The faces of Lisbon
Story by Ben Ehrenreich |Photography by Kerry Murray |Rhapsody September 2016
It is hard to imagine a more unlikely environment for Alexandre Farto, better known as Vhils, than the steep and densely wooded hills above Sintra, about half an hour's drive northwest from Lisbon. Farto is as quintessentially urban as any artist can be. He lives in cities—he keeps a studio in Hong Kong as well as in his native Lisbon—talks about cities, thinks about cities, uses their detritus and their crumbling walls as both his paint and his canvas. He has worked in London, Shanghai, Rio, Los Angeles, Miami, Moscow, Rome, and first and last in Lisbon, where he grew up and still lives on the gritty south bank of the Tagus River. But Sintra is another world, greener than green, the tree trunks coated in ivy and moss, the verdancy broken only by sprays of purple foxgloves and an occasional glimpse, when the low clouds part, of the bright red and yellow 19th-century Palace of Pena, towering above us like a gaudy joke.
Baby-faced, with an intensity to his eyes that belies the softness of his features, Farto stands beneath a neat stack of toppled tree trunks that is easily twice his height. The roughly sawn-off ends of the logs present an almost even surface, which Farto is brushing with a brownish stain. Dressed in a black wool jacket and a hoodie, he looks a bit like a Franciscan monk. While one of his assistants powers up a generator, three others scramble over the tree trunks, painting the exposed wood. Farto plugs in a grinder and carves a few experimental divots, comparing the color of the wood to the stained surface surrounding it. The stippling will soon spread from one log to the next. Slowly, a giant face will take shape, and then another, their eyes open and impassive, staring out at whoever happens to hike by, silently demanding a response. For a while at least: The logs, which fell in a storm, will eventually be taken away as the forest's managers find other uses for them. “So the image," Farto says, “will decompose."
He's smiling when he says it. I ask whether he likes that idea.
“For sure," he replies, nodding. The piece, after all, is “about the ephemerality of everything, the idea that nothing lasts forever."
The aritst stains logs in the woods near Sintra
t's an idea that can be hard to escape in Lisbon, a city that at the height of its wealth and global power was nearly shaken from the face of the Earth. The great earthquake of 1755 was so catastrophic that it almost shattered the Enlightenment faith in the benevolent rationality of the cosmos. (“If this is the best of all possible worlds," worried Voltaire's Candide, “what are the others?") The last century alone saw Portugal shift from hereditary monarchy to dictatorship to democracy, and you can still find traces of these transformations on the art that covers Lisbon's walls.
“The city, Farto came to understand, was a living thing, 'an organism,' as he puts it."
There's a lot of it. With its narrow, winding streets, its hills and staircases and hidden parks, Farto's hometown is an easy one to love. “The city was created for you to get lost in," he says, approvingly. There's plenty to look at while you wander. The sidewalks are adorned with geometric patterns crafted out of stones. The old ceramic tiles—azulejos, they're called—that ornament the facades of so many of the city's buildings depict saints, Christ, and the Virgin, enlisting images of divinity to ward off fresh disasters. Newer murals, enormous and brightly colored, snake over abandoned buildings in the center of town and cover the sides of apartment towers on the outskirts. Some are overtly political, referencing the social movements that emerged after the Carnation Revolution and the fall of Portugal's dictatorship in 1974, as well as the independence campaigns of the country's former colonies. Others are more whimsical: a winged yellow cat with a giant, toothy smile floats at the base of a building on a quiet residential street; a woman walks a dog while a duck looks on; hungry mouths race around the base of concrete rubbish bins.
Farto has had a hand in guiding the city's recent public-art renaissance. Underdogs, the gallery he co-founded in 2013, pairs artists from around the world with city-sanctioned walls. His own contributions—“interventions," he calls them—are difficult to miss.
A collaborative piece by Vhils and Italian muralist Pixel Pancho
A mosaicked portrait of the beloved fado singer Amália Rodrigues, crafted with the same stones that decorate the city's sidewalks, emerges on the wall of a park in the leafy neighborhood of Alfama. A giant, careworn face stares out from the side of an empty building just beneath the 25 de Abril bridge. (Once named for the dictator António de Oliveira Salazar, the bridge was renamed for the date of the revolution that overthrew Salazar's successor.) Its sad, clear eyes confront you as you walk or drive beneath it, as if demanding that you account for your existence. Only when you get closer do you realize that the image is not painted but chiseled into the skin of the building, the different layers of exposed plaster and brick providing the tones for Farto's palette. The geometric patterns that Farto carved around it recall the designs of azulejos: One building calls out to the others, a city to its past.
A relationship with the city's walls runs in Farto's blood. During the revolution, his father plastered Lisbon with wheat-pasted “street journals" to spread news that the censors wouldn't print. Farto was 13 when he started painting the walls of the train yards and abandoned factories of his neighborhood—not faces then, just the five-letter tag VHILS, which he chose, he says, because it was easy to paint and didn't spell anything in any language that he knew of. Hip-hop came late to Portugal, and the graffiti that came with it was a revelation to kids like Farto, a way to make the mute walls of the city speak. He remembers watching the peeling, sun-faded remnants of the old post-revolutionary murals give way to shiny advertisements. He and his friends painted over the billboards and watched as new ads covered up their tags. The city, Farto came to understand, was a living thing, “an organism," as he puts it. Even freshly plastered and whitewashed into blankness, its walls were pregnant with history. “I started asking," Farto says, “'Why am I adding to this?'"
