Francis Alÿs (Belgian, born 1959). Re-enactments (detail). 2001. Video still from an installation comprising two-channel video (color, sound), drawings, newspaper clippings, and photographs. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Speyer Family Foundation, Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro, The Julia Stoschek Foundation, Düsseldorf, and Committee on Media Funds.
© Francis Alÿs and David Zwirner Gallery.

Francis Alÿs, Virtues, 1992. Oil and encaustic on canvas mounted on board. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Speyer Family Foundation, Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro, The Julia Stoschek Foundation, Düsseldorf, and Committee on Media Funds. © 2011 Francis Alÿs.

Acts of Mythic Proportions, Little Things Count in Large Amounts

Francis Alÿs, Maqueta from Rehearsal I (Ensayo I), 1999. Video (black and white, sound). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Speyer Family Foundation, Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro, The Julia Stoschek Foundation, Düsseldorf, and Committee on Media Funds. © 2011 Francis Alÿs.

Francis Alÿs, Rehearsal I (Ensayo I), 1999-2001. Video (black and white, sound). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Speyer Family Foundation, Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro, The Julia Stoschek Foundation, Düsseldorf, and Committee on Media Funds. © 2011 Francis Alÿs.

Francis Alÿs, Rehearsal I (Ensayo I), 1999-2001. Video (black and white, sound). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Speyer Family Foundation, Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro, The Julia Stoschek Foundation, Düsseldorf, and Committee on Media Funds. © 2011 Francis Alÿs.

Francis Alÿs, La Leçon de Musique from Rehearsal I (Ensayo I). 2000. Oil and encaustic on canvas. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Speyer Family Foundation, Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro, The Julia Stoschek Foundation, Düsseldorf, and Committee on Media Funds. © 2011 Francis Alÿs.

Francis Alÿs, Untitled from When Faith Moves Mountains, 2002. Graphite, paint, and tape on vellum. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Speyer Family Foundation, Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro, The Julia Stoschek Foundation, Düsseldorf, and Committee on Media Funds. © 2011 Francis Alÿs.

 

MoMA
11 West 53 Street
212-708-9400
New York
The International Council
of The Museum of Modern Art Gallery, sixth floor,
MoMA Drawing Gallery,
MoMA PS1
Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception
May 8-August 1, 2011

Drawing upon The Museum of Modern Art’s unique and important collection of the work of artist Francis Alÿs (Belgian, b. 1959), the exhibition Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception is conceptually grouped around three major recent acquisitions —Re-enactments (2001), When Faith Moves Mountains (2002), and Rehearsal I (Ensayo I) (1999-2001) — each on view for the first time at the Museum.

Comprising video installations, paintings, drawings, collages, photographs, and newspaper clippings, these three significant bodies of work present an investigation of methods of social action, from rehearsals to re-enactments in urban environments. These works address the politics of public space and its relation to large-scale communal participation, in which the culmination of many small acts achieves mythic proportions.

The exhibition is on view from May 8 to August 1, 2011, and is organized by Klaus Biesenbach, MoMA’s Chief Curator at Large and Director of MoMA PS1; and Cara Starke, Assistant Curator, Department of Media and Performance Art, The Museum of Modern Art.

The exhibition expands to MoMA PS1 with a series of works that include The Modern Procession (2002), a piece commissioned by MoMA to mark the Museum’s temporary relocation to Queens (2002-04) while the midtown building was undergoing a renovation and expansion.

Through video, photographs, and drawings, the installation documents a ceremonial procession that occurred on June 23, 2002, in which Alÿs, musicians, and various participants traveled from MoMA to MoMA QNS, while carrying the artist Kiki Smith on a palanquin along with representations of works in the Museum’s collection, including works by Pablo Picasso, Marcel Duchamp, and Alberto Giacometti.

Alÿs’s work uses poetic and allegorical methods to address political and social realities, exploring issues such as national borders, localism and globalism, areas of conflict and community, and the benefits and detriments of progress.

The artist’s personal, ambulatory explorations of cities form the basis for his practice, through which he compiles extensive and varied documentation that eflects his ideas and process. As one of the foremost artists of his generation, Alÿs has produced a complex and diverse body of work that includes video, painting, performance, drawing, and photography.

Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception is published by The Museum of Modern Art. More a guidebook than conventional monograph, the publication reflects the spirit of the artist’s wandering practice.

It features an introductory essay by Mark Godfrey, Curator at Tate Modern; quotes from Alÿs’s writings and interviews compiled by Klaus Biesenbach, organizer of the exhibition at MoMA; descriptions of Alÿs’s works; and responses to Alÿs’s body of work from a wide range of critics.

Francis Alÿs (Belgian, born 1959) (in collaboration with Rafael Ortega and Artangel). Guards 2004-2005. Video (color, sound), 28 min. Courtesy David Zwirner Gallery, New York. © 2011 Francis Alÿs.

Cover of the exhibition catalogue Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception, published by The Museum of Modern Art.

