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 sand dune in Lima, Peru, digging with spades and shifting the dune a few centimetres as they go. These are the works of the artist Francis Alÿs. Francis Alÿs (born in Belgium, 1959) moved to Mexico City in the mid 1980s at a time of political unrest. Many of his works refer to Mexico City with its contrasts and contradictions.
With humour, sensitivity and an acutely personal connection to his subject matter, Francis Alÿs examines the patterns of urban sites before weaving his own fables. He explores subjects such as modernism in Latin America and border zones in areas of politic conflicts, asking about the relevance of poetic acts. Alÿs’s work starts with a simple action, either by him or others, which is then documented in a range of media. From that point onward, the fables take on a life of their own. His works often seem to be documents or traces of an artistic practice. Alÿs has used video and film, but also other media such as postcards. Painting and drawing remain central to his work. Alÿs consistently comes back to once-developed themes, treating his previous works like a repository for future pieces. In its repetition and transmission he continues a larger story, trying to materialize a missing episode. What makes Alÿs’s practice so compelling is that he manages to address the political through poetic acts.
Important solo exhibitions took place at the Museo Tamayo, Mexico City, Mexico (2015), Museum of Modern Art, New York, US (2011), Tate Modern, London, UK (2010) and Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain (2003). His work has been included in major international institutions and exhibitions: dOCUMENTA(13), Kassel; Venice Biennale, Venice; Sydney Biennale, Sydney; The Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, Chicago; UCLA Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; Schaulager, Basel; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Kunsthmuseum Wolfsburg, Wolfsburg; Kunsthaus Zürich, Zurich.