a solo exhibition by Alexandre Farto aka Vhils
5 June 2021 – 27 June 2021
MAGMA Gallery – Bologna
Photo: Alexander Silva
The use of doors has become prominent and recurring in the work of Portuguese visual artist Vhils, incorporating his experience with the urban environment. Largely unnoticed and perceived as simple objects of necessity, or partitions rendered meaningless when stripped of their purpose, for the artist, doors are fertile ground for exploration, imbued with profound symbolism.
This exhibition is a prime illustration of how the artist confronts us with the significance condensed within these wooden objects. Gathered from abandoned or derelict buildings, transformed through the artist’s characteristic bas-relief carving technique, they have taken on a new life, challenging the viewer to move beyond observation, and begin a process of understanding.
For Vhils, doors are portals. It is no coincidence that in Portuguese, the word for door (porta) is so similar to portal. They are an opening into a collective psyche that explores contrasting ideas: ownership and freedom, seclusion and inclusion, permeability and impermeability. The doors that comprise the monumental installation here displayed were created during the height of the pandemic, a time disrupted by isolation, fear, solitude and an acute sense of curtailed freedom. Portal pays homage to every person who experienced the hopelessness of being deprived of opening their own door.
Photo: Alexander Silva
Due to the pandemic, for this exhibition, the artist was forced to deviate from his usual process of traveling, engaging with and photographing his subjects, having to work remotely, arranging for long-distance interviews, relying only on the lens of a camera to create a connection. The people depicted here are anonymous, we do not know their names, their stories, but in this context, a clear appreciation of communal representation emerges: an understanding that they are us, and we are them.
“Portal” thus creates a feeling of community with strangers, a contradiction that simultaneously encapsulates one of humanity’s greatest qualities: empathy. These faces underline the importance of the crisis we have been dealt, embodying its psychological impacts and the despair of loneliness. Yet, on a more hopeful note, each piece stands as a totem, a portal to another place. Whether or not we are able to reach it, remains to be discovered.
The significance of presenting this body of work in a former church has not been overlooked. Both the church and the doors have been divested of their original purpose. Yet, they still retain their meaning: the church, no longer a place of worship, is still a church. The doors, no longer used to separate, enclose or release, are still doors. Essentially, both are portals, however, they now represent a passage to a different type of transience, underlining the power and meaning of objects, space and human intervention.