Francis Alÿs, Untitled from When Faith Moves Mountains, 2002. Color photograph. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Speyer Family Foundation, Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro, The Julia Stoschek Foundation, Düsseldorf, and Committee on Media Funds. © 2011 Francis Alÿs.

Francis Alÿs, Untitled from When Faith Moves Mountains, 2002. Graphite, paint, and tape on vellum. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of The Speyer Family Foundation, Kathy and Richard S. Fuld, Jr., Marie-Josée and Henry R. Kravis, Patricia Phelps de Cisneros, Anna Marie and Robert F. Shapiro, The Julia Stoschek Foundation, Düsseldorf, and Committee on Media Funds. © 2011 Francis Alÿs.

Francis Alÿs, The Modern Procession. 2002, Photographic documentation of an event, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the Silverweed Foundation, © 2011 Francis Alÿs.

Francis Alÿs, Tornado, Milpa Alta, 2000-2010, Private collection © Francis Alÿs Photo: Video still.

One Simple Action, Documented, Redocumented, and Documented Again

Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Rafael Ortega, Re-enactments Mexico City, 2000, Private collection © Francis Alÿs, Photo: Unknown.

Francis Alÿs, Paradox of Praxis I (Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing) Mexico City, 1997, Private collection © Francis Alÿs Photo: Enrique Huerta.

Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Felipe Sanabria, The Collector (Colector) Mexico City, 1990-2, Private collection © Francis Alÿs Photo: Ian Dryden.

Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Olivier Debroise and Rafael Ortega, A Story of Deception Patagonia, 2003-6, Comissioned by MALBA, Argentina. Courtesy of Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Zurich © Francis Alÿs.

Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Cuauhtémoc Medina and Rafael Ortega, When Faith Moves Mountains (Cuando la fe mueve montañas) Lima, 2002, Private collection © Francis Alÿs Photo: Video still.

Francis Alÿs, Paradox of Praxis I (Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing) Mexico City, 1997, Private collection © Francis Alÿs Photo: Enrique Huerta.

Francis Alÿs, Le Temps du Sommeil, 1996, Present collection of the artist © Francis Alÿs Photo: Jorge Golem.

Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Rafael Ortega, Rehearsal I (El Ensayo) Tijuana, 1999-2001, Private collection © Francis Alÿs Photo: Rafael Ortega.

Francis Alÿs, Ambulantes (Pushing and Pulling), 1992-2006, Mexico City, 80 35mm slides, carousel 3.

Francis Alÿs, Bolero (Shoe Shine Blues), 1996-2007.

Francis Alÿs, Silencio, 2003-present, Private collection, © Francis Alÿs.

Francis Alÿs, The Green Line (Sometimes doing something poetic can become political and sometimes doing something political can become poetic), 2005, Collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art © Francis Alÿs.

 

Tate Modern
Bankside
+ 44 20 7887 8888
London
Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception
June 15-September 5, 2010

A man pushes a massive block of ice through the streets of Mexico City until it melts to nothing. Five hundred volunteers walk over a huge sand dune in Lima, Peru, digging with spades and shifting the dune a few centimetres as they go. These are the works of the celebrated artist Francis Alÿs (born Belgium, 1959), and the subject of a major exhibition at Tate Modern.

Alÿs’s work starts with a simple action, either by him or others, which is then documented in a range of media. Alÿs explores subjects such as modernising programmes in Latin America and border zones in areas of conflict, often asking about the relevance of poetic acts in politicised situations. He has used video projection and film but also spreads his ideas through postcards. Painting and drawing remain central to his work too.

Alÿs moved to Mexico City in the mid 1980s at a time of political unrest, and lives there now. He began to make work which recorded everyday life, for example making slide works showing people sleeping on the streets or pushing mobile shopping stalls. Alÿs also makes works around the world. In The Green Line 2004, Alÿs walked along the 1948 armistice line between Israel and Palestine, trailing a line of green paint behind him, and provoking commentaries on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

A Story of Deception
Francis Alÿs was born in Belgium in 1959 and trained as an architect before re-locating to Mexico City in 1986, where he has been based ever since. He is best known for his actions which he documents in various ways. Some just involve him walking through the city; other actions are epic events set in dramatic landscapes involving hundreds of participants. Alÿs also works with painting, animation and drawing, and many of the images he creates have a dreamlike surreal quality. His actions are frequently humorous, often transient, and can sometimes seem absurd, but they are always concise and carefully planned. For a long time Alÿs has been interested in spreading news about his work through unconventional means such as rumour, so audiences can interpret his projects in unpredictable ways without seeing images of them. All these poetic qualities lead to his idiosyncratic way of approaching questions to do with urbanism, economics, migration, and borders. Bringing some of Alÿs's most famous works together with new projects, this exhibition concentrates on the different ways in which he has used poetic acts and images to address political situations, whether in Mexico, Lima, Panama, or Jerusalem.

