September 7, 2023—January 7, 2024
In the course of his extensive travels around the world since 1999, Francis Alÿs’ camera has captured children playing in public spaces. Like eating or sleeping, playing is an essential human need, and children’s games are universal. His informal, ethnographic films record both the power of cultural tradition and the carefree attitudes of children, even in situations of serious conflict. A group of Alÿs’ small paintings—also made while travelling—depict a different take on reality, using his signature poetic realist style.
The Nature of the Game is the title of Francis Alÿs’ exhibition for the Belgian Pavilion at the 2022 Venice Biennale. Curator Hilde Teerlinck and Francis Alÿs realized the first iteration of this exhibition, which is re-adapted for this second presentation.
Curated by: Dirk Snauwaert & Hilde Teerlinck
Francis Alÿs at the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo
February 11–September 17, 2023
Since 1999, Alÿs has been producing videos that document the games that children traditionally play in streets and backyards around the world. Children's Games is an ongoing archive of urban practices that modernization is banishing from daily life, as the concept of public space is being disrupted by the predominance of vehicular transport, and the hoarding of free time by electronic amusements.
The children's diversions that Alÿs records are an endangered subterranean culture that linked generations and crossed borders, but they are also extremely interesting for their conceptual implications. The rules, images, and references project a variety of concepts about time and the world, and suggest a potent and ancient substratum for our shared experience—an additional reason why we should worry about their imminent demise.
Learn more at MUAC.
From December 16, 2022 to March 12, 2023, the Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts in Taipei is presenting Francis Alÿs: Touches of Games, the first solo exhibition featuring the artist’s work in Taiwan.
The exhibition features three major video installations by Alÿs from the past two decades: The Silence of Ani, 2015; Reel-Unreel, 2011; and Don't Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River, 2008. The exhibition is timed to the 2022 Kuandu Biennale - Time of the Art Society: How to become Indi-genous?
Learn more at Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts.
From October 15, 2022 to April 10, 2023, the Copenhagen Contemporary in Denmark is presenting Francis Alÿs: Children’s Games, the first major solo exhibition featuring the artist’s work in Scandinavia.
The exhibition features thirty films from Alÿs’s Children's Games series, some of which are on view in the artist’s presentation at the Belgian Pavilion at the 2022 Venice Biennale until November 27th. The video series features footage from around the world in which kids are captured playing classic children’s games. With humanity and insight into the local conditions, Alÿs captures how children’s games add meaning and often repeat rituals, symbols, and traditions that traverse cultures.
Learn more at the Copenhagen Contemporary.
It has been announced that Francis Alÿs will represent Belgium at the Venice Biennale in 2022. In collaboration with the curator Hilde Teerlinck, the artist will develop an exhibition project for the Belgian Pavilion.
Alÿs will present The Nature of the Game, an exhibition featuring a selection of films and a series of paintings. Almost all of the films will be new productions.
Since 1999, during his many travels, Alÿs’ camera has captured children playing in public spaces. It started coincidentally with the video Children’s Game #1: Caracoles, showing a young boy kicking a bottle up a steep street, only to let it roll back to him and then kicking it up again.
Playing is something natural, something that we discover and learn instinctively in our childhood. Like eating and sleeping, playing is an essential human need. It is necessary to take time, to spend time and to lose time in playing. Children’s play is to be understood as a creative relationship with the world in which they are living, revealing a socio-political dimension.
Observing, investigating and documenting human behaviour in urban life is a constant in Alÿs’ work. His films record (in an ethnographical way) both the power of cultural tradition and the relaxed, free and autonomous attitudes of children, even in the most conflicted of situations. The children’s games play an important role in these explorations and have gained a more central position in his practice: Alÿs uses his camera as a way to try to understand the culture and the patterns by which people live.
