(Hong Kong Gallery Guide March 2010)
Shifting his traces from Portugal to Hong Kong, Joao Vasco Paiva is a young artist who seeks to defy common perceptions of new media art with his intensely focused, reflexive artworks. Nicolette Wong talks to him about his latest exhibition Experiments on the Notations of Shapes at Input/Output Gallery.
Nicolette Wong: Your new work is a generative multi-channel video installation of Hong Kong cityscapes. How is it executed? How did the idea come to you?
Joao Vasco Paiva: It’s something I started to work on last year. The first version was a performance I presented at the Architecture Is Art Festival 2009, where I selected the footages to be played for the video installation. With my latest project, my idea was to create an orchestration based on the different shapes of Hong Kong architecture. The three video channels show three different elements of the cityscapes: the skyline, the line between buildings and the sky, and the space between buildings in back alleys. The computer would map the skyline, for example, and the footages generate the sounds that underline the installation.
My perspectives on video installation have a lot to do with my background as a painter. I look for ordinary spaces and objects that are familiar to people. Here in Hong Kong I feel a certain detachment from the city, partly because I don’t speak the language and cannot immerse myself in a lot of what’s going on. It translates into what you see in the videos: the city is devoid of people, it’s abandoned and you embrace it as something abstract. There’s an element of solitude to it.
Nicolette Wong: You feel like an alien in a way and it gives you a kind of focus.
Joao Vasco Paiva: Very much so. From a more conceptual point of view, I present the city as a huge architectural space that is constantly mutating. Most people think of architecture as something fixed or planned. In my work, architecture is organic in the sense that it changes with every minute addition, like the abrupt presence of an air-conditioner. There should be a different kind of relationship between people and the space they inhabit beyond their functional perspectives. Most don’t recognize or understand what they see though, until they find themselves in an alien setting.
Nicolette Wong: How does this contemplation reflect your experience and focus, as an artist?
Joao Vasco Paiva: Contemplation is interaction. Most audience who goes to a new media art show expects a direct form of interactivity, an artifice to play with. It’s interesting at times, but for the most part it’s overwhelming participation and it takes over the artwork. I prefer the concept of interference. When you contemplate on an artwork, you interfere with it in that you have to fill in the gaps.
Nicolette Wong: It’s common for audience to respond to new media art how you described though. Most don’t spend the time on interacting with the artworks in their mind.
Joao Vasco Paiva: The definition of new media art is another issue here. People tend to make a sharp distinction between new media art and the rest, like fine art. I don’t think the distinction stands because art is always changing. People coin the term new media art by focusing on the media, say, the use of computer, which isn’t new at all. What’s new should be the way artists can display their works and how audience can interfere. But most people seem to overlook this idea, which is why they expect entertainment rather than contemplation from new media art.
Nicolette Wong: What kind of artist would you describe yourself to be, if someone who isn’t familiar with your work asks you this question?
Joao Vasco Paiva: I had someone come up to me with this question at one of my previous shows. Again it’s rooted in my training as a painter. I spent years studying compositions and looking at elements of a situation or a movement. What I address in my work is the randomness of life. It’s something I experiment with other mediums than video installation, like painting or writing. I’m always looking for different notations to encrypt things in a way that defies logic. I want to get the essences of what is happening. For one of my projects, I walked down the streets of Mong Kok with two recorders attached to my sleeves, which recorded the sound of people brushing against me. It is a composition of randomness.
People generally go for categorization when they look at art. Of course there’re artist who bond themselves in certain groups, but there’re those who never intend to be a part of any movement or trend because they don’t want to their works to be monopolized. I value this individualistic streak in my work.