Throughout his career he has particularly investigated the processes of modernisation in Mexico and in Latin America. He examines cycles of promise and disappointment whereby economic and social change is expected without ever really taking place. The title of the exhibition is taken from a work in this room, A Story of Deception, 2003-6, in which a mirage was filmed on a desert highway in Patagonia. The mirage might suggest a goal that is longed for but never reached, yet the film also gives a sense of the ongoing attraction of utopia.

"Deception" in Alÿs's work can therefore mean many things besides disillusionment. The simplest gestures and images might generate very different readings. "Deception" also suggests the kind of trickery that we associate with magicians. Alÿs can start with a rough object, a tiny image, an everyday event, a children's game, or a trail of paint, transforming these things to make works that address some of the most urgent questions in contemporary life.

Alÿs began to participate in international biennials in the mid-1990s. In 1997 he contributed to InSite, an exhibition held in the border region between San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico. He used his commission fee to travel south from Tijuana, across to Australia, north up the Pacific Rim and south through Alaska, Canada, and the United States, reaching San Diego without having crossed the Mexico-US border. This seemingly extravagant action at once addressed the difficulties faced by Mexican citizens when trying to visit the US, and the excesses of art world travel in the 1990s. As has been his custom, Alÿs disseminated this work through the postcard available to visitors here, spreading the ideas of the action to a global audience.

Mexico City
Alÿs has maintained a studio in the Historical Centre of Mexico City since the early 1990s, and has made a series of works 'within walking distance' of this studio examining everyday life in the megalopolis, some of which are brought together here. The Collectors, 1990-2 were magnetised "dogs" which he walked around the city so that metallic detritus stuck to their surfaces. The slide projection Ambulantes, 1992-present, shows people pushing carts of goods around the city: Alÿs was fascinated by informal labour all around him, and the improvised creativity of street tradesmen. While this work documents street life slowly disappearing from the centre, other pieces have more allegorical suggestions. Paradox of Praxis, I 1997 shows an absurd expenditure of effort, as Alÿs pushed a block of ice around the "Centre" until it melted. The subtitle of the work is "Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing," an idea which speaks to the frustrated efforts of everyday Mexico City residents to improve their living conditions. Patriotic Tales, 1997 targets the rut of Mexican politics in other ways. Alÿs leads a circle of sheep around the flagpole in the Zócalo, the ceremonial square and the site of political rallies. The action is based on a 1968 event when civil servants were paraded in the city to show government support, but bleated like sheep to protest their subservience.

Alÿs has always taken an interest in the ways in which performances are repeated and re-staged. For Re-enactments, 2000 he walked into a gun shop, bought a weapon, and visibly carried it very visibly until arrested. The next day, somewhat implausibly, he persuaded the police to take part in a reconstruction of the same events. The work exposes the fallacious idea that performance can be known with pure immediacy and without mediation, yet it also points to the violence in Mexico City in a way that Alÿs has sometimes felt was too sensational.

Alÿs has often been drawn to the narrative and visual clarity of fairy tales, and children's book illustrations, inspired by the concise and yet enigmatic nature of this material. Recently he has started a series of videos of children's games. Caracoles, 1999 shows a boy kicking a bottle up a hill, an apparently futile task but one which the boy persists in. Sandcastles, 2010 circles around three boys building a structure that is eventually washed away. Echoing some of the images in his larger actions, these videos also bring out a precarious optimism in Alÿs's practice: passed on by hearsay through generations, children's games reinterpret the world and often imagine it anew.

Rehearsal
From 1999 onwards, Alÿs has made a series of works exploring the structure of the rehearsal. Rehearsal I 1999-2001, shows a red VW Beetle driving up a hill, an image which is accompanied by a loud soundtrack of a brass band's rehearsal. The driver was listening to a recording of the rehearsal, and each time the band paused, he stepped off the pedal so the pathetic little car rolled back down, and the process continued without resolution.

For Alÿs the rehearsal recalls 'the Latin American scenario in which modernity is always delayed'. This is a state of perpetual indeterminacy, but one that enables Latin American societies to continue to resist the imposition of Western models of "development." The video Politics of Rehearsal, 2004, looks to the origins of the "development" discourse in Harry Truman's inaugural address of 1949, and its impact on the politics of the southern hemisphere. It features a commentary by the critic Cuauhtémoc Medina, a frequent collaborator of Alÿs's.

We can also see many of the drawings, oil paintings, animations, and small videos that accompanied the gestation and production of these two main videos. They illustrate Alÿs's way of working — exploring a set of ideas over and over in various new ways, but without aiming for a single point of resolution. This way of working echoes the structure of the rehearsal.

Tate Modern presents a major exhibition of work by the celebrated artist Francis Alÿs (born Belgium 1959). Using diverse poetical and allegorical approaches, Alÿs explores political subjects such as contentious borders and economic crises. The exhibition will present iconic works alongside new pieces which have never been shown before in the UK. Working in a variety of mediums including painting, video projection, animation and sculpture, Francis Alÿs is one of the most important artists of his generation.