As anthropologist David MacDougall said, “Taken together, these films reveal some wider truths: that many children’s games are specific to girls or boys, that most are competitive but also cooperative, and that children are adept at making do with little, adapting a wide range of environments and spaces for their own purposes. In this they create a world parallel to that of adults, one that overlaps with it but uses its physical resources quite differently.”
The exhibition will be presented in WIELS Belgium during the Spring 2023.
Learn more from the Belgian Pavilion.
October 15, 2021–January 16, 2022
This solo show presented an overview of Francis Alÿs’s video work from the last thirty years, with an emphasis on walking, one of the central themes in Alÿs’s practice. Through his seemingly insignificant walks, Alÿs not only reimagines the city, he also creates narratives, spreads rumors, and maps the social fabric of the place through actions that are sometimes short and sometimes carried out over long distances or many hours. He is often dragging, pushing, or carrying an accessory that stands in for a clue to reading the fable spun by the body in motion.
While Alÿs figures as a protagonist in most of his early videos, he moves behind the camera in Children’s Games, a series of works begun in 1999. In these videos, shot in a number of countries, the imaginary spaces of childhood blend with the fictional spaces of the artist, offering him an entry point when dealing with unknown situations or contexts. During his first trip to Kabul in 2010, for instance, Francis Alÿs observed children playing and filmed one of their favorite games, which was the inspiration for Reel-Unreel (2011), one of the core works to come out of his explorations in Afghanistan. It is featured in the Lausanne show along with a large selection of paintings and works on paper. In this project, as in his city wanderings, the artist reveals the deeply subversive potential of play and fiction, while making it possible, short of refashioning reality, to imagine and see it differently.
Salam Tristesse, Iraq, 2016–2020
November 26, 2020–May 30, 2021
The exhibition Francis Alÿs: Salam Tristesse, Iraq, 2016-2020 presented a sample of the work that Francis Alÿs developed between 2016 and 2020 as a war artist in Iraq. In this exhibition, Alÿs explores social collapse, the absence of meaning and the drama caused by war, while, with great clarity about his own work, questioning the role and prerogatives of the artist who documents this warlike confrontation. Indeed, in Alÿs’s work the question constantly arises as to what to do in the face of injustice and the pain of others.
The exhibition, which transits between multiple languages and forms of expression, was made up of the audiovisual pieces Haram Football, Salam Tristesse, Wada’an Tristesse, and Color Matching, as well as other paintings, drawings, interventions on paper and in photography, in addition to different archival material that allows the viewer to get closer to the creative process of the artist in the different projects he carried out in Iraq. Alÿs arrived in Iraq with the intention of documenting the forced displacement of the civilian population caused by the Kurdish-Iraqi military offensive against the Islamic State (ISIS). In addition to accompanying the Kurdish army Peshmerga for a few days, in their offensive to liberate the city of Mosul, he visited different cities, towns and refugee camps. More than witnessing the arduous living conditions in those places, Alÿs documents the survival strategies that people develop in the face of the collapse of the social and symbolic order caused by war.
Faced with a reality dominated by terror, Alÿs shuns any attempt at representation. He does not limit himself to the denunciation that moves to compassion. Rather, he tries to offer a serene point of view that questions the viewer about his own story and the reality that surrounds him. Alÿs does not claim that art can reveal the hidden reality of things, much less remedy the evils of the world. In his own words, “perhaps our job is only to offer a different perspective on a given situation,” since “sometimes the absurdity of the artistic operation is needed to introduce a little sense into a situation that seems to have stopped making sense.”
October 28, 2020–March 28, 2021
Wet feet __ dry feet: borders and games is the first solo exhibition in Hong Kong for Francis Alÿs. Structured around the artist’s interest in migration, borders, and his fascination with children’s games from around the world, this solo exhibition highlights Francis Alÿs’s poetic, imaginative sensibility, anchored by geopolitical concerns and individual will while being grounded in everyday life.
