Installation view of JOÃO VASCO PAIVA’s “Green Island” at Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong, 2016. Courtesy Edouard Malingue. 

Green Island

João Vasco Paiva

Edouard Malingue Gallery
Hong Kong

JOÃO VASCO PAIVARipple, 2016, Plexiglas, 170 × 99.5 × 1.5 cm each. Courtesy Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong. 

In his first solo show in Hong Kong since 2013, locally-based artist João Vasco Paiva expands on his favored rhetoric regarding humanity’s interaction with the environment and the spaces we inhabit. Paiva has used the exhibition title, “Green Island,” as a point of departure, presenting it as a dissection of the ironic relationship between a Hong Kong cement company’s agrarian name (Green Island) and its urban product. The immersive exhibition at Edouard Malingue Gallery radiates a feeling of familiarity, partly due to the quotidian nature of the work’s materials, which include large, concrete-cast water bottles and cement bags. However, the works also appear superficial and foreign, because of the artist’s manipulated staging of these materials.

The center space of the gallery is dominated by 12 tons of sand that have been shaped and molded into hills. Scattered on top of the sand mounds are sculptures crafted from concrete, which are meant to replicate Green Island Cement Factory’s cement bags and water-cooler bottles. The littering of these mundane objects establish a desolate atmosphere. Within this landscape, the sculptural work Ripple (2016), comprises two sheets of vibrant green Plexiglas, rested conspicuously against the wall. From afar, the image printed on the Plexiglas surface come together to form a hill range; but upon closer inspection, the “image” is revealed to be a dappled ink stain—an intentional trick of the eye to deepen the illusion of its superficial surroundings. As the only object in the show that takes on the green hue of our natural environment, it is at once comforting in the midst of the dry, sandy landscape, yet also confrontational, as one realizes that the only presence of nature here is, in fact, artificial. 

The sand bed valleys into a carved pathway, leading visitors to a more hidden area of the gallery where other sculptural objects are organized haphazardly. Three white pieces of what appear to be discarded packing materials, all produced in cement resin, occupy the walls, while another concrete-cast water bottle, and two more of the Green Island cement bags seen earlier, fills some of this other space. Overhead, an eerie guitar strum melody haunts this enclave, creating an atmosphere of loneliness reminiscent of scenes from a post-apocalyptic movie.

JOÃO VASCO PAIVA, Study for a Green Island I, 2016, collage, 75 × 103 × 2 cm. Courtesy Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong. 

The most intricate work in the show is the installation The Highways Department Colouring Book (2016), which consists of a small notebook that contains Paiva’s detailed technical drawings and a wooden dolly on which the book lays open. The pages feature austere technical drawings that Paiva copied from the Hong Kong Highway Patrol’s published blueprint plans. To break from the usual utilitarian applications of such designs, Paiva has shaded in areas of the traced architectural drawings, in doing so creating what resembles a coloring book—essentially a tool for stress relief and childs’ play.

At the gallery, Paiva futher expands on this idea with two paper collages, Study for a Green Island 1 and (both 2016), which juxtaposes the untamed jungle of Lamma Island and the overdeveloped city of Hong Kong Island. On the one hand, there are the lush green forests of Lamma—where Paiva lives, located off the southwest coast of Hong Kong Island—and on the other, there are the dense manmade high rises of Hong Kong Island, where the artist has his studio. Paiva took photographs of the former’s green rolling hills and overlayed them on graph paper typically used in the process of architectural planning and design. In this manner, Paiva placed the natural landscape within the context of city planning, prompting the question of whether, in the cycle of building and destruction, these spaces are already a site of human ruin.

In “Green Island,” Paiva focuses on the impact that urban development has had on the natural landscape, by successfully extracting the presence of man from manmade objects and presenting a destroyed environment. In doing so, he effectively contextualizes the creation and destruction cycles as dictated by mankind, but also emphasizes his belief, as stated in the exhibition material, that “the present is already a ruin if we remove the people,” echoing contemporary, and very urgent, global concerns regarding our environment.

João Vasco Paiva’s “Green Island” is on view at Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong, until October 22, 2016. 

JOÃO VASCO PAIVA, The Highways Department Colouring Book, 2016, color pencil on transfer paper, 20.5 × 14 × 1.5 cm. Courtesy Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong.