Revelling in the weave at Carlow Arts Festival – Joanna Vasconcelos

Joana Vasconcelos –Valkyrie Trousseau


Valkryie Trouseau (Enxoval) copy










A lucky break. I returned to my hometown in time for the Carlow Arts Festival (Ireland) this year. At the Visual Centre for Contemporary Art renowned Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos displayed the Valkyrie Trousseau (Valquiria Enxoval). This Valkryie was part of her 2012 summer exhibition at Versailles which had a record turnout with 1.6 million visitors. And now the Valkryie is in Carlow.

Trousseau Vasconcelos copy


This mammoth suspended animation fills the main gallery and as you walk underneath and around many unexpected things spark the synapses. Vasconcelos’ work evokes notions of collective identity and the status of women and even class distinction. The sumptuous fabrics, dripping with tassels, jesterlike extensions writhing outwards irregularly and unruly. It is not often you find installations successfully mix high art and craft culture but Visual has it this year.


The Valkyries are figures that fly over the battlefield and give a new life to the bravest warriors who died fighting. Valkyrie Trousseau is a collaborative work between Vasconcelos and artisans of the Portuguese town of Nisa, a locality renowned for it arts and crafts.

In past generations Nisa was like most other European traditional towns. However this community was distinct in its practice where young girls sew and create impressive projects for many years earning a significant dowry, often earning enough to purchase a house for their marriage. The young woman would then continue to work and earn in such way. Here was a community that was empowered by the desire to make. You can see some rural aesthetics in the details using traditionally local motifs and techniques from Nisa.

Vasconcelos  copyI had learned from a talk presented by curator Enrique Juncosa and studio director Lucio Moura that this particular Valkyrie had shown in Denmark and at Versailles. The collaborative work itself was not without its challenges. The artisans initially took great umbrage when seeing how Vasconcelos was cutting, splicing and repositioning their detailed work. Soon differences were put aside as the Valkyrie took shape.

Vasconcelos holds a black belt in Karate and had at one time considered going professional. She was head of security at one of the notable night clubs “Lux” in Lisbon. It was difficult to get visiting curators in Lisbon to visit her studio by the Lisbon docks where she has a staff of more than 40 working including a number of architects, welders , seamstresses ect. She installed Bride (A Noiva -La Mariée) – a chandelier of tampons at the nightclub. The work finally attracted the right attention and two years later Vasconcelos was at the Venice Biennale.


The show continues at Visual Centre for Contemporary Art , Carlow  to August 31st 2014.



Understanding the  extensive collaborative work needed for Vasconcellos work, it is reassuring to encounter Inga Hamilitons work in the next gallery at Visual – another textile delight.

photo courtesy of the artist copy









photo courtesy of the artist

In keeping with the ancient narrative next door is the Goddess Mother of all. “La Pachamama Santa Maria is an ancient as the Universe and as fertile as the land. Share with her your joys and the whispering pots on her cape will capture your woes.” Artist Inga Hamilton has processed and hand treated every piece of felt and weave. The clay for the whispering pots were collected from hills of her hometown.

Inga Hamilton La Pachama copy










The two parts (cape and head dress ) of the installation are full of surprises and heavily interlaced with curious textiles and clays. This work will be showcased in the US in 2015 in two states Pennsylvania and Virginia.



And finally a quick look at the community street art that has been showing during the festival .

I'm watching you dustbin, Dublin Street, Carlow




“I’ve been watching you” dustbin , Dublin Street, Carlow

Carlow Court House front signposts




Signposts outside Carlow Courthouse







Wheel barrow Carlow arts festival


Wheelbarrow of flora, Dublin Street , Carlow


Knitted bikes






Bikes safely wrapped up within Capuchin Friary railings.






It was so good to be home for this year’s festival, to see the town pulsing and buzzing with unexpected surprises, street food, family,  friends and of course some fireworks .

Just like Chinese New Year!


Barrow fireworks