The connection between borders and games in Alÿs’s artistic practice lies at the heart of the exhibition. On view in the exhibition was Alys’s major video installation, Don’t Cross the Bridge Before Getting to the River (2008), along with over 100 paintings, drawings, notes and ephemera related to the project. Also included in the exhibition was the Artist's ongoing project Children’s Games (1999–present), consisting of more than 20 documentary videos of children at play in various locations including Afghanistan, Iraq, Nepal, Jordan, Mexico, France, and Hong Kong—the last featuring newly commissioned videos by Tai Kwun Contemporary.
The title of the exhibition was the spark to Alÿs’s works in this exhibition: “Wet Feet, Dry Feet” refers to the U.S. policy on Cuban refugees in 1995. Under this policy, Cuban migrants headed for the United States faced vastly different treatment depending on whether they were intercepted at sea or on land, on US soil. If intercepted at sea (“wet feet”), they would be repatriated back to Cuba; if intercepted on land (“dry feet”), they would be allowed to stay in the United States. For a Hong Kong audience, this might sound uncannily familiar: the “Touch Base” policy in 1970s Hong Kong meant that Mainland Chinese migrants would be sent back to the Mainland if intercepted at sea or in the New Territories; only if they reached south of Boundary Street—the formal boundary between Kowloon and the New Territories—were migrants allowed to stay legally in the territory (in the quirky British sports reference, “touch base”).
Read the news in Artforum
Awarded every three years in four categories—Logic & Philosophy, Mathematics, Visual Arts, and Musical Arts—the Rolf Shock Prizes were established and endowed by a bequest of the philosopher and artist Rolf Schock (1933–1986), and are decided by the three Swedish academies in those disciplines. Fellow gallery artist Marlene Dumas was awarded the Visual Arts prize in 2011.
Born in 1959 in Antwerp, Belgium, Alÿs originally trained as an architect. He moved to Mexico City in 1986, where he continues to live and work, and it was the confrontation with issues of urbanization and social unrest in his new country of adoption that inspired his decision to become a visual artist. In his work, Alÿs consistently directs his distinct poetic and imaginative sensibility toward anthropological and geopolitical concerns centered around observations of, and engagements with, everyday life, which the artist himself has described as “a sort of discursive argument composed of episodes, metaphors, or parables.”
Francis Alÿs will debut his new film Sandlines (2018) in the “New Frontiers" category at this year’s Sundance Film Festival in Utah. Filmed during multiple trips over the past few years, the work is part of a larger body of work focused on Iraq, the beginnings of which were first exhibited at the Iraqi Pavilion during the 2017 Venice Biennale.
On January 21, 2020, Francis Alÿs received the Art Icon Award. The award will be given at an evening event hosted by Whitechapel Gallery Director Iwona Blazwick, OBE, and Swarovski Executive Board member Nadja Swarovski.
Launched in 2014, the award is supported by Swarovski, and celebrates the work of an artist who has made a profound contribution to a particular medium, influencing their own and subsequent generations of artists.
June 20—September 9, 2018
Knots’n Dust traveled to Ikon Gallery in Birmingham, UK from Beirut Art Center, where it was on view from January 31–April 22, 2018. Exploring both early and recent works by Francis Alÿs, the exhibition included a series of photographs taken in Beirut during a sandstorm in 2015, as well as videos, paintings, and an animated film which is being exhibited for the first time.
The exhibition's title referred to zones of turbulence in connection with both Alÿs's work and the identity of the city of Beirut.
June 8–July 8, 2018
The multi-part installation The Silence of Ani (2015) by Francis Alÿs was included in Groundwork, an annual program organized by CAST (the Cornubian Arts & Science Trust), in Cornwall, England. Taking place across West Cornwall and curated in 2018 by Teresa Gleadowe, Groundwork presented new commissions and acclaimed works with an emphasis on sound, moving image, and performance.
