Joao Vasco Paiva


Hong Kong-based Portuguese artist João Vasco Paiva finds his practice in some of the city’s most obscure spaces. Edmund Lee meets him at his studio. Portrait by Calvin Sit.

It’s just as well that the Hong Kong art scene is claiming João Vasco Paiva as one of its own. For one thing, it’s unimaginable that the Portuguese artist would take up his current artistic path if he hadn’t moved to the city in 2006 after spending all his early years in his native country. Having developed a consistently meditative body of work which relieves the context and extracts the visual composition of some of the most commonplace signs and objects that one may encounter in the urban landscape, the 33-year-old artist, who started as a painter, is upfront about his sharper visual sensitivity towards the city – especially because he’s remaining a ‘half-alien, half-citizen’.

“When I first moved to Hong Kong, what impressed me most is not the high-rise buildings in Central or Admiralty but the buildings that are already old,” says Paiva, sitting in his studio in Wan Chai’s Foo Tak Building, which he shares with fellow artist Nadim Abbas. “It’s this kind of aesthetic that I was interested in.” In a way, Paiva’s focus isn’t so much on the notion of heritage or its social implications than it is the oft-neglected spaces that are shaped by the individual decisions of random people and, subsequently, the gradual erosion instigated by the passage of time. He adds: “While mapping the city, I think the back alleys are somehow like a backstage space. Buildings and people depend on them – but nobody goes in unless they’re using the space or actually working there.”

For his upcoming exhibition at Goethe-Gallery, which is presented by Edouard Malingue Gallery and opens in the same week as Art Basel’s first edition in Hong Kong, Paiva has decided on a title that, as abstract philosophising goes, couldn’t be more literal: he’s calling the show Objects Encrypted. Continuing with an interest in mediation that began when he was pursuing a Master in Fine Arts degree at City University’s School of Creative Media, Paiva is looking to present a software-mediated reconstruction of the forms, structures and compositions that he has found in two contrasting environments: the institutional places (in this case the architectural structures of the Hong Kong Arts Centre, where the Goethe-Gallery is housed), as well as what the anthropologist Marc Augé labelled as the ‘non-places’ (such as the motorways and parking grounds that the artist is exploring with his latest works).

Chance is a prominent factor in the art practice of Paiva, who, for instance, has created several small pieces for the show that were made by casting the worn-out surface of a street before turning the shapes into monochrome sculptures. “The main idea is to keep the objects clean while maintaining the texture,” he explains. “My first interest was in looking for a new way of composing things and of reducing the artistic practice to the framing [process]. I gave up some of the compositional decisions as my choice was [only on] what I’m going to frame. I do try to mock the process of erosion but I don’t try to reproduce it. I try to simply encrypt what comes out of it.”

Paiva’s appropriation of everyday reality for a form of sublimated expression will not be alien to his regular audience. For his 2011 solo exhibition at Saamlung Gallery, titled Palimpseptic, the artist created an electronic installation based on a set of subway station turnstiles – which retain their movement but are stripped of their real-life function – as well as a series of paintings that replicates the appearance of station signage minus the textual information. Both works were included in the Hong Kong Eye exhibition at London’s Saatchi Gallery from last December to this January, and are currently on view at ArtisTree as part of the return leg of the local contemporary art showcase.

As for his first solo show at Edouard Malingue Gallery later this year, Paiva is set to create, among other works, a new series that replicates the texture of the layers of advertising posters commonly found on the front of closed shops. “I’m interested in these acts of creation that are not dependent on one individual,” he says. “What interests me about chance is in its set-up, which in this case is the city – especially Hong Kong. I’m interested in the people and the culture, but I would feel very pretentious if I were to do something about that. I’d rather focus on the space and what these people [have] actually created.”

João Vasco Paiva’s solo exhibition Objects Encrypted is at Goethe-Gallery from May 20-Jun 22. Several other pieces by him are on view as part of the Hong Kong Eye exhibition at ArtisTree, until May 31.


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