Over the last ten years, Portuguese visual artist Alexandre Farto aka Vhils (b. 1987) has been traveling and working around the world, developing an ongoing reflection on contemporary urban societies and the fertile complexity of the modern city. Materialized in a wide-range of media and disparate contexts, this reflection has today matured into a significant artistic statement on the present-day human condition.
Mirroring the very forces of destruction and creation at work in our urban environments, Vhils creates by removing part of the surface layers of the mediums he engages with—carving, cutting, drilling, etching and even blasting his way through them with explosives. The artist compares this process of “creative destruction” to the work of an archaeologist who removes layers of soil in order to expose what lies buried beneath. For Vhils, there is a poetic beauty that speaks of the passage of time trapped beneath these layers which he brings to light, helping make visible that which is invisible.
Using the urban landscape and some of its most expressive components both as subject matter and prime material, Vhils’ artistic practice juxtaposes and dissects symbolic imagery and visual tropes present in the city with representations of its inhabitants as a means of exploring how individuals are both shaped by and help shape their surrounding environment. In this age of globalized development and the increasingly uniform imprint it is leaving on societies worldwide, his work explores fundamental issues such as the singularity of human identity and the erosion of cultural uniqueness in face of the alienating effects of modernization and mass urbanization, the saturated conditioning of the dominant visual discourse, and the prevailing culture of accelerated transformation, obsolescence and replacement.
Rooted in this humanist narrative, Ethereal is a unique exhibition that brings together an eclectic assortment of works and presents them alongside each other in a single space, seeking to establish a visual dialogue that highlights the connecting threads that run between them. Like an ensemble of present-day artifacts, they convey the textural heritage and human memory of various locations Vhils has been working in, each brought to light through the artist’s subtractive touch. Expressively rendered in a variety of mediums—from cut and torn advertising posters to acid- etched metal plates, from bas-relief sculpted walls to hand-carved wooden doors, intricate styrofoam sculptural panoramas, and bleach-eaten screen prints—this exercise of exposure and recovery emphasizes the delicate nature and poetic charge that stand as the essence they carry within.
As a whole, Ethereal speaks of both the beauty of the commonly undervalued materials that Vhils works with—recovered from the profane space of the landfill, rearranged and transferred to the sacred space of the gallery as prime aesthetic objects—and the delicate, almost spiritual essence trapped inside them, exquisitely combining the mundane with the sublime. Playing with the palimpsest quality of the city’s material fabric, Vhils brings forth a legion of poignant, expressive portraits that offer us a poetic respite from the inexorable dissonance disgorged by modern life.
Together with the artist’s aspiration to humanize the urban landscape, Ethereal seeks to help us consider the present human condition in face of the entropic complexity that lies at the heart of the new global paradigm. Bringing out the harmonic consistency that unites these artworks, it is at once an analytical look at the characteristics of contemporary urban life and a poetic gesture highlighting the identitarian transformation at the centre of this new chapter in human development.
Ethereal is a very special show that closes a ten-year cycle that saw me work in various cities around the globe in a bid to reflect on the accelerated pace of change and increased cultural homogenization that characterizes our contemporary urban societies and their impact on the present human condition. Comprising a unique selection of works in a broad range of media, its unifying thread lies in the delicate, symbolic essence contained within the materials which is brought to light through a subtractive process of release. Some of the pieces on view are directly inspired by Miami.
It is with great pleasure that I’m bringing this exhibition to GGA Gallery in Miami, located inside the iconic Wynwood Walls, where I have presented and created work on a number of occasions. GGA is a unique arts platform that has contributed immensely towards raising the global urban art movement to another level and I’m honored to be a part of their creative endeavors.
– Alexandre Farto aka Vhils