. The diversity of these sites exemplifies the wealth of French heritage.
Thanks to its adapted pricing policy, the CMN allows all audiences to discover this monumental heritage. 85% of its operations are self-funded, notably from income generated by admission fees, gift and book shop purchases, private hire and patronage. Founded on an equalising system, the Centre des monuments nationaux is a stakeholder in heritage-based solidarity. Cultural and scientific actions are carried out at the beneficiary monuments across the entire network. In addition, after having restored and opened the Hôtel de la Marine in June 2021, the CMN is restoring and leading the project to open the Château de Villers-Cotterêts in 2022. Finally, CMN is asserting itself as a major player in the digital world with the Heritage Incubator launched in 2018.