Tentacular Spectacular: Joana Vasconcelos defies gravity - and expectations - at MGM Macau

A multi-coloured patchwork octopus spreading its tentacles in the central plaza of the high ceiling central plaza of MGM Macau.
Joana Vasconcelos' latest work - an enormous, patchwork octopus - is spreading its tentacles in the central plaza of MGM Macau
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An enormous, colourful octopus clad in a riotous patchwork of velvet, crochet, sequins, beads, Oriental silk and LED lights has taken up residence in the central plaza of Macau’s vast MGM hotel, resort and casino complex.
The monumental sculpture is the work of Portuguese contemporary artist Joana Vasconcelos who first made her mark on the international art circuit with ‘The Bride,’ an 18th century-inspired candelabra made of 25,000 white tampons at the 2005 Venice Biennale.

In Macau, Vasconcelos' extravagant organic form – the largest installation she has ever created – showcases the artisanal knitting, crochet and traditional Portuguese Nisa embroidery that typically embellish her voluptuous soft sculptures.

The handcrafted elements deliberately bring crafts traditionally performed in a private domestic space by women into a different, more highly valued, perspective, says Vasconcelos.

The specially commissioned sculpture created in Vasconcelos’ Lisbon studio by a team of 52 specialists took ten days to install.  Part of the artist’s ‘Valkyries’ series evoking feminine figures of Norse mythology, Vasconcelos says she took inspiration from the plaza’s striking eight-meter-high aquarium.

'I was inspired by deep sea creatures with strange magical lights and so tried to create a floating creature above and around the aquarium.'

The installation marks two significant departures for the artist. Instead of her usual Pop-saturated bright colours, advice from a feng shui master helped create a noticeably softer palette. Synthetic filling was also replaced by inflatables enabling much larger and wider pieces to be suspended from the plaza’s skylight dome.

'It allowed me to make a connection with the architecture,' Vasconcelos explains. 'The work does not fill an empty space but instead connects with the architecture generating a new dynamic.'

'It also helped defy gravity!' she adds.

The soft sculptural work also references the artist’s personal connection with Macau. 'My grandmother was a painter and always spoke of Macau, where she lived in the 1950s, as a happy place. In a way I am coming back, but to a contemporary Macau that has a new energy. I’m really curious about this place. I have the feeling that anything could happen.'

Inside the MGM complex looking across to the central plaza which has an 8m-high aquarium in the middle.

The elaborate octopus is part of Vasconcelos' 'Valkyries' series, evoking the female warrior figures of Norse mythology. Vasconcelos also drew inspiration from the MGM complex's 8m-high aquarium, upon which the soft sculpture sits

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The multi-coloured octopus suspended from the plaza's skylight dome.

Suspended from the plaza's vast skylight dome, the sculpture took ten days to install

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A close-up of the artistry and materials used on a segment of the fixture wherein lies multi-coloured shapes and textures.

As well as a riotous combination of materials, Vasconcelos deliberately used traditional, artisanal techniques to bring domestic, typically feminine, craftsmanship into a more public sphere

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A close-up of parts of the octopus featuring LED lights, pom poms and crochet.

LED lights, pompoms and crochet: the Valkyrie octopus in construction

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Inside a studio with several different segments of the octopus being constructed.

Using a mix of velvet, sequins, silk, beads and LED lights, the voluptuous, ethereal and strange sea creature was contructed in Vasconcelos' Lisbon studio first

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Rows of multi-coloured frills on the floor of the studio.

Swathes of glittering frills fill the floor of Vasoncelos' studio, waiting to be attached to the floating sculpture

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The MGM's facade with a statue at the bottom and orang, blue and grey waves to the building's upper design.

The undulating waves of the MGM's façade make for an appropriate introduction to Vasconcelos' watery resident

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Inside the studio with parts of the octopus being worked on.

Some of the artist's 52-strong team get to work on the octopus

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Pictured is Vasconelos in a black and red dress standign in a studio with various sea creatures in multiple colours.

'I was inspired by deep sea creatures with magical lights,' says Vasconcelos

(Image credit: press)