On the cover: ‘Everything is Ephemeral 3’ by Vhils
How did you go about creating the piece that appears on our cover?
It all starts with advertising posters, in this case from Lisbon. I carve the work into the posters, cutting through the layers that compose these agglomerates. The most interesting thing about these pieces is that I never really know how they will turn out – the result is always a combination between intentional design and randomness, as you can’t tell what lies beneath the first layer. I think of the whole process as a form of contemporary archaeology, as I delve into the layers created over time and bring to light something which has been buried beneath.
What’s the thinking behind the piece?
It is a reflection on the power that present-day advertising holds over individuals. We live in cities that are rife with these images that direct our daily lives: they tell us how we should live, what we should wear and eat and drink and drive and buy. It is overall a reflection on how contemporary society has replaced a model of development based on needs for one based on desires, and how much we let our individual identities be shaped by all this visual clutter which is permeated with ideological content.
Portugal has been badly affected by the financial crisis: can you describe the mood there?
The Portuguese are, in general, a more peaceful and phlegmatic people than their neighbours, and what really makes the headlines in Greece and Spain is the number of cars burned or the number of shops destroyed during demonstrations. There have been a few scuffles with the police in some demonstrations, but people here mostly go about their business and take things in their stride until the day when they can’t take it any longer and then explode. It took the Portuguese 48 years to get rid of the fascist dictatorship that ruled the country until 1974, and when they finally overthrew it, they did so without resorting to violence. Nowadays people are no longer this passive, but they demonstrate and protest without the need to burn, pillage and wreak destruction. I believe people are mostly trying to figure out what’s going to happen. Contrary to what most commentators, economists and politicians are telling us, people here believe this is going to take a long time to sort out – so some people are waiting to see how things develop, while others are somewhat paralysed by what it all means.
How have you seen Portugal change since the crisis?
We had one of the most qualified generations in the history of the country and now our economy cannot absorb it. So we are now witnessing a brain drain from these highly qualified young people to the rest of the world. This means that Portugal is basically losing its future. The current government is following the EU and IMF-imposed adjustment programme which is killing the middle class we had before, and is trying to solve the problem by means of a huge tax hike, which will only lead to a deeper recession and a greater deficit. I love my country, it’s a beautiful place with a huge diversity of landscapes and beaches and so on… but I don’t want it just for holidays, I still work there and want to continue working there and I believe we should not be obliged to leave due to failed policies supported by a corrupt political and economic elite which have been ruling in their own interest.
Do you see the crisis creating a new breed of artists?
Definitely. In some ways things are much more pure there, as there is not much money around for creative people, so they do it from the heart and for the sake of it. A new generation of artists is emerging, and due to the current crisis these are becoming much more politicised than before, and this makes me really happy.
Vhils’ solo show is at Lazarides Gallery 11 Rathbone Place, London W1T 1HR from 30th November 2012-5th January 2013. You can see more of Vhils’ work at alexandrefarto.com and at http://www.facebook.com/AlexandreFartoVHILS.
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