When Faith Moves Mountains
Alÿs visited Lima in 2000 just before the collapse of the Fujimori government and found "a desperate situation that called for an 'epic response,' at once futile and heroic, absurd and urgent." He returned in 2002 to organise When Faith Moves Mountains, persuading 500 Peruvian students to walk in a line up a sand dune on the outskirts of the city, digging as they went, thus displacing the dune by a few centimetres. The action — Alÿs's most visually spectacular to that date — was filmed from various positions and the images were subsequently used on postcards, whilst the artist also encouraged the spread of news of the work through rumour and myth.

Here the "making of" video is presented. The miniscule and temporary movement of the dune seems to dramatise a principle of "Maximum Effort, Minimal Result" that typifies many Latin American modernisation schemes, yet it was also a monumental achievement made by communal co-operation. For Alÿs it was essential that the participants gave their time and effort for free so that the action could stand as a model for a lavish expenditure of energy, running counter to conservative economic principles of efficiency and production.

The Green Line
In 1995, Alÿs realised an action in São Paolo called The Leak in which he walked from a gallery, around the city, and back into the gallery trailing a dribbled line from an open can of blue paint. This action was reprised in 2004 when he chose to make a work in Jerusalem. Using green paint, Alÿs walked along the armistice border, known as "the green line," pencilled on a map by Moshe Dayan at the end of the war between Israel and Jordan in 1948. This remained the border until the Six Day War in 1967 after which Israel occupied Palestinian-inhabited territories east of the line.

Though palpably absurd, and greeted by onlookers with some bewilderment, Alÿs's action of dribbling green paint behind him raised the memory of the green line at a time when the separation fence, seen in his paintings here, was under construction to the east of the green line. He later encouraged various commentators from Israel, Palestine, and other countries to reflect on his action, and their voices, sometimes sceptical, sometimes approving, can be heard while the video of his action is screened. Most importantly Alÿs wanted to ask what the role of poetic acts could be in highly charged political situations, while acknowledging that the relation of poetics to politics is always contingent.

Paintings
The paintings in the series Le Temps du sommeil were begun in 1996 and often worked on at night. They feature visionary dreamlike scenes involving tiny suited men and women acting out strange rituals reminiscent of children's games and gymnastic experiments. Many of these images anticipate and recall the forms he has employed in his actions, but the paintings connect to his actions in other ways too since their surfaces are worked and re-worked. Like the actions, they are perpetually unfinished, and their interpretations unfold over time without resolution.

Painting remains central to Alÿs's work. Partly this is because the sale of paintings finances his major projects, but also because he takes great pleasure in its privacy, and in using this traditional medium to create miniature images on humble and often recycled supports. In various projects he also examines its ability to address itself to wider political concerns.

Tornado
Since 2000, Alÿs has visited an area in the Mexican countryside where tornadoes occur, and has filmed his attempts to run into the eye of the storms. The footage was gathered over a decade and edited to make the intense video Tornado, 2000-10. For Alÿs the dust storm suggests the imminent collapse of a system of government or political order. The act of running into the storm, which we see repeated over and over, also invites interpretation: is the artist no longer able to combat the chaos he encounters? Is he recognising the vanity of poetic gestures at a time of calamity? Or is it only within the chaos that he can challenge the turmoil around him? Reaching the epicentre of the storm, the artist is breathless and almost blinded, yet he encounters a furtive moment of peace that could hint at a new moment of possibility.

Over the course of editing Tornado, Alÿs has begun work on a new body of paintings and drawings with related imagery such as explosions and implosions. Some of these are his most abstract works to date. This body of work is very much in progress, and presented in Room 15 is an installation approximating the arrangement of the material at the stage it left the studio.

Alÿs has carried out actions across Latin America, addressing economic and political crises through extraordinary acts. When Faith Moves Mountains, 2002 is described by Alÿs as ‘land art for the landless’.The work involved organising a line of 500 Peruvian students walking over a sand dune in Lima, digging as they went, shifting the dune by a few centimetres. While the alteration of the mountain was minimal, the event explored the power of communal action. The exhibition will also feature The Green Line, 2004. Over two days, Alÿs walked through Jerusalem trailing a line of green paint from a can as he paced along the route of the armistice border, known as ‘the green line’, drawn between Israel and Jordan in 1948. In this work he questioned whether a poetic act could have relevance in a highly charged political situation.

Song for Lupita
In this touching animation a woman pours water from one glass into another over and over again, "doing without doing," as Alÿs has said. She is accompanied by a lilting song whose words "Mañana, mañana" ("tomorrow, tomorrow") suggest at once perpetual procrastination and continuing hope for the future. One of Alÿs's gentlest works, this animation nevertheless echoes many of the questions raised throughout the exhibition. What is life like in a society where efforts seem to lead to nothing and where change is put off until tomorrow? Conversely, what might it mean to abandon the goals of achievement and efficiency? Song for Lupita, 1998 seems to address Alÿs's way of working, his aversion to concepts of finish and development, and his preference for ongoing processes of revision and reconsideration.

