João Vasco Paiva, The Highways Department Colouring Book, 2016 (ongoing); artist’s book; hard cloth cover, inkjet printing and coloured pencil on tracing paper; 20.5x14x1.5cm; 246 pages.
The work The Highways Department Colouring Book (2016–) was one of the starting points for Cut Down the Middle – a group exhibition presented between April and June 2021 at Galeria Avenida da Índia.
Curiously, the book itself was not physically displayed in the exhibition space. We were only able to glimpse it in the promotional materials for the exhibition, either on the large outdoor banner or on the internet, or in references to it in the exhibition notes.
The first page of this colouring book quotes part of the opening text of the film Fitzcarraldo, by Werner Herzog. This epigraph familiarises us with the idea of incompleteness associated with the creation and transformation of an environment, of a given space and its existence – key issues for that cinematographic epic which are also echoed in this work by João Vasco Paiva. The body of the book is composed of dozens of prints of schematic drawings made available online by the Highways Department of Hong Kong. João Vasco Paiva downloaded them, removed several of the written references they contained and compiled them in this artistic object, opening them up to other perspectives.
Originally, these technical drawings dictate a rigid construction based on rules that influence the layout of public space, the urban landscape, the inhabitation of the city and its social organisation. By artistically appropriating these graphic models, and colouring them in, João Vasco Paiva gives them a use that can be seen as ironic, given the scientific precision associated with these drawings and the institutional weight of the official archive from which they came. These resources now take on a new context, in which functionality and objectivity make way for visual, poetic and speculative values.