Every human being is both shaped by and a shaper of the surrounding environment. This meaningful, close relationship between people and the places they live in is the fundamental premise behind Alexandre Farto aka Vhils' Diorama body of works. Since presenting the first series of Dioramas in 2012, the Portuguese artist has made use of materials such as polystyrene foam, cork sheeting, and cement as sculptural mediums in order to create medium- and large-scale three-dimensional panorama artworks. Scaled down in order to better adapt to the unique intimate ambiance of the Arsham/Fieg Gallery, each of the three Mini Dioramas presented here has been created with recourse to 3D nylon printing technology (Selective Laser Sintering technique), which has allowed the artist to render them in a considerably smaller scale, while retaining their intricacy and impact. Brought to life by means of a delicate balance in contrast, each piece of the Diorama body of works can be read either as the representation of a human face, when viewed from a distance, or that of a detailed urban landscape, when seen from up-close. Both the portraits and the cityscapes can depict either real people and real cities, or composites based on the reinterpretation of portraits and cartographical layouts. In conceptual terms, the series explores the process of reciprocal shaping that exists between the city and its inhabitants, by which both contribute towards the formation of each other's identity and character, establishing over time a fundamental affinity. Inherent to these elaborate architectural pieces is a poetic interplay of light and shadow that highlights the city's own contrasting layers, expressing the need for these two fundamental elements—representative of the positive and negative aspects that configure it—to coexist in order to make up the whole and bring its space to life.
Alexandre Farto aka Vhils (Lisbon, 1987) has developed a unique visual language based on the removal of the surface layers of walls and other media with non-conventional tools and techniques. He began interacting with the urban environment through the practice of graffiti in the early 2000s. Peeling back the layers of our material culture like a modern-day urban archaeologist, Vhils reflects on the impact of urbanity, development and global homogenisation on landscapes and people's identities. Destroying to create, he delivers powerful and poetic visual statements from materials the city rejects, humanising depressed areas with his poignant large-scale portraits. Since 2005 he has been presenting his work around the world in exhibitions, events and other contexts – from working with communities in the favelas of Rio de Janeiro, to collaborations with reputed institutions such as the EDP Foundation (Lisbon), Centre Pompidou (Paris), Barbican Centre (London), CAFA Art Museum (Beijing), or the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (San Diego), among others. An avid experimentalist, besides his groundbreaking bas-relief carving technique, Vhils has been developing his personal aesthetics in a plurality of media: from stencil painting to metal etching, from pyrotechnic explosions and video to sculptural installations. He has also directed several music videos, short films, and one stage production.