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Art boat to float through Portugal’s wine country

Tourists will soon be able to take a river cruise on Joana Vasconcelos’s ferry from the Venice Biennale

Vasoncelos decorated the outside of the ferry with hand-painted, ceramic blue and white tiles

A Lisbon city ferry refashioned into a floating art pavilion for the 2013 Venice Biennale by the artist Joana Vasconcelos is to have a new life in Portugal.

Mário Ferreira, the owner of Douro Azul, a company that runs river cruises through Portugal’s wine-making region, has bought Vasconcelos’s art ferry to add it to his fleet of tourist vessels. “You will be able to buy tickets for it starting in April,” Vasconcelos told The Art Newspaper.

“Keeping this project alive, I would not even have dreamed it was possible,” she added.

When the artist was chosen to represent Portugal at the Venice Biennale she said she chose a Lisbon city ferry as the basis of her work because it resembled a Venetian vaporetto. “We wanted to bring something to Venice that connected with the local people.”

Vasoncelos decorated the outside of the ferry with hand-painted, ceramic blue and white tiles that show a contemporary view of Lisbon and recall a spectacular 18th-century mosaic view of the city. Inside, Vasconcelos transformed the main deck by covering every surface with a variety of textiles and hand-knitted materials strewn with LED lights creating a fairy-tale landscape of twinkling organic forms.

For the duration of the Venice Biennale’s six-month run, the floating pavilion, entitled Trafaria Praia, was moored next to the Giardini and sailed around the Venetian lagoon several times a day.

The art boat was a favourite among biennale visitors and Vasconcelos said she received many invitations to display it, “from Macau to Montecarlo; there was even someone who wanted to show it on the lake in Zurich. But it’s very expensive to move.”

When it is not running art cruises in Portugal, the ferry will be moored in Lisbon a short walk away from Vasconcelos’s studio. “I hope to open the studio to the public and create an exhibition space there,” she said. “Visitors would then be able to see the ferry and my studio at the same time.”

Meanwhile, the artist is the subject of a large exhibition at Manchester Art Gallery which includes a major new installation entitled Britannia, a riotous patchwork of patterns, textures, materials and found objects sewn together, which dominates the staircase linking the gallery’s 19th-century building to its more recent extension. Several other works made specifically for the show are on view including Bond Girl, 2014, a plaster garden statue of a nude goddess holding a lamp above her head, which Vasconcelos has covered in an intricate lace dressing and installed near 19th-century sculptures of Venus and Atalanta, a mythological hunter.

Joana Vasconcelos: Time Machine is at Manchester Art Gallery until 1 June

Inside, Vasconcelos covered every surface with a variety of textiles strewn with LED lights, creating a fairy-tale landscape
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