Alongside video and film installations, the exhibition will include Francis Alÿs’s dream-like paintings Le Temps du Sommeil,  1996-present and different objects that he makes with various fabricators in Mexico. The exhibition closes with the first ever display of Alÿs’s powerful video Tornado, 2000-10.

Francis Alÿs, Ambulantes I and II Mexico City, 1992-Present, Private collection © Francis Alÿs.

Francis Alÿs, Still from Rehearsal 1, 1999–2004, In collaboration with Rafael Ortega, Video projection, Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.

Francis Alÿs: All Art is Local (to the Artist's Arena of Civic Influence)

Francis Alÿs, La Leçon de Musique, 2000 , Oil on canvas on wood , 23 X 27", Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.

Francis Alÿs, Still from Paradox of Praxis 1, (Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing), 1997, Video, Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.

Francis Alÿs, Still from Paradox of Praxis 1, (Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing), 1997, Video, Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.

Francis Alÿs, Still from Paradox of Praxis 1, (Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing), 1997, Video, Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.

Francis Alÿs, Re-enactments, 2001, Video; two simultaneous projection on 1 screen, Image Size: variable.

Francis Alÿs, Modern Procession (video still), 2002, Duration: 7.22 minutes.

 

Hammer Museum
10899 Wilshire Boulevard
310-443-7000
Los Angeles
Francis Alÿs:
Politics of Rehearsal
September 30, 2007-
February 10, 2008

To date, exhibitions of Alÿs’s work have emphasized issues of place, particularly connections to Mexico City, his adopted home. In contrast, this thematic retrospective will focus on concepts of rehearsal and repetition, failure and success, storytelling and performance, exploring how these ideas inform Alÿs’s varied practice.

Francis Alÿs: Politics of Rehearsal is organized by Russell Ferguson, Chair, Department of Art, University of California, Los Angeles, and Adjunct Curator, Hammer Museum, the exhibition's conceptual framework of rehearsal and related themes arose from conversations between Ferguson and Alÿs over several years. Alÿs has described the work as "a sort of discursive argument composed of episodes, metaphors or parables, staging the experience of time in Latin America.”

Francis Alÿs: Politics of Rehearsal is the first large-scale museum exhibition in the United States devoted to the career of Mexico City-based artist Francis Alÿs. Alÿs is widely considered to be among the most important artists working today.

He works in a wide range of media, including painting, drawing, performance, film, video installation, animation, and photography. No matter the medium he chooses to employ, all his work has a simplicity that makes it accessible and a complexity that continues to resonate long after the work has first been seen.

Alÿs is a teller of visual stories, potent myths that can be told and re-told. From the beginning of his career as an artist, Alÿs has adopted a way of working that tends to reject conclusions in favor of repetition and recalibration. He has, that is, put the idea of rehearsal at the heart of his practice.

In the late 1990s Alÿs began specifically to examine the mechanisms of rehearsal as such. His film Rehearsal 1, (1999) shows a red Volkswagen attempting to reach the top of a steep hill in Tijuana. At the same time we hear a soundtrack that consists of a danzon band attempting to learn a new song.

The two elements are in fact synchronized. Each time the band breaks down and abandons the attempt to play through the song, the car’s driver (Alÿs) also gives up, and the car rolls backwards down the hill again. As Alÿs has described this work: "The stubborn repetition effect hints at a story which is constantly delayed, and where the attempt to formulate the story take the lead over the story itself. It is a story of struggle rather than one of achievement, an allegory in process rather than a quest for synthesis.”

Similarly pairing music and incomplete activity, Rehearsal 2, (2001) features a woman rehearsing an old-fashioned strip-tease against a bare stage curtain. The exhibition will also feature other works that engage with the idea of rehearsal, among them some of Alÿs’s most acclaimed pieces.

One such work, Song for Lupita (1998), is an animated film loop of a woman pouring water back and forth between two glasses. The animation is accompanied by the endless repetition of a specially recorded musical soundtrack. R.e.h.e.a.r.s.a.l. (2000) shows an animator working on the word “rehearsal” itself. It is a pyramid structure that slowly advances letter by letter to the whole word, then steps down again

Another piece, When Faith Moves Mountains (2002), is a video projection documenting a performance in which several thousand volunteers equipped with shovels moved a giant sand dune on the outskirts of Lima. The dune moved only a few inches, but it did move, thanks to the coordinated efforts of a huge number of people.

All of the work in the exhibition will be accompanied by the beautiful and fragile preparatory drawings for which Alÿs is renowned, as well as by paintings, documents, and further video work.

Francis Alÿs was born in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1959, and trained as an architect, studying both in his native country and in Venice, Italy. In 1986, he moved to Mexico City, and within a few years he had left the field of architecture for a broader-based visual arts practice. Along with Gabriel Orozco and Damien Ortega, Alÿs is one of the key members of a generation of Mexico City–based artists who emerged in the 1990s and have won worldwide acclaim.

