Debris – Works by Alexandre Farto aka Vhils features more than 20 works, including four new public murals inspired by Macau. The show will take place at the Navy Yard No.1 –Contemporary Art Center.

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Photo: Jose Pando Lucas

The critically acclaimed artist’s first solo exhibition in Macau will further explore Vhils’ ongoing reflections on the nuanced relationships between contemporary urbanscapes and their inhabitants. Born in Portugal, Vhils began his career as a graffiti writer in the early 2000s and is known for developing a unique visual poetry that exemplifies the interdependent relationship between contemporary life and its urban context.

New billboard pieces made from posters gathered on the streets of Macau will be shown alongside door carvings, while a slow-motion captured video of Macau’s streets adds an immersive viewing experience.

See also: Art Roundup: Must-See Exhibitions In Macau

The exhibition’s theme of debris is similarly manifested outside of the gallery context in the form of four public murals: two at Macau Portuguese School (Avenuda de D. João IV), one at Rua dos Clérigos (Old Taipa Village) and a fourth at KEI TAC Grocery (Rua Direita Carlos Eugénio, Taipa).

Vhils' groundbreaking carving technique, based on removing the surface layers of walls and other media with non‑conventional tools, has been hailed as one of the most compelling approaches to art created in the urban art scene.

From stencil painting to wall carvings, billboards to screen prints, pyrotechnic explosions to 3D modelling and installation to music videos, Vhils has been exploring his concept of the aesthetics of vandalism in a plurality of media, continuously pushing the boundary of artistic expression.

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Alexandre Farto aka Vhils (Photo: Vera Marmelo)

What is the meaning of your pseudonym Vhils?
Vhils is a name I came up with when I was painting illegal graffiti. It has no meaning beyond its letters. It's simply the result of putting together some of the letters I liked to write and draw the most and which enabled me to paint and write faster. When I began exhibiting my work I was already known as Vhils so I decided to keep the moniker alongside my real name.

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Photo: Fernando Guerra

Please tell us about the overall theme of the Debris exhibition in Macau. And how’s your collaboration with HOCA? What’s the difference between this one and the exhibition in Hong Kong in 2016?
Debris is an on-going travelling exhibition where each instalment builds upon the body of works showcased in the previous city it was presented in. The overall concept of the series is to work with various local environments and create a reflection on the similarities and differences between each location while looking into the concept of the forging of identity in the contemporary city.

As the second instalment of the series, the show in Macau will present a new series of works inspired by the territory exhibited alongside part of the body of works presented last year in Hong Kong, creating a dialogue between the two. The concept was created in the scope of last year's solo exhibition for Hong Kong Contemporary Art (HOCA) Foundation, and they have remained as co-organisers for the series in partnership with local institutions. This instalment was organised by the Cultural Affairs Bureau of the Macao SAR Government.

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Photo: Courtesy of Vhils Studio/Stanley Cheng

What influenced or inspired the choice of locations for the four public murals in Macau that are part of this exhibition?
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In part, it was their availability, but I was looking for walls that had good public exposure and that had interesting layers I could work with. I like to work with old walls that have rich layers that have slowly built over time.

Each wall has its own distinctive layers, capturing something of the local environment and the history of the place, and this is what I try to make visible. These murals are also part of the exhibition, creating a connection between the works and the reflection presented indoors and the public space of the city.

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Photo: Courtesy of Vhils Studio/André Santos

What artists or schools of art have had the most influence on your work?
I admire the work of many artists, although I feel that my work has been more influenced by the small, mundane details of life than by other people's work. Both graffiti and the urban environment itself had a key role in shaping my perception of the world and my ideas.

Despite not claiming any direct influences from them, among the artists whose work I admire are Gordon Matta-Clark, Banksy, JR, Blu, Katharina Grosse, Anish Kapoor, Cai Guo-Qiang, Zhang Dali, AkaCorleone, ±MaisMenos±, Os Gêmeos, Barry McGee, Faile, Interesni Kazki, Cyrcle, Word 2 Mother, Martha Cooper, Conor Harrington, How & Nosm, Finok, and PixelPancho, to name but a few.

