Sound design: soundslikenuno aka xullaji
Text: João Pinharanda
Video Production: Guilherme Proença
Galeria Vera Cortês, 2021
Since 2014, Vhils (Alexandre Farto) has been shooting, at extremely slow speeds, everyday views of cities all over the world: Beijing, Cincinnati, Hong Kong, Lisbon, Los Angeles, Macau, Mexico City, Paris, and Shanghai, being just some of the cities where he worked, and that involve us and grab our attention.
In 2018, in the rooms of Cent Quatre, the cultural centre in Paris, Vhils presented a first version of this set of urban recordings. It was a sequence of flat projections, each one simulating, because of their size, the monumentality of widescreens. The scale established between the projected image and the audience created a direct confrontation between the viewer and the urban footage – the surrounding architecture, the pedestrians, and the passing cars. The spectator followed the slow-moving visual elements recorded in each “panorama” and blended in with them, altering their own momentum around the exhibition space, without realisation.
Now, at Galeria Vera Cortês, fragments of those same cities are projected on the four walls of a contained indoor space. The solution here is entirely different. According to an image-carousel logic, the cities appear one after the other, interlinked in a never-ending journey. Spectators are surrounded by a chain of images, unable to free themselves, as if captured in a visual trap. The triviality of the chosen shots for each city (rarely showing easily recognizable characteristics of each one of them) makes us mix them up, and forces us into a constant game of recognition. The non-fictional recordings, documental or simple camera surveillance footage, separate this project from aesthetic, self-referential, or art history justifications. The shuffling of references, the spatial confinement, as well as the regimen that dictates the proposed visual flux, are essential elements in the definition of the viewer’s situation – one of submission and constraint. The slow rhythm of the images forces us to a time of attention/observation, that reveals itself to be a discomfort that leads us to exasperation; or we are taken in by that whirlwind, by a kind of fascination and horizontal vertigo.
Vhils uses footage captured in a pre-pandemic time in major cities of the globalized world. Which is to say, Vhils worked these images in a world still accelerated and dizzying, which considered itself immune to any setback or any slowing down. But by submitting these everyday images that he gathered to a brutal deceleration, it’s as if
Vhils anticipated the crisis we are now living — he opposed the myth of the modern, contemporary (or even post-modern) velocity to an unusual metaphorical slowing down that became real in 2020, even though we have not yet found a name or an ideology to define it.
The anonymous inhabitants of cities, who are defined in the 19th Century by Gogol, Poe, or Baudelaire, have characteristics of isolation and massification accentuated by the 20th Century, turning these very inhabitants from literary characters into film characters. They are confronted, here and now, with their own helplessness and final desperation. The body and the global destiny of the global beings of every city in the world exist and are immersed here in an atmosphere too dense for them to move normally. The simple events they undertake (crossing the street, walking on a sidewalk, meeting an interlocutor, looking at a building’s façade) while developing in the slow rhythm imposed on them, seeming as if they are prevented from really concluding themselves, or are we, the viewers, the ones prevented from watching their conclusion — all is suspended in a never-ending in-between time.
The slow speed that these works present, doesn’t result in a slowing down capable of leading us to a platform of rest; nor does the deceleration we are forced into, take us to some harbour of peace. The truth is that we ourselves— regardless of the time or velocity, regardless of our status or the name of the city we live in — become captive of the same trap that imprisons all the extras in these vast urban frescos created by Vhils.
Lisbon, April 30th 2021
Exhibition view: Fenestra, Alexandre Farto aka Vhils, Galeria Vera Cortês, 2021