Francis Alÿs is a Belgian artist currently based in Mexico City. His practice is difficult to define as he employs a broad range of media and adopts a number of different approaches. Having been influenced by Baudelaire’s Flaneur he also uses walking to make ephemeral works that draw attention to a social or political point of view. One aspect that makes Alÿs exceptional to other artists I have mentioned here previously is that he uses photography to document the temporary and performative aspects of his work. After the performance is over the photographs can then act as a document to be used to perpetuate the work in a gallery space. Below are a few examples of his work to show his unique, inventive and humorous approach to walking in the city.
LOS ZAPATOS MAGNETICOS, 1994, PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION OF AN ACTION
“During the 5th Havana Biennial, I put on my magnetic shoes and took daily walks through the streets, collecting scraps of metal lying in my path”
As Alÿs wonders around the city collecting detritus with his magnetic shoes, the shoes become a symbol of recycling as well as a meditation on the allure of objects as consumerist commodities.
WALKING AND PAINTING, 2002/04, PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION OF AN ACTION
“A Painting is hung on a gallery wall. As the gallery opens its doors, the carrier takes the painting off the wall and walks it through the city. As night and closing time approach, the carrier brings the painting to the gallery, hangs it on the wall and covers it with a veil for the painting to sleep. The same action is repeated the following day.”
PARADOX OF PRAXIS 1, 1997, PHOTOGRAPHIC DOCUMENTATION OF AN ACTION
“Something making something leads to nothing.”
Alÿs pushes a block of ice around the streets of Mexico City for six or seven hours until it melts. On the same streets, manual workers routinely spend their days pushing and pulling carts and boxes. The results are the same: nothing to show for all the hard work.
“Walking, in particular drifting, or strolling, is already – within the speed culture of our time – a kind of resistance. Paradoxically it’s also the last private space, safe from the phone or e-mail. But it also happens to be a very immediate method for unfolding stories. It’s an easy, cheap act to perform or to invite others to perform. The walk is simultaneously the material out of which to produce art and the modus operandi of the artistic transaction. And the city always offers the perfect setting for accidents to happen. There is no theory of walking, just a consciousness. But there can be a certain wisdom involved in the act of walking. It’s more an attitude, and it is one that fits me all right. Its a state where you can be both alert to all that happens in your peripheral vision and hearing, and yet totally lost in your thought process.”
(From an