Alÿs was first known primarily for paintings, made in collaboration with local sign painters from his neighborhood that questioned ideas of authenticity and replication. Since then he has become a highly regarded video artist, photographer, and orchestrator of performative events. He also continues to paint and draw extensively.

His work has been the subject of numerous one-man exhibitions in Europe and Latin America, but in the United States his work has been shown only in group exhibitions and in a handful of projects, most notably The Modern Procession (2002) at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. In Francis Alÿs: Politics of Rehearsal, the Hammer will for the first time bring works from across Alÿs’s career and in a range of mediums to a broad audience.

Since 1991, Alÿs’s work has been displayed in museums and galleries across Europe, the Middle East, and Latin America, including the National Portrait Gallery, London; Centro nazionale per le arti contemporanee, Rome; Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin; Israel Museum, Jerusalem; MALBA, Buenos Aires; and Museo de Arte Moderno, Mexico City. In the United States, his work has been exhibited in the contemporary projects series of the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and the Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford.

Since 1991, Alÿs has also participated in more than 100 group exhibitions at such venues as the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; the Musée d’Art moderne, Paris; the Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin and the Guggenheim Bilbao; the Contemporary Art Center, Brussels, Belgium; the Burgundy FRAC, Burgundy, France; the Museo Universitario de Ciencias y Arte, Mexico City; and Tate Modern, London. His projects have been included in numerous biennials, including La Biennale di Venezia, 2007, Venice; PERFORMA 05, the First Biennial of New Visual Art Performance, New York, 2005; the 14th Biennale of Sydney, 2004; the Fourth Bienal de Mercosur, Brazil, 2003; the 3 Bienal Iberoamericana de Lima, Peru, 2002; and the Shanghai Biennale 2002.

Francis Alÿs, Still from When Faith Moves Mountains, 2002, In collaboration with, Cuauhtémoc Medina and Rafael Ortega, 16mm film transferred to DVD, Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.

Francis Alÿs, Still from When Faith Moves Mountains, 2002, In collaboration with, Cuauhtémoc Medina and Rafael Ortega, 16mm film transferred to DVD, Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York.

Francis Alÿs, Bolero (Shoe Shine Blues), 1996-2007, Graphite, tape, and collage on vellum, 384 framed drawings, installed with DVD animation, 9:40 min, maquette, wooden table, and string, Dimensions variable, © Francis Alÿs, Courtesy the artist and David Zwirner, New York.

Francis Alÿs and the Magnetic Attraction of a World-Class Megalopolis

Francis Alÿs, Sleepers, 1999-2006, 80 Slide Carousel, Image Size: variable.

Francis Alÿs, Drawing for When Faith Moves Mountains, 2002, 16mm film transferred to DVD; 2 rear-projection screens; 1 monitor; DVD projection, Image Size: variable.

Francis Alÿs, The Politics of Rehearsal, 2005, DVD documentary, 29.54 minutes, installation view, Courtesy of the artist and David Zwirner, New York.

Francis Alÿs, Bolero (Shoe Shine Blues), 1996, Graphite, tape, and collage on vellum, 384 framed drawings, installed with DVD animation, 9:40 min., maquette, wooden table.

Francis Alÿs, Drawing from Ensayo I (The Rehearsal), 1999-2004, Video projection and 3 annex videos, Image Size: variable, Edition of 4.

Francis Alÿs, Studio view of The Liar, the Copy of the Liar, Mexico City, 1994.

Francis Alÿs, The Liar, the Copy of the Liar, Mexico City, 1994.

Francis Alÿs, Still from SOMETIMES DOING SOMETHING POETIC CAN BECOME POLITICAL AND SOMETIMES DOING SOMETHING POLITICAL CAN BECOME POETIC, 2005, Performance / video projection.

 

The Renaissance Society
The University of Chicago
5811 South Ellis Avenue
Bergman Gallery
Cobb Hall 418
773-702-8670
Chicago
Francis Alÿs
September 28-December 14, 2008

By HAMZA WALKER

Mexico City-based artist Francis Alÿs will present his animation Bolero, along with the 511 graphite drawings from which the animation is made, and Politics of Rehearsal, a 30-minute video that combines footage of a speech by President Truman, narration by critic Cuauhtémoc Medina, and a rehearsal for a striptease. Rehearsal parallels sociopolitical promises from Latin America with the tactics of a stripper — always leaving something to be desired.

By the early Twentieth Century, urbanization was a stock part of European modernity come again as a master narrative. Elsewhere the story was only beginning as cities in developing countries, notably in Latin America and Southeast Asia, grew exponentially during the middle of the last century. The emerging megacity, however, has a postmodern corollary, namely the passage from megacity the global city. Unlike the designation "megacity," with its emphasis on a totalizing sense of urbanity forever in crisis of collapse, "global city" refers to the sub- yet transnational character of the world’s largest metropoles as they are hubs of economies, at once domestic and global. A prime example is Mexico City, poster child for the megacity.

