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Joana Vasconcelos to present Tree of Life , a monumental new installation.

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 Apolloand 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.


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