Vhils at work in his Barreiro studio
In 2004, while still in his teens, he decided to take an opposite approach. He started slicing strategically into billboards with razors, using the images he uncovered beneath, the layers of ads pasted over ads, to create entirely new images. “It was almost an archaeological process," he says. The next year, for the first time, he began carving into a wall with drills and chisels, using the colors he unearthed to sculpt a face. “It's always this idea, to destroy in order to create, to make what is invisible visible." That first piece is gone now, but one of the last conventional murals he painted before shifting techniques survives just across the street, around the block from Underdogs, in the trendy, formerly industrial district of Braço de Prata. It's a black-and-white cityscape: skyscrapers, street lamps, traffic lights and pylons in ominous, lifeless silhouette. “I started to zoom in," Farto says, “and the people came through."
“It's about the ephemerality of everything, the idea that nothing lasts forever."
By 2008, Farto was studying art in London, and Banksy, probably the most famous living artist to come out of the graffiti scene, invited him to take part in a street-art festival in a tunnel beneath the city. He carved a face into the tunnel's wall, this one staring impassively at the Banksy mural beside it. Banksy's agent took him on, and Farto, by now better known as Vhils, was quickly propelled into art-world celebrity. Soon he was working everywhere from Norway to Colombia. Museums were buying his work. He rented a studio—in the neighborhood of Barreiro, not far from where he grew up—that's the size of a small airplane hangar. (Appropriately, it once housed a recycling plant.) His staff of 10 keeps offices there, amid the stacks of old lumber and billboards that Farto and his assistants salvage from demolition sites around town.
A Vhils mural on a wall in one of Lisbon's abandoned shipyards
When his renown at home became too much, Farto started spending time in Hong Kong. Neon-lit and intensely efficient, it's the opposite of Lisbon, he notes with a laugh. But Lisbon always draws him back. The faces he's carved stare out from walls all over town, a part of the living city. There are four of them in Braço de Prata, not far from his gallery and across the street from his last surviving painted mural. There's one in an alley in the ancient, picturesque neighborhood of Alfama; another on a long, art-bedecked wall in the old warehouse district of Alcântara; another covering a five-story building in an abandoned shipyard on the far side of the river. Their expressions all feature those wide-open eyes, those silent, demanding stares.
Often, he first encounters his subjects in the streets. “Sometimes I never see them again," Farto says. Their anonymity is part of the point: not to pay tribute to an individual, he says, but to force people to pause “and see themselves."
Many of Farto's murals have already been destroyed. He not only knows that all of them will, at some point, be painted or plastered over, demolished to make way for something new—he accepts it gladly. “Nothing lasts forever," he says again, and smiles. “I like that."
On March 19, 2020, United operated its first flight carrying cargo without passengers on board. While the passenger cabin was empty, its cargo hold was completely full, carrying more than 29,000 pounds of commodities from Chicago O'Hare International Airport (ORD) to Frankfurt Airport (FRA).
A year later, United Cargo has operated more than 11,000 cargo-only flights carrying more than 570 million pounds of freight. To support the COVID-19 pandemic recovery efforts, United Cargo has also transported more than 113 million pounds of medical and pharmaceutical products on both cargo-only and passenger flights as well as approximately 10 million COVID-19 vaccines, providing global communities access to the items they have needed most.
"At the beginning of the pandemic, we knew we were uniquely positioned to utilize our widebody aircraft and our network to keep commodities moving, so we quickly mobilized various departments throughout the airline to launch a cargo-only network of flights that would keep commodities moving," said United Cargo President Jan Krems. "Thanks to those efforts, United Cargo has delivered millions of items to countries all around the world. We would not have been successful without the steadfast support of our employees, industry partners and our customers."
Since last March, United Cargo has transported almost 850 million pounds of freight on cargo-only and passenger flights. The airline will continue to monitor market trends adjust its cargo-only flight schedules to help ensure we are meeting our customer's evolving shipping needs.
Whether you haven't flown with us for a while or just need a quick refresher before your spring trip, read this list of tips to know before your flight and arrive at the airport travel-ready:
1. Download the United app for contactless bag check, travel assistance and more
Before your flight, download the United app to view your flight status, check in, sign up for flight notifications, locate departure gates, access our free personal device entertainment when available and more. We've also updated our app with new features that can make your trip a little safer, including contactless bag check.
Don't forget to use Agent on Demand for help with any and all questions you may have before your flight. This new capability is available at all our U.S. hub airports and allows you to use your own mobile device to contact a customer service agent via phone, video or chat to help with day-of-travel questions while you're at the airport. Learn more about Agent on Demand here.