First shown in the 14th Istanbul Biennale and now part of the Centre Pompidou collection, The Silence of Ani relates to a project Francis Alÿs undertook along the Armenian-Turkish border in 2015. The installation is composed of a monochrome video with a diptych, a painting, a drawing, and an archive consisting of seventy birdcalls, as well as ephemera including notes, studies, and photos. "Once upon a time Ani was one of the most important cities of the Middle Ages," Alÿs explains, "People called it ‘The City of the 1001 Churches’ and it competed in size and beauty with Constantinople and Jerusalem. But at the turn of the first millennium nomads coming from Central Asia invaded Ani. Sieges, sackings and more invasions followed . . . People started abandoning the city, until all life left and silence fell upon Ani. This all happened many years ago, what are we to do now? Is there something other than silence?"
Francis Alÿs has won the 2018 EYE Art & Film Prize. Awarded annually since 2015 by the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam with the Paddy and Joan Leigh Fermor Arts Fund, the prize recognizes an artist or filmmaker whose work unites art and film, and demonstrates quality of thought, imagination, and artistic excellence. The prize funds the making of new work.
The jury for the 2018 edition was chaired by EYE CEO Sandra den Hamer and included the French fashion designer Agnès B., Andrea Lissoni, senior curator of film and international art at Tate Modern in London, and the Thai film director Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The EYE Prize has previously been awarded to Wang Bing (2017), Ben Rivers (2016), and Hito Steyerl (2015).
Read more in Artforum.
Image: Francis Alÿs in Iraq, 2016. Photo by Akam Shex Hadi
Francis Alÿs Represented Iraq in the 57th Venice Biennale
May 13–November 26
Francis Alÿs presented new paintings and a video created in Mosul in the exhibition Archaic in the Iraqi National Pavilion in Venice.
In 2016, Alÿs travelled to northern Iraq on the invitation of the Ruya Foundation, an organization founded in 2012 with the aim of aiding and enriching culture in Iraq. Alÿs spent nine days on the frontline in Mosul with the Kurdish Army, or Peshmerga, an experience which continued his exploration of the role of the artist in situations of conflict. He wrote about the experience for Artforum:
"There is something peculiar about the times we live in, and with them, a different expectation of the artist's role. When the structure of a society collapses, when politicians and media have lost credit and terror invades daily life, society turns toward culture in pursuit of answers. The painter is expected to look at its reality without any filters…Yet, is the artist able to assume those roles from a moral, intellectual, and emotional point of view?"
Read more: a featued interview with the artist in Artsy about the Mosul project. A conversation with the Iraqi Pavilion curators Tamara Chalabi (co-foundation of the Ruya Foundation) and Paolo Colombo in ArtReview.
Image: Untitled, Mosul (selfie), 2016.
A Story of Negotiation
A Story of Negotiation presented significant projects from the last two decades by Francis Alÿs, and travelled from the Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City to the Museo de Arte Latinoamericano de Buenos Aires (MALBA), the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes in Havana, and the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto.
The exhibition centered around three large-scale video works which reflect Alÿs's distinct sensibility towards anthropological and geopolitical concerns. Don’t Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River (2008) documents an event in which local children stood in the sea at either shore of the Strait of Gibraltar holding boats made from shoes; the aim was to create the illusion of a bridge on the horizon. In Tornado (2000-2010), Alÿs chases dust-devils in the Mexican outback. REEL-UNREEL (2011) depicts a street game played by children in Kabul who follow a reel of film as it unravels through the old part of town.
