We all dream of a better future, but some of our ideas come unstuck when we imagine how humans will develop in relation to technology. It can be either a utopian version of harmony between man and machine, or a nightmarish dystopia where machines have become too smart too soon. Francisco Vidal imagines it as the former, that with the right spirit, the two can coalesce into creating a future unimaginable for either man or machine alone.
Years ago, we'd need a CD player, a personal home computer, a chunky phone and a big camera to do what a smartphone does now, which is essentially everything. The possibility of infinite knowledge, once preserved to encyclopaedias in dusty old libraries, is now at our fingertips.
On the flipside, many see the proximity that phones offer us to others around the world as having a detrimental effect to our relationships in our immediate environ, the most important ones. Community is immunity, it's something we need to survive. Technology doesn't have to wedge us apart though. There's a movement of artists that are looking to the future and seeing art as a buffer between the human mind, the living and natural world and our technological future.
That we develop this kind of future is crucial, because the development of technology is imminent and inevitable. Vidal, in his latest pieces, has been examining the emotional and redemptive qualities that humans and machines share, the common ground where similarities are as important as differences and even differences don't have to be bad.
In a globalised world, dreams are screamed into the ether with no echo and no response, yet we are inclined, from childhood to adulthood, to imagine what we can contribute. To help others is to help ourself. In art, for artists, filmmakers and musicians, they are doing both. It's both selfish and selfless, something they need to do and that others want.
Vidal has these dreams, that so many of us lose growing up, still firmly intact. He believes that we must not resist technology, but embrace it, work with it, grow together whilst we still can. His philosophy - the artist as a machine, the studio as a workshop, helps him enter the psyche and philosophical mindset of an inventor, tinkering away at his creations.
It's a subtle art, unique twists that tell contradictory stories pushing us to look closer. Beautiful floral paintings look like they're depicted on a roughly hewn surface, but on closer inspection they're machete blades festooned with cotton plants in reference to a bloody 1961 battle during the Angolan War of Independence.
Angola, part of his native identity, was colonised and later fought back after their years of oppression. Here he depicts a symbol of oppression on the device used to carry it out. Through the machine (the machete) he reinterprets the incident, suturing the wound, exorcising the emotional build-up.
The works themselves are figurative and raw, whilst being symbolic through their medium, as much as the message. Creating the pieces, and the process from conception to execution, are part of the work. Using his U.topia Machine, a device that contains all of his artistic utensils, is essentially the creators toolbox, a moveable studio where the nuts and bolts of operations reside. The name hints at what he hopes will come from it.
Production ties in closely to his theme of mass-production, one of the main purposes of machines, both as a way to oppress and to emancipate. Colonialism, something close to the Portuguese-born artist's heart, shares a similarly conflicting relationship to technology, as the tools that can set them free are also the ones used to enslave them, all under the guise of colonialism.
Stylistically driven by graffiti, hip-hop and expressionistic portrayals of life, there's a tribal naivety that underpins Vidal's deeply intelligent pieces, all rendered in immersive colours, shapes and sizes. For Vidal, the art, like technology, must consume the audience. It must grab them and show them - 'look, we're not so different!'
The thing is, sadly, machines (and their purpose) and the people are different. Vidal isn't hiding from this, rather he's fighting on the frontline to guide the diverging paths from their increasingly parallel route, back on track, to a point where finally the two meet and can begin a successful integration. Just like the lives of his parents, an Angolan and Cape Verdean, who too had to struggle to find a point where their lives began to integrate. Francisco Vidal was the product, an artist very aware that he's carrying a torch into a dark future, yet one he believes he's capable of lighting up.
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