Between 1940 and 1990, its population grew tenfold — 1.4 to 14 million. Emblematic of economic globalization, Mexico City has become susceptible to a post-Fordist paradigm no longer exclusive to advanced industrial nations. The structural dynamic linking Mexico City’s regimen of corporate headquarters to the quality of life for the city’s working-class poor is one defined by a decline in manufacturing and an increase in service sector employment. The result is a growing inequality and a shrinking middle class as factories either close or relocate. Given that more than half the world’s population live in cities whose fates belong to the boom and bust cycles of a deregulated global economy characterized by the international flow of capital, to speak of “how the other half lives” in Mexico City is to speak of conditions that are global.

When Belgian native Francis Alÿs (b. 1959) moved to Mexico City in 1986 he had no plans to become an artist. Trained as an architect, Alÿs was inspired by a city overwhelmingly accessible at its street level and utterly incomprehensible in its demographic scope and historical layers — pre-Hispanic, colonial and modern. But Mexico City is less the subject of Alÿs’ work and more his laboratory, if not muse. Insofar as Alÿs could be said to have a medium it would be walking, making Alÿs the consummate post-studio artist. Accordingly, the majority of his work has taken the form of photo / video-based documentation of events (some staged, others a species of vérité) all transpiring in the street. In this respect, Alÿs is heir to that most Latin American of genres, namely the “action,” a gesture falling somewhere between performance and intervention.

Enacted in the public realm, “actions” were historically the front line of assault on the barrier between art and life. When Alÿs arrived on the scene, however, that barrier was next to nonexistent, making his foray into the genre organic rather than ideological. If anything, art and life had become a two-way street. Just as art had found its way into life, so too life had found its way into art. In a manner beyond question, Alÿs’ ongoing photodocumentary slide shows of Mexico City denizens caught unaware in their quotidian lives (Ambulantes, 1992-present, Sleepers, 1999-present, Beggars, 2002-present) share equal billing with his actions whose subjects have included crime (Re-enactment, 2000); the economy of trash (Barrenderos, 2004, The Seven Lives of Garbage, 1995); and a vicious pack of stray dogs (Gringo, 2003). Despite the contrast between the actions, which have a strong allegorical bearing, and the photodocumentary work, which is grounded in transparency, both bodies of work signify a marginalized agency and subjectivity that is a staple of city life.

In an economy of scale, however, marginalized living in Mexico City is anything but marginal. Mexico City’s forms of disenfranchisemen t — social, political, cultural and economic — are part and parcel of the city’s texture, giving its street life a quotient of immediacy. As a result, Alÿs’ work derives its poignancy from gestures that although specific allude to more general conditions in which a tenuous sense of human worth is accepted as a structural part of modernity. This coincides with visual art’s well-cultivated suspicions as to its own use value. Unable to categorize itself as a discrete form of either manual or intellectual labor, art would instead count itself a friend of futility, and proudly so where Alÿs is concerned. But Alÿs’ purposeless yet critical expenditures — whether it is pushing a large block of ice through Mexico City streets for the nine hours it takes to melt (Sometimes making something leads to nothing, Paradox of Praxis 1, 1997) or gathering an army of individuals to shovel an immense sand dune a few inches (When Faith Moves Mountains, 2002) — achieve their legibility in a context whose significance to the global economy as a reservoir of cheap labor cannot be disregarded. In light of these circumstances, Alÿs’ crafting of a tangible futility highlights a purposelessness that in its socioeconomic entrenchment has paradoxically acquired what is perhaps its only use value, namely that of a sign value, making it ripe as a subject for art.

Alÿs’ Renaissance Society exhibition features two works installed in an ambitious two-story exhibition design by the artist. Politics of Rehearsal, 2005–2007, is a thirty-minute video made with frequent collaborators Rafael Ortega and Cuauhtémoc Medina, and Bolero (Shoe Shine Blues), 1999–2007, is an installation featuring a short animation and approximately four hundred of its attendant working drawings.

Alÿs has described his work as “a sort of discursive argument composed of episodes, metaphors, or parables, staging the experience of time in Latin America.” The idea of the "rehearsal," with its stops, starts and repetitions all aimed at perfecting a performance, is one such metaphor. As its title warrants, Alÿs has returned to it on numerous occasions and Politics of Rehearsal builds directly on three previous videos. Rehearsal 1, 1999-2004, recasts Sisyphus as a red Volkswagen Beetle that, syncopated to a musical rehearsal, repeatedly attempts but fails to ascend a hill on the outskirts of Tijuana. R.E.H.E.A.R.S.A.L., 2000, is a short, animated video featuring a hand spelling the word “rehearsal” across the top of a piece of paper. And Rehearsal 2, 2001-2006, is a 15-minute video in which a professional striptease is performed to a rehearsal of Schubert’s soprano/piano duet Lied der Mignon (Song of Longing). Alÿs describes Rehearsal 2 as: “a scenario in which the development of a mechanics — such as two steps forward, three steps back, four steps forward, three steps back — and in which, although the progression is not linear and occurs in a different temporality, there is some progress at the end of the day. It’s a different pace. Postponement or delaying does not mean stagnation. There is always progression, but through a different mode.”

