VHILS – Visceral
We have the pleasure to exhibit Visceral by Vhils.
Alexandre Farto / Vhils | Visceral
Growth and decay are intrinsic parts of the natural process of change which underlies everything. Nothing is static. All matter is a permanent, continual flow of moving particles, rearranging and realigning themselves into new patterns that create temporary forms. It is only natural, as human beings, for our creations and accomplishments, our shortcomings and mistakes to be inevitably bound to this axiomatic principle. And yet, as human beings, we have been increasing and accelerating this pace of change beyond what is seemingly the reasonable scope of necessity.
Visceral offers a reflection on the fast-paced process of change the new paradigm of global urbanism has set in motion, and looks into the consequences and the inevitable victims it leaves in its wake. Visceral is an exposure of the somewhat lost essence of humanity that seems to lie beneath the rubble created by unrelenting material progress. Visceral is a consideration on the cultural and emotional memory left behind in the race for progress and development intrinsically connected to urbanity.
Since starting the “Scratching the Surface” series in 2007, Alexandre Farto (b.1987), who also signs his work as Vhils, has been looking into and exposing the dark shadows that lie behind the present-day model of development and the material aspirations it encompasses.
As Jean Baudrillard pointed out, architecture and urbanism are the operational semiology of the “general economy of the system” 1. The proposition contained in the urbanized space of the city extends beyond its physical territory and its material constructions, comprehending an all-encompassing cultural enclosure with behaviour models rooted in the foundations of the media, advertising, the designs of consumerism and the use of public space. These increasingly reflect the propositions behind a new civilizational paradigm of global urbanism, as cities around the world become uniform environments that often seem to have more in common with each other than with their surrounding context, consigning the cultural characteristics that once defined the uniqueness of nations to the background.
Visceral follows the work developed in the “Scratching the Surface” series Vhils has been presenting around the world, both indoors and outdoors, and which has consisted of large-scale pieces based on human portraits and images of urbanity the artist has been carving onto derelict, decaying surfaces in simple contrasts, revealing the rough layers that lie beneath. The fundamental premise behind the series is the act of working with the city itself as the prime material, using the urban environment or what it offers in its most dilapidated, derelict spaces both as a location for his pieces and as a source for the materials he recovers and works into his exhibitions. The intricate web of cause and effect between the city and its people, therefore, lies at the heart of both his conceptual and his material propositions. “Scratching the Surface” is, ultimately, an act of imbuing life into lifeless forms, of reinstating a symbolic degree of humanity into places and objects which have been de-humanized, subverting and rearranging their original purpose.
By highlighting the poetic value of decay – both natural and brought about by human intervention –, Vhils explores the ephemeral nature that underlies all things, but also questions the necessity of catalyzing change based on the practice of development for the sake of development, regardless of the social, cultural and historical heritage razed in its wake. His creations reflect not only the violence inherent to the changes wreaked by the sprawl of the urban environment – a notion he explores by resorting to practices which emphasize the act of creating by means of destruction – but also its consequences, as simplicity gives way to complexity, destroying what he sees as an essential composite of personal, cultural and historical layers which, in a symbolic form, lies at the root of all things human. This key concept in Vhils’s work – that everyone and everything is ultimately shaped by this imbrication of layers – sees him taking up a practice of exposure, delving into the past like an archaeologist, bringing to light certain essential elements which he fears may have been buried beneath or forgotten along the path of development: a notion of purity, a more humanized dimension of life.
Visceral is not only a reflection on the increasing global uniformity of the urban environment, but also on the cycle of consumption and waste inherent to the model of development associated with it, and the safeguard of the people who lie at the heart of this transformation. By reusing materials which have been thrown out or left behind, Vhils is not effecting a mere operation of displacement in the tradition of the ready-made as, besides highlighting the connection between the value of objects and the context they are displayed in, he also reinstates them with a symbolic representation of life, emphasizing their connection with personal and cultural histories.
This dual reflection is brought about by the artist’s practice of working both outdoors and indoors, the latter with recourse to materials found in situ and worked in connection with the context of the urban environment he has been exploring. Taken as a whole, the interventions on walls, on posters, on wood and on metal all speak of the same reality, the same people, the same environment and the same issues, stressed by the efficacy of the technical means he has chosen to work with, and sharing with the viewer a complicit look into the notions of collective and individual identity, the dichotomies of hand-made and mass produced, tradition and modernity, and the notions of urbanization, development, consumerism, waste and the underlying nature of the ephemeral.
Visceral also offers a connection with the artist’s own process of globalization, catching him in the midst of a cycle of travel which has seen him develop work in various places around the world, where he has witnessed the same process in course, regardless of latitude or culture of origin.
Visceral is, ultimately, a reflection on what lies deep inside, of both ourselves and our cultural edifices, on the deep-rooted essence of what makes us human and connects us to each other and to the world that surrounds us.
1 Jean Baudrillard, Kool Killer, ou l’Insurection par les Signes, in “L’ Échange Symbolique et la Mort”, Gallimard, Paris, 1976, pp. 118-128.
Alexandre Farto (b. 1987) has been writing graffiti and expressing his visual poetry under the name of Vhils since the early 2000s. He grew up in Seixal, an industrialized suburb across the river from Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. He got into graffiti in his early teens and became proficient in bombing trains. He was particularly influenced by the transformations brought on by the intensive urban development which the country underwent in the 1980s and 1990s. As the countryside around Lisbon was taken over by the sprawling suburbs, he saw graffiti as the perfect tool to both explore and express his ideas on the urban environment. His skills became attuned to experimenting, researching and interacting with public space, picking up tools such as stencilling and non-conventional media that enabled him to start taking his artwork seriously and start to expand the boundaries and limits of visual expression, both outdoors and indoors, both solo and with the VSP collective. After trying out graphic design and 2D/3D animation, he moved to London in 2007 to study Fine Arts at the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, and started a working partnership with Pictures on Walls. In 2008 he took part in the Cans Festival, where his “Scratching the Surface” series was exposed to a wide audience and highly acclaimed. Since then he has been on a roller coaster of creative production, achieving recognition for his poetic, groundbreaking and unique style of work. He presently works with Lazarides Gallery in London, and the Vera Cortês Art Agency in Lisbon. His first solo show for Lazarides took place in July 2009, and since then he has been travelling and creating site-specific pieces and participating in exhibitions in several countries around Europe, North and South America and many other places in between.