The solo exhibition of new work from Hong Kong-based Portuguese artist João Vasco Paiva entitled “Palimpseptic” is finishing at Saamlung Galllery in Hong Kong.

As the first of three scheduled pre-opening projects for the gallery, this presentation has introduced a body of work Paiva has developed in order to confront both the architecture of the space and its environment in the disconcertingly banal office buildings of downtown Central.

Beginning from the perspective of the non-spaces manifested in such areas and particularly in public infrastructure like that of mass transit, the artist empties his world of information and specificity, abstracting visual material into little more than shape, color, and tactile experience.

The exhibition centers on a set of turnstiles—nearly identical to those found at the entrances and exits to every subway or other mass transit station—modulated to resemble a minimalist sculpture. Here, the arms of the wheel spin away to a loud and constant clicking, seemingly propelled by the phantoms of the anonymous users who pass through such sterile spaces on a daily basis. These objects do indeed move in time to the flow of passengers during rush hour, but it is perhaps the sense of naked violence accompanying their sheer emptiness that most excites. Paiva collapses information onto its original physical carrier, implying through its autonomous motion that the thing itself knows something more than it should.

Accompanying this major installation is a suite of process-based abstract two-dimensional objects also associated with Paiva’s linguistic experiments in the mass transit system. In this case, he has collected as source material the maps, diagrams, signs, and wayfinding aids that codify the flow of bodies through the rail system in Hong Kong, known as the MTR, and emptied them of any representational or symbolic information. Letters, numbers, and other recognizable signifiers all disappear, leaving behind simple color fields that forefront a rather different set of information, doing so primarily through formal and aesthetic concerns.

A set of videos also included in the exhibition similarly allows the absent human to appear only in the form of a negative trace: organic forms in block colors move across the screen, generally from bottom to top across an empty field. Although the content is largely illegible, these shapes—appearing at times singly but typically in large agglomerations of flailing lines and moving corners—are actually based on digital models created by observing crowds emerging from and entering the exits of mass transit stations. For Paiva the human is a less provocative category than the tools and codes that define it; as such, here it is the parallel between architecture and algorithm that results in an intense and fascinating visual experience.

Other work produced in this body of work includes a set of tall unstretched and unframed prints based on the colors and patterns of the tile walls that characterize Hong Kong mass rail transit platforms, while a further video explores in time the possibilities of the abstraction of information presented in the paintings of “Palimpseptic.” As a whole, the exhibition and its title refer to the inflammatory or even toxic capabilities of rewriting: as information is abstracted and re-inscribed in these paintings, installations, and videos, it becomes unpredictable and potentially dangerous.between project-based solo presentations and thematic group shows.

João Vasco Paiva (b.1979) is a Portuguese artist based in Hong Kong since 2006. With a background in painting and advanced training in media technology, his work is characterized by the appropriation of observed phenomena, mapping apparently random situations and presenting them in an aesthetically organized framework through video, audiovisual performance, recording, and installation. He has taught at the City University of Hong Kong School of Creative Media and Hong Kong Art School/ RMIT University. Notable exhibitions include a recent solo outing at Experimenta in Hong Kong and group exhibitions at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art Lyon, the Museu do Oriente Lisboa, the Garage Center for Contemporary Culture Moscow, and the FILE festival in São Paulo.

Saamlung is the commercial gallery and project office founded by critic and curator Robin Peckham in 2011. Located in downtown Central, Hong Kong, the gallery presents work by emerging and historically significant artists from greater China and around the world in concise solo projects, curated group exhibitions, publications, and other satellite events.