Politics of Rehearsal consists of four distinct components, two of which (the Schubert rehearsal and the striptease) are drawn from Rehearsal 2. The remaining two components are a film excerpt from Harry Truman’s 1949 inaugural address, and running voice-over commentary by art historian and cultural theorist Cuauhtemoc Medina being interviewed by Alÿs, whose voice has been subtracted from the tape. A statement at the beginning of Politics of Rehearsal describes it as a “metaphor of Latin America’s ambiguous affair with modernity.” To call Politics a metaphor is something of an understatement. Not so much a mixed metaphor, it is a mixture of metaphors with Medina’s non-diegetic voice-over as a binding agent. The combination of historical material, performance, and most importantly, voice-over commentary, make it an explicit illustration of Alÿs’ ideas, the literal construction of a metaphor in which the performance is presumed to have an illustrative connection to Medina’s verbal disclosure. The performances and Medina’s words, however, neither confirm nor clarify one another. The result is a brand of latter day surrealism where high art, “tittytainment,” and intellectual reflection coexist in equal measure and free of contention, which is perhaps the most apt of metaphors for Latin America.

Bolero is one of several animations Alÿs has made in the past decade. (Time is a Trick of the Mind, 1998, Song for Lupita, 1998, De Fluiter (The Whistler), 1999, and The Last Clown, 2000). All illustrate a simple and singular act of larger allegorical significance, which in Bolero’s case is a shoe shine set to a short musical phrase whose melody and lyrics are written by Alÿs. In contrast to the saturated production values of today’s digital animation, Alÿs’ output is resolutely artisanal. While its vogue in the sphere of the visual arts could be attributed to the rise of video and digital media, animation has always been tethered to the fine arts through the practice of drawing, even as technical proficiency in figurative rendering was relegated to the professional illustrator/ cartoonist. Tellingly, Bolero is animated in a style of spare line drawing whose clarity belongs to commercial illustration. In that regard, Bolero is indebted to Alÿs’ rotulista (sign painter) paintings, a body of work executed between 1993-1997 in which he collaborated with Mexico City sign painters to translate his small figurative compositions into the sign painters’ larger, stylized tableaux.

But more important, Bolero, as an exhibition of process and product, converts animation into a site where drawing is not only privileged for harboring artisanal skill, but for translating that skill into a display of labor that, like that of its subject matter, has been marginalized. Here, as with other work, Alÿs’ penchant for futility cannot help but mirror the plight of an artistic labor that since the early Twentieth Century has remained haunted by the anxiety of its obsolescence. In form and content, Bolero represents the crafting of a self-worth that is being insisted upon through a manual repetition now substantially devalued by automation. Yet despite its monumental scope of over five hundred drawings, Bolero’s subject lends it a humility recalling animation’s roots in the flipbook. More than simply capturing it, Bolero dissects the palindrome-like polishing movement, as the back and forth action is syncopated to the signature rise and fall of the musical form that is its namesake. Though set to lyrics that center upon the invisibility of shiner and shining, Bolero is actually a motion study, in which Alÿs makes visible a labor usually classified as far less than skilled. He even went so far as to give the movement sculptural form which resembles a diagrammatic structure, declaring the shiner’s act a sort of molecule on which a macro-economy is built.

If, however, the Mexico City shoe shine trade qualifies as invisible, it does so only through its ubiquitousness, making it a trenchant example of that city’s ever burgeoning informal economy, which some experts say accounts for half of the city’s jobs. Whereas those who make a living through unstructured and unregulated activity are by most accounts considered “passive economic agents” who “lost out in the struggle for jobs,” clearly Mexico City gives pause for thought. The relationship between its formal and informal economy is such that they are complementary. The informal economy is not something outside of the city’s economy, it is the city’s economy, and something with and to which Mexico City officials must reckon if not resign themselves. Given its size and the crucial role of many of its services, they have no choice. Distrustful of the formal economy, many informal sector workers are proud of having survived Mexico’s various economic crises—1976, 1982, and 1994 being the major ones— not to mention the earthquake of 1985. While the shoe shine trade cannot fail to signify the relationship between have and have-not, for Alÿs it also represents an agency in one’s survival that perforce becomes an ethos defining the character of his adopted city. But as an allegory of globalization, the shoe shine trade hardly speaks to Mexico City alone. It could just as well be Cairo, Jakarta, or Karachi to name but a few cities where poverty knows no line and wages know no minimum.

Francis Alÿs, Cuentos Patrioticos, 1997.

Francis Alÿs, Gun Camera from SOMETIMES DOING SOMETHING POETIC CAN BECOME POLITICAL AND SOMETIMES DOING SOMETHING POLITICAL CAN BECOME POETIC, 2005, Mixed media, Image Size: 18 x 40-1/2 x 13-1/4".