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Photo: Courtesy of Vhils Studio/Fernando Guerra

In architecture, deconstructivism describes those who rejected the rules of modernism, such as ‘form follows function’, ‘purity of form’ and ‘truth to materials’. Does this term describe your approach to art?
Deconstructivism is an approach to architecture based on the distortion of shapes. What I try to do through my work is not connected with deconstruction but rather with the principle of destruction itself, to make people reflect on the connection between creation and destruction, and how an act of destruction can be used for creative purposes.

This is something I brought over from graffiti, which is fundamentally an act of aesthetic vandalism. It defaces while being an act of creation. I like to play with this concept, distorting the notion of vandalism while turning it into something positive. The cycle of creation/destruction is integral to life. Even when you're writing or drawing on a white sheet of paper you're essentially subtracting light from its background. And in order to produce this sheet of paper you also had to destroy the tree the wood pulp came from. Creation is transformation, and transformation always entails destruction and replacement.

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Photo: Courtesy of Vhils-Studio/ Alexandre Farto

We understand that explosives, a weapon commonly associated with revolutionaries, are among the tools employed in the creation of your art? Are you a revolutionary as well? If so, what is your goal?
The use of explosives in my work is a means to emphasise a particular concept. It came about as a natural development from the destructive work I do with walls and other surfaces with industrial tools. The idea was triggered by the 2008 financial crisis and the ensuing recession that shook the world. These had huge consequences in Europe, and Portugal in particular. It was impressive to see how such a seemingly insignificant event could have such drastic and lasting consequences. From watching it unfold, and how people reacted to it, I realised how history repeats itself and how simple it was during a crisis for a small spark to set off all the explosive issues we tend to think of as being resolved beneath the veneer of civilisation.

So the use of explosives is essentially a metaphor for how volatile stability and social cohesion really are, how under pressure we can easily see the rise of conflicts, protectionism, extremism and prejudice, which we think of as being under control in times of prosperity and social peace. The aim is, once again, to invite people to reflect on these issues, it has no revolutionary intent.

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Photo: Jose Pando Lucas

The removal of an existing form is often perceived as a destructive act. But is it more akin to purging, an act that purifies?
The objective behind working with creative destruction is to symbolically make visible that which is invisible at a time when everything we see on the surface of things is all about appearances instead of substance. This fast-paced model of development we are following, rooted in a culture of obsolescence that pushes for the constant replacement of things, leaves us little time to absorb changes and make something significant of them.

There is a constant and huge build up of layers that become irrelevant almost as soon as they are added. What I'm trying to do is to dig into the layers of our material culture, to destroy and remove the more recent ones, in order to unearth something more pure that was left behind. The fact that I expose the raw interior of a brick wall carved with the portrait of someone who lives in that city is a symbolic way of trying to find something of this lost essence of ours amid all the chaos of visual information we are subjected to every day in the urban environments we live in.

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Photo: Jose Pando Lucas

Much of your work is created in very public areas. Do you, like Hegel, consider the spectator of the work of art is as important as the art maker?
For sure, both the spectator and the context. When I work in the public space I'm creating a dialogue with the materials and with the city, but also with the people who will be interacting with the piece. The idea is to participate in the public space but most of all to make art part of our everyday lives and open discussions about our world.

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Photo: Jose Pando Lucas

Among the works in the Debris exhibition are posters gathered on the streets of Macau, door carvings on doors collected in the region, as well as video of Macau’s streets. Do these new media represent an evolution of your work?

 None of these mediums in themselves are new to my work but this is the first time I'm doing two insightful projects involving two different cities that will be exhibited side by side in a single show. Let's see the result.

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Photo: Jose Pando Lucas

Do you have an ideal ‘canvas’?
I like working with anything that can provide texture and layers capable of creating contrast, allowing me to develop a dialogue with the materials and the tools I work with. But chipping away at the surfaces of walls with rich layers that speak of the history of a given place are definitely a favourite.

Debris – Works by Alexandre Farto aka Vhils
June 1-November 5
Free admission
Navy Yard No.1‑ Contemporary Art Center, Rua de S. Tiago da Barra,
+853 6330 8509, hoca.org

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Tags: Vhils, Hong Kong Contemporary Art Foundation, Alexandre Farto, Macau Contemporary Art Center, Macau Art Exhibition