Filipe Vilas-Boas is neither a naïve technophile nor a technophobe

In an intermediate position between citizen activist, critical philosopher and digital performer, the Luso-French creator Filipe Vilas-Boas questions the access and excesses of the digital world in our lives in general and, specifically, the ambivalence of our submission to social media. This requires an active diet and the development of digital ethics.

From interactive design to civic engagement

Filipe Vilas Boas is a former freelance designer and writer whose first professional experiences took place in 2002 in advertising agencies: “the web and its collective potential opened windows to young Padawans who closed their doors”. He later co-founded an interaction design studio to focus on this subject. In 2008, he began his artistic practice and ended up knocking on the door of the “commercial” world in 2016: “I understood that I could no longer devote my time to companies, that I have more fundamental citizen issues waiting for me, and that is what I want to address and use as a focus in my artistic practice”.

Filipe multiplies artistic projects on these social issues: “Due to my aptitude for social sciences and philosophy, I have always wondered about the transformations in society and, in particular, the upheavals caused by the digital world, in particular its access – knowledge, information, images, speech – and its excesses – surveillance, commoditization, automation”.

A double culture, like two pairs of glasses to observe the world

Filipe was born in 1981, son of Portuguese parents in the maritime town Esposende, near Barcelos (a city known for its pottery and its rooster, the latter became one of the country’s symbols). Shortly before following them to Olmeto, Corsica, he stayed in the Parisian region, near Fontainebleau, where he spent his childhood. The artist speaks an ornate language, a subtle French-Arab-Portuguese mixture, with verlan and gipsy overtones, something only learned in the street through contact with multiple communities. Without forgetting his native use of digital, this “public space twice”, which fascinated him before he realized the addictive drifts: “Fundamentally it is not the pure technique that I question in my work, but its relationship and the balance of power that challenges our democracies.”

Intervening in the digital world as a “two-way public space”

“I am extremely interested in this technical implementation because it has been intensifying for some time: after two centuries of accelerated automation of our mechanical functions, we are now duplicating this movement of outsourcing and automation of our cognitive functions (algorithms, artificial intelligence, etc.)”, says Filipe Vilas-Boas. “A movement that goes back to the origins of writing and is associated with the memory and myths of Humanity. And we are precisely in the middle of a stage of transition, where our landscape is transformed without being able to capture the mutations. At my level, I try to conceptualize the issues, the problems, the possibilities and share them in public space”.

Dataism, or the stain between the worlds “IRéeL” and “URéeL”

His work, often participatory and performative, plays with the porosity between the worlds IRéeL and URéeL. His creations combine recovery, fun and new media: a network logo materialized in cross, computer screens transformed and interpreted, a hijacked robot, … All the symbols of the digitalization of the world, this “dataism” that suffocates him, are used in a limitless polymorphic work, greedily intervening in digital art and public space, with an ethical and aesthetic stimulus: questioning our digital practices and our almost religious fascination for the networks.

F as Facebook and Fátima

The “three Fs” of the “Fado, Fátima, Football trilogy” sum up the Portuguese values during the dictatorship of António de Oliveira Salazar, which are now reduced to the “must F”: Facebook and Fátima. Religious symbols that multiply in these critical and invigorating works: the titles (often in English, the language of computers and Silicon Valley) Carregando… (using a sculpture of the child Jesus), iDoll, Madonna interativa, Saint-Denis, even Carregando a cruz. Filipe evokes a “technological animism” partly resulting from this growing externalisation of our cognitive functions and a transfer from the sacred to technology: “The great masses are today technological”, he insists. “Both are charged by the technique, which allows the entire globalized village to be managed, and the rituals themselves are sacralizations of the objects that result from this technique. And, yes, we are all exhorted to commune – also to consume – without hunger, nor purpose, to satisfy the gigantic appetite of the great technological powers”.

The punishment or the manifesto of ethics in robotics

Filipe likes to brilliantly deconstruct and deal with utopia and humour when he talks about the fears of artificial intelligence and the issues associated with automation. Several versions of The Punishment are circulating in the world. A robot performs a preventive punishment in the face of possible future disobedience and writes “I will not harm humans” ad infinitum. The real ‘anthropomorphisation of anticipation’, the work ironically questions human-machine relations at the very moment when technologies combine and reactivate the myth of the creature fleeing from its creator. This work also reflects the desire to put ethics into robotics. It reminds us that we must never forget that there is always a man behind every machine, every algorithm and every network…

How House, or how to combine manual and intellectual in a playful environment.

Filipe, a philosopher proselyte, a generously militant artist. With his engineer friend Benjamin Dallard, Filipe created in 2018 the How House, a popular educational association that brings together a group of artist friends, designers, engineers, educators and entrepreneurs. It offers workshops on arts/sciences in the suburbs of Paris in partnership with friendly associations. They also work in prison and hospitals, exploring virtual reality as a cognitive care tool.

Under the beach, keyboards

With digital technology, there are no boundaries between politics and civic art. Filipe likes participatory work. Sous les keyboards la plage invites the public to express themselves by composing new words and manifestos from the stone floors at their disposal. This installation invokes the spirit of May 68. Only here, hashtags, posts and tweets are what foments new revolutions. Movements appear and are structured in these new digital agoras. But we must flee from all naivety: “the digital platforms that connect us and religions in general, or the various spiritualities, have a common metaphysical root that, in my opinion, is characterized by the awareness of our unity, beyond our knowledge. A metaphysics that also seems to be increasingly confirmed by astrophysics and by recent discoveries in the fundamental laws of the universe in particular”.

The certified “Digital Diet” diploma

He even planned an outing for his audience. His Internet Ministry issues “Digital Diet” diplomas (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, etc.) that improve our time away from the networks. A diploma that deserves praise but will not prevent us from following this delightful artist-activist philosopher before the next presentation of his works… on his Facebook or Instagram accounts! Our time is not about ambivalence!


This article was originally published in DASartes magazine.

Specialist in modern and contemporary art for over 30 years. Marc Pottier, a Frenchman, living between Paris and Rio de Janeiro, is an international curator of contemporary art, author, specializing in art in public spaces. He also is involved with cultural digital platforms, television and webtv.

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