Joana Vasconcelos' monumental Golden Independent Heart fuses one of the most distinctive motifs of Portuguese culture with the most quotidian of materials to create a remarkable work of sensuous splendour. Executed in 2004, this meticulously crafted filigree heart is the first in a group of three differently coloured sculptures inspired by the Coração de Viana, a traditional Portuguese pendant often given to newly wedded brides to bring good luck to their marriage. Where the colours of the red and black versions symbolize love and death respectively, the present work explicitly refers to wealth. Yet, where Viana hearts are typically wrought in gold wire, Vasconcelos has here fashioned its intricate arabesques from yellow plastic cutlery, painstakingly pieced together over a metal frame. In doing so, she seeks to convert globally homogenous goods into something with specific local connotations, whilst apparently commenting ironically on the realities of domestic duties. The humble nature of the chosen materials confuse the reading of an apparently romantic emblem, which, combined with its elaborate artisanship suggests it is both a celebration and parody of Portuguese life. Much like Vasconcelos' celebrated sculpture, A Noiva (The Bride, 2001), a larger-than-life chandelier constructed of thousands of tampons, this work provokes the viewer to consider both the overall structure of the sculpture and its component parts. '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' (J. Vasconcelos quoted in A. Pérez Rubio, From Micro to Macro and Vice Versa on http://joanavasconcelos.com/english/PerezRubio.pdf)
The visually compelling nature of Golden Independent Heart is lent a further sensory dimension with its accompanying soundtrack, which was also chosen for its significance to Portuguese culture. Suspended from the ceiling, the plastic heart revolves slowly and constantly to a recording by Amália Rodrigues, the legendary 'Queen of Fado', singing a mournful love song whose lyrics are echoed in the title of the work. Vasconcelos' ideas clearly follow on from a 'Pop' sensibility, channelling far-ranging influences from Marcel Duchamp, Claes Oldenburg, and Jeff Koons. Yet whilst Golden Independent Heart may evoke Koons' charmed hearts, indeed the red version hung juxtaposed with a Koons work at the recent Garage Centre for Contemporary Sculpture opening in Moscow, the work only bears a superficial resemblance to the elder artist's work. For although she shares a similar interest in luxury and craft, Vasconcelos' artistic vocabulary is firmly rooted in the vernacular of her native country and her perspective as a woman, allowing her to examine notions of gender, status, and national identity.