Ding ding! Portuguese artist transforms Hong Kong tram into ‘Debris’ for a moving art experience

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 March, 2016, 2:05am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 March, 2016, 11:38am

Portuguese artist Alexandre Farto aka Vhils has transformed a tram into a moving art object by carving portraits of Hong Kong people into layers of posters applied to the vehicle’s facade.

Vhils, 29, who opened a studio in Hong Kong in September, is getting ready for his first solo exhibition in the city, “Debris”, which will be opened from March 22 to April 4 on the rooftop of Central Pier 4.

But since yesterday Hongkongers can admire the work of one of the most renowned contemporary urban artists without going to a gallery.

Watch: Portuguese street artist Vhils blasts Hong Kong with "debris"

“It’s the perfect platform for me, because it’s a piece that’s in the city that also moves and reaches people who probably would never go to a gallery or a museum,” he said. “I believe public art can give to the city something important, especially in current times,” said Vhils, whose work aims to spark reflection on the impact of development and urbanisation around the world.

It took Vhils about two full days to bring the tram, currently running between Whitty Street depot and North Point, to life.

“The tram had a billboard. We collected several posters around town over the past six months and we pasted several layers on the top of it,” he explained.

“Then we had a last layer in white and we carved onto it. It’s not really a painting or a collage. It’s more of a sculpture made out of layers of chaos that the city ­produced.”

The special tram will run every day until April 10. But this is not going to be the only chance to randomly bump into Vhils’ work. He is also planning to carve portraits on at least three public walls and do other interventions on Hong Kong island and Kowloon.

Apart from installations spread across the city, about 50 pieces are being finished for his solo exhibition, which is organised by HOCA Foundation.

A tunnel with images of everyday Hong Kong life filmed in slow motion will serve as a sort of spine for the show on Pier 4, leading visitors to 10 different rooms. Each will feature pieces that include several media and elements, such as a cityscape in ­Styrofoam, billboards, doors, metal and neons.

“Neons come a lot from the reference I had of Hong Kong from Wong Kar-wai’s movies… Nowadays, all of that is vanishing, which is normal, but it’s also interesting to bring it back and preserve it,” he said. Before leaving the exhibition, which will travel to other locations around the world, visitors will see 16 neon pieces with Kowloon in the horizon.

“The idea was to build a story using different references from the public space and to use it to reflect about the identity of Hong Kong,” he said. “The show will be the result of this year of exploration, reflection, interviews with people. I tried to capture a glimpse of the current times.”

Vhils, who moved to Hong Kong last year, said that although it was not his intention, the city’s current political and social tensions are reflected on his pieces.

“My work is always inspired in the city and then it tries to establish a relationship with its people and its context. I didn’t go after that, but the apprehension, hopes and the way people perceive the future are going to be part of this exhibition,” he said.