Francis Alÿs

(b. 1959)

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(1959– )

Belgian Performance artist and painter, born in Antwerp. He has worked principally in Mexico. He studied architecture, and initially went to Mexico after graduating in 1986 in order to assist in reconstruction after the earthquake of the previous year. His work is marked by an edgy, rather threatening humour. A common response is frequently uneasy laughter. In Re-enactments (2000), two videos run side by side. One shows the artist purchasing a gun and walking the streets of Mexico City with it on open display until he is arrested. The other shows a ‘faked’ restaging of the event with the same police playing the same role. It is not made clear to the viewer which is ‘real’. A persistent theme is futility and failure. A video entitled The Last Clown (1995–2000, Tate) is an animation in a one-minute loop in which a walking man perpetually falls over to the sound of canned laughter. Walking reappears regularly as a motif. The Collector (1991) was a performance piece in which he dragged a magnetized metal animal model around Mexico City picking up detritus. Reference was made to the extreme poverty of much of the city, visibly manifested in scavenging and stray animals. The artist's best-known project is When Faith Moves Mountains (2002). Five hundred volunteers were given a shovel to move a hill just outside Lima, Peru, four inches. As Eleanor Heartney points out, it was a kind of parody of the grandiose earthworks of Robert Smithson but also a comment on the plight of the landless who live on the city's outskirts. Alÿs has also worked as a painter. He has commissioned the sign painters of Mexico City to make their own copies of his pictures, adapting them to their own styles.

Further Reading

Musée Picasso, Antibes, Francis Alÿs (2001)

http://www.surrealismcentre.ac.uk/papersofsurrealism/journal3/acrobat_files/Francis.pdf S. Feeke, ‘Francis Alÿs: Walking distance from the Studio’, Papers of Surrealism, no. 3 (spring 2005).

Subjects: Art.

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