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Taking the plunge to see art: A unique underwater exhibition in Portugal

The artworks were made out of giant industrial pieces from deactivated power stations.
The artworks were made out of giant industrial pieces from deactivated power stations. Copyright EDP
Copyright EDP
By Verónica Romano
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Ever wanted to combine diving exploration and a love of art? Now, you don't have to only imagine it as Portuguese street artist Vhils has created an artificial art reef made out of giant pieces from power stations no longer in operation.


Have you ever thought an oxygen bottle could be required to enter an art exhibition? Well, it will be a ‘must’ if you want to admire Portugal’s artificial art reef.

One of the 13 pieces that make up "EDP Art Reef"EDP

Less than two kilometres off Algarve’s coast, divers will be able to explore an underwater museum at a depth of more than ten metres. It will feature 13 sculptures made out of old parts from power stations no longer in operation.

After being decontaminated and decarbonised, the artwork will be coated in live coral to help develop an ecosystem of marine life.

The mastermind behind it all is Alexandre Farto, aka Vhils, a famous Portuguese graffiti and street artist. In 2008, he got his big break when he was invited by Banksy - one of the most recognised names in the street art world - to participate in his exhibition “The Cans Festival” in London.

During that event, the Portuguese artist was photographed working on his piece right next to one of Banksy’s graffiti. He was lucky enough to have that photo featured on the front cover of The Times.

The prominence Vhils gained from the festival pushed him into the spotlight both in Portugal and abroad. He has since presented his work in cities all over the world, such as New York, Paris and Beijing.

The artificial art reef will be his most expensive and complex project so far. The whole process started in early 2021 and involved around 200 people.

Vhils’ major concern about the project has been to guarantee it remains environmentally friendly. Research and studies were conducted to decide the best location to submerge the artworks. In addition, the University of Algarve will analyse and monitor the sculptures over the next years, to make sure they serve their final purpose: to become artificial coral.

The most important thing is that the exhibition has a positive impact on the ecosystem by creating the artificial reef, and the reuse of materials that would otherwise be destroyed
(speaking to the Portuguese newspaper “Expresso”)

The raw materials are giant industrial pieces - such as a coal mill - from deactivated power stations previously operated by the Portuguese energy company EDP.

In order to reach an audience wider than just divers, some sculptures of the “EDP Art Reef” are on display at the company’s headquarters in Lisbon until April 15th.

Sculpture made out of an old coal mill is on display in LisbonEDP

The organisers of the underwater museum hope to begin placing the artwork on the seabed at the end of October. However, the exhibition will only be open to visitors from June 2024 - a date that will depend on sea conditions.

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