2. Check out the Travel-Ready Center
Our Travel-Ready Center makes it easy to get a personalized overview of everything you need to do in preparation for your flight. Just enter your confirmation number or MileagePlus® number and you'll find detailed information on all the documents, tests and more that you'll need for your trip.
3. Read and sign the Ready-to-Fly checklist
Before completing check-in, all United travelers will need to read our Ready-to-Fly checklist and confirm that they understand and agree to our policies. These include:
Acknowledging that you haven't had any symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 14 days
Agreeing that you will not fly if you have tested positive for COVID-19 within the last 21 days
Confirming that you will follow all policies regarding face masks, social distancing and other health and safety measures we've adopted
4. Arrive early; avoid the stress
Airports can be busy, especially during peak travel periods like spring break season. The TSA advises arriving at the airport two hours before your flight for domestic travel and three hours for international travel in anticipation of long security lines. This can help ease the stress when navigating busy check-in areas, security lines and crowded boarding gates.
5. Get familiar with CleanPlus
United CleanPlus℠ is our commitment to delivering industry-leading cleanliness as we put health and safety at the forefront of your experience. We've teamed up with Clorox to redefine our cleaning and disinfection procedures and Cleveland Clinic to advise us on enhancing our cleaning and disinfection protocols, like:
Disinfecting high-touch areas on board and in the terminal
Using electrostatic spraying, Ultraviolet C lighting wands and more advanced measures to clean aircraft cabins before boarding
Redesigning our mobile app to allow for touchless check-in and contactless payment, along with enhanced travel assistance features
Implementing high-efficiency (HEPA) filters on our aircraft that completely recirculate cabin air every 2-3 minutes and remove 99.97% of airborne particles, including viruses and bacteria
Studies show COVID-19 exposure risk is minimal when air filtration systems and masks are in use, so you can rest assured that the steps we've taken to keep you safe truly make a difference.
6. Wear your mask
Federal law requires all travelers to wear a face mask in the airport, including customer service counters, airport lounges, gates and baggage claim, and on board during their entire flight. Make sure you review the requirements for face masks, including what an acceptable face mask looks like.
7. Get ready for a safer boarding process
To make boarding even safer, we now have travelers board their aircraft from back to front. At the gate, just listen for your row number to be called – we'll ask a few rows at a time to board, starting with the last row of the plane. This helps everyone maintain a safe distance from each other during boarding without slowing things down. As you step onto the plane, flight attendants will hand each passenger a sanitizing towelette, which you can use to wipe down your seat to ensure it's extra clean.
8. Pack smart
Before packing your bags, check to see what exactly you can carry on and what you should plan to check. You can also copy your confirmation number into our Baggage Calculator tool to learn about the bag allowance included with your reservation, as well as the cost of checking any additional bags.
9. Check your flight status, important notices and weather
Check the United app regularly for the latest updates on weather conditions, flight status, gate numbers and seat assignments. You can also visit our Important Notices page to find essential information and updates about travel waivers, international travel, TSA and security, airports and United Club locations.
10. Relax and enjoy your flight
Once you're on board, it's time to sit back and enjoy your flight. Our flight attendants will be happy to help you with anything else you need.
This week, we were honored to become the first U.S. airline to join the UNICEF Humanitarian Airfreight Initiative to combat the COVID-19 pandemic by transporting the vaccine and other critically needed supplies to underserved areas of the globe.
"We are committed to helping the global community in any way we can, and we all must work together to do our part to bring this health and humanitarian crisis to an end," said Director of Cargo Specialty Products Manu Jacobs.
We will leverage our expertise to transport these critical pharmaceutical and healthcare shipments around the world safely, efficiently and expediently. We are proud to partner with the United Nations to support this global effort and provide equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines.
Together, we are facing an unprecedented challenge. United Together, we rise to meet that challenge.
Calling all AvGeeks and travelers! Take your next video call from a United Polaris® seat, the cockpit or cruising altitude with United-themed backgrounds for use on Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
Newly added to our collection is a background encouraging our employees and customers to vote. Our mission is to connect people and unite the world — and one of the most important ways to do that is to engage in the democratic process. No matter which party you support, we know our democracy will be stronger if you make your voice heard and vote.
So for your next meeting or catch up with friends and family, download the app to either your computer or mobile device to get started.
To use on Zoom:
- Start here by downloading your favorite United image to your computer or mobile device. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- Next go to your Zoom app (you'll need to download the app to access backgrounds) and click on the arrow to the right of your video camera icon in the bottom of the screen.
- From here select, "choose virtual background" to upload your uniquely United photo.
To use on Microsoft Teams:
- Start by downloading your favorite United image to your computer. Just click "download" in the bottom left corner of the image.
- If you're using a PC, copy the image you want to use into this folder:
- C:\[insert your device user name here]\AppData\Microsoft\Teams\Backgrounds\Uploads
- If you're using a Mac copy the images to this folder on your computer:
- /users/<username>/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Teams/Backgrounds/Uploads
- If you're using a PC, copy the image you want to use into this folder:
- Once you start a Teams meeting, click the "…" in the menu bar and select "Show background effects" and your image should be there
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