"As ambitious as it is charming, this grand exhibition of Alÿs's oeuvre allows the audience to witness a brilliant conjugation of the sociopolitical language that is applied throughout his career." — Aesthetica Magazine
Solo Exhibition and Biennial Participation
Francis Alÿs’s work was the subject of two presentations in Shanghai. On view from November 9 through February 24, 2019, at Rockbund Art Museum (RAM), the solo exhibition La dépense (“consumption”) was his first large-scale presentation in mainland China. Curated by Yuko Hasegawa, chief curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo and professor of curatorial and art theory at the city’s Tama Art University, and Larys Frogier, director at RAM, the show is framed in terms of resisting the onset of digital experience with manual action. Among the works on view were the video pieces Tornado (2000–2010) and A Story of Deception (2003–2006), the installations Silencio (2003–2010) and Exodus, 2014–2018, and small-scale paintings from the ongoing series Le Temps du sommeil, begun in 1996.
On view through March 10, 2019, Alÿs presented three video works and a maquette in the 12th Shanghai Biennale. The biennial was titled Proregress: Art in an Age of Historical Ambivalence and was organized by Cuauhtémoc Medina, who has been a long-time collaborator and curator of Alÿs’s work on projects including the major solo exhibition A Story of Negotiation, which traveled to museums in North and South America from 2015 to 2017.
Alÿs, who travels widely and has produced work in many countries, has described his practice as “a sort of discursive argument composed of episodes, metaphors, or parables.” Exploring anthropological and geopolitical contexts in different places, he uses media including public actions, installations, video, paintings, and drawings. Alÿs first made work in China in the late 1990s, examples of which were included in La dépense; this was the artist’s second official participation in the Shanghai Biennale after presenting his work in its 9th edition in 2012.
Reflecting on the itinerant nature of his activities in the book accompanying A Story of Deception, a critically acclaimed survey of his work shown at Tate Modern in London, Wiels in Brussels, and The Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1 in New York from 2010 to 2011, Alÿs has said: “My own reaction to the place [where I arrive to make a project] is itself subjective: it is a bit of a dance in between my own concerns or obsessions that I carry with me over there and their meeting with that place, that clash that will eventually lead to a concrete reaction, a piece, or nothing. And it is never just about the place. . . . It is more because my own concerns at the time happen to coincide with the concerns of a certain place at a certain moment of its history.” Arriving in Shanghai in 1997, the artist’s observations took the form of poetic fragments as he noticed “the crude reality of a mutating Shanghai. Pure present.”
In a 2011 interview, Alÿs describes coming to culture “empirically,” an approach that intersects with the context outlined by this year’s Shanghai Biennale curator. Medina’s observation that the “structural production” which proliferates in the contemporary moment “involves a distancing from the processes that connect with our immediate experience, making it almost impossible to have empirical access to anything” suggests a fertile environment for Alÿs’s work, which in both of these exhibitions was the result of—and appeals to—direct experience. “Alÿs’s performances query the relationships between people and their geographical and sociopolitical environments, implicitly creating a flow of life through acts such as drawing, walking, moving objects, and building bridges,” Hasegawa writes in a text accompanying La dépense; “Here you will find direct encounters and physical involvement of the sort gradually being threatened by and forgotten by our digitized world, and suggestions that make us aware of, or recognize anew, manual work.”
Image: Francis Alÿs, Le Temps du sommeil, 1996–ongoing (detail)
August 31–November 4, 2018
The Logbook of Gibraltar at Art Sonje Center in Seoul was Francis Alÿs’s first solo exhibition in Korea. Among other works, the show included Don’t Cross the Bridge Before you get to the River (2006-2008), an important example of the artist’s engagement with anthropological and geopolitical contexts using poetic means. Presented as a multi-media installation encompassing painting, drawing, sculpture, and video, the project documents how, as Alÿs explains, "A line of kids each carrying a boat made out of a shoe leaves Europe in the direction of Morocco, while a second line of kids with shoe-boats leaves Africa in the direction of Spain. The two lines will meet on the horizon." This public action organized by the artist, which took place on August 12, 2008, represented not an actual attempt to bridge the Strait of Gibraltar, but instead an imaginative one in which shoes become mythical vessels, and children are giants.
Image: Installation view, The Logbook of Gibraltar, Art Sonje Center, Seoul, 2018