Please note that this work has been requested for the upcoming Joana Vasconcelos exhibition to be held in Lisbon at the Berardo Collection Museum starting in March 2010.
Joana Vasconcelos's epically scaled pair of stiletto heels form a playful, yet powerful metaphor for the expectations and inclinations of contemporary womanhood. Created in 2009, Marilyn is the culmination of a series of shoe sculptures by the Portuguese artist that reflect on private and public spheres and the social roles traditionally assigned to women. As the only pair in this series, Marilyn continues the format of Vasconcelos's previous single shoe sculptures in that they are meticulously constructed out of hundreds of high-shine stainless steel pots and lids and named after significant heroines of popular culture.
Marilyn is inspired by the famous clip from The Seven Year Itch of Marilyn Monroe walking over an air-vent which has become an iconic moment of Twentieth Century womanhodd. Vasconcelos's chosen titles play a significant part in contributing to the multiplicity of meaning that her works engender and the names that have been attributed to these sculptures--including Dorothy, Cinderella, Priscilla, Carmen Miranda and Marilyn--refer to those emblems of glamour, beauty and romance who form persistent role models for feminine identity. This nomenclature, applied to the high-heeled shoe, is intended to speak of the power conferred by the art of seduction, whilst the sum of its parts tells a more modest tale.
Much like Vasconcelos' celebrated sculpture, A Noiva (The Bride, 2001), a larger-than-life chandelier constructed of thousands of tampons, Marilyn provokes the viewer to consider both the overall structure of the sculpture and its component pieces. 'I try to work with items that might be around the house,' she has explained, 'to conceptualise them, give them a new life and a new form, and then make them become a part of a larger object' (quoted in A. Pérez Rubio, From Micro to Macro and Vice Versa on http://joanavasconcelos.com/english/PerezRubio.pdf). By recontextualising the humble cooking pot in this way, Vasconcelos has created something monumental and spectacular out of the banal, whilst also passing an ironic comment on the fact that women are still widely expected to be both publically beautiful and domestically pre-disposed. Far from being demure, Marilyn is both monstrous and magnificent, taking up the baton of feminism in a grand statement that proves its aims are still relevant, particularly in an age of conspicuous consumerism fuelled by the fetishization of fashion. Yet, Vasconcelos does not describe herself as a feminist, but rather a proponent for equal human rights who works to transform the fear of being trapped by conventional notions of femininity and cultural identity into provocative sculptures that possess a rare and surprising beauty.