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    Savouring the battle

    LISBON, PORTUGAL (AP) – As a former bouncer and black-belt karate instructor, Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos doesn’t shrink from the challenges thrown up by her latest lavish creation.

    The 51-year-old, renowned for her big, in-your-face installations, is now creating a ceramic wedding cake that’s 12 metres (m) high and 15m wide for exhibition in England.

    The Wedding Cake is mostly made of Portugal’s famous ceramic tiles called azulejos.

    Vasconcelos is using them in pastel pink, green, blue and yellow in what is her most ambitious outdoor project yet. And she savours the battle.

    “Every day you know that something will happen and something new will come up and you have to solve problems,” she said in a recent interview with The Associated Press.

    Her drive to make The Wedding Cake happen has already taken five years, being delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, since she first mentioned it to British investment banker Jacob Rothschild.

    Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos watches a worker glue ceramic tiles on a section of her ceramic wedding cake, at her studio in Lisbon. PHOTOS: AP
    Joana Vasconcelos poses with one of her works

    He wanted it for the gardens of Waddesdon Manor in southeast England, which hosts weddings. Rothschild, Vasconcelos said at her studio in a former riverside boathouse in Lisbon, became her “partner for this crazy journey”.

    Vasconcelos has built her reputation over the past two decades. Her trademark features are large, flamboyant pieces that juxtapose the high brow and low brow, draw on Portuguese handicraft traditions, allude to women’s perspectives, and possess a stealthy sense of humour.

    She made a splash on the international art scene at the 2005 Venice Biennale with A Noiva (The Bride), a five-metre-long chandelier.

    Her Marilyn, in 2009, is a giant pair of stiletto shoes, well over head height, made from stainless steel saucepans and lids.

    A mass-produced ceramic German Shepherd Dog is sheathed in an intricate length of crochet made by women in Portugal’s mid-Atlantic Azores Islands.

    In 2012, Vasconcelos became the first woman and the youngest artist to exhibit at the Palace of Versailles, drawing 1.6 million visitors. Four years ago, she became the first Portuguese with a retrospective at the Guggenheim Bilbao. The Wedding Cake will have three tiers, with stairs for people to walk up to the top. Placed in a wooded area, it will have water features and lighting.

    After the installation’s various sections are trucked to England, the effort of putting it all together will begin. The unveiling is tentatively scheduled for the end of May.

    Meanwhile, Vasconcelos is also working on getting her fourth dan in karate – another test of her mettle.

    “If you’re not a fighter, you can’t do karate,” she said.

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