Sometimes putting yourself in an unfamiliar place can help you observe and experience the world in an unexpected way. Such is the case of Portuguese artist João Vasco Paiva, who’s been living in Hong Kong since 2006. Though the language barrier limits his interaction with locals, his work incorporates the complexity of the urban situation, as well as information shaped by the sociopolitical factors he observes. Paiva then translates this abstract information into aesthetically unified, yet minimal, videos and installations.


Living on a quiet island off the coast of Hong Kong Island, Paiva commutes back and forth between his home and the densely populated city via ferry and subway every day. The observations he gathers as an outsider are ingrained in his work, as he looks to transform mundane phenomena in “non-spaces” (places without true cultural context, like airports, subway stations, and hotels) into visual and sonic interpretations that one can appreciate in a gallery context.

Subway Turnstiles in Palimseptic (2011)

This creative approach is demonstrated in Paiva’s latest solo show Palimseptic, which has recreated a busy Hong Kong subway station completed with five turnstiles, traveler information diagrams, maps, and signs. Organized in the gallery space, all text on the visuals has been removed to show only the minimalist graphic properties. The turnstiles are programmed to spin according to the number of daily users passing through, creating clicking sounds and movements as if phantoms were entering and exiting the room. A video nearby displays the throngs of subway commuters as blocks of negative colored forms moving scrolling from top to bottom on the screen. Through extraction and abstraction, Palimseptic effectively magnifies the minimalist beauty of an everyday experience.

Subway information board removed of all text in Palimseptic (2011)

Subway information board removed of all text in Palimseptic (2011)

Aside from Chinese urban landscape and lifestyle, Paiva takes inspiration from nature’s patterns and behaviors. His interactive sound installation Chirp (exhibited at The Creators Project: Beijing 2010) and his generative video series Traces, shown at The Creators Project: Beijing 2011, use a wide range of media to interpret his subjects from a completely different perspective, creating unique experiences for viewers.

Chirp (2010)

Traces (2011)

Images courtesy of João Vasco Paiva and Saamlung Gallery.

This post also appears on The Creators Project, an Atlantic partner site. 

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