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Portuguese artist asks public to lie under dismembered train

The Portuguese street artist Alexandre Farto doesn’t just spray-can walls, he takes chisels and jackhammers to them, gouging out work on the streets that go way beyond graffiti into monumental reliefs.

But for his latest work, “Dissection”, he has outdone himself — slicing a Lisbon metro carriage into bits and suspending the carcass of mutilated metal from the ceiling of a museum in his native Lisbon.

Farto, aka Vhils, may have gone a mite mainstream by showing within the confines of the vast Electricity Museum, but he insists the work is as edgy as anything he has done on the streets, putting the modern city itself on the slab.

“The metro train represents the city which I have autopsied to find the origin of the sickness that has killed it,” he told AFP.

The 27-year-old made his name chiselling huge, blankly staring faces out of the walls of houses and factories everywhere from London — where he went to art school — to Paris, Rio and Shanghai. He has even been known to use explosives to blow holes in walls he has been working on

“Remove to reveal,” is how Vhils describes the technique behind this “Scratching the Surface” series, as the urban portraits are known.

His breakthrough came when the cult British street artist Banksy chose to set up next to one of Vhils’ faces at the Cans graffiti festival in London in 2008, and the mysterious artist’s agent later gave him space to show his work.

Apathy, however, and specifically the way Vhils feels “people seem willing to accept what happens to them and what goes on around them in cities” is one of the ideas behind the new show, his first in a museum.

To illustrate his point, the public will be invited to lie down underneath the 4.5 tonnes of suspended train wreckage that make up the centrepiece of the show.

When he is not “exploding” walls or trains, Vhils has been working in film, shooting a video for the electronic music stars Buraka Som Sistema, who like him have come from the Lisbon suburbs to international success.

“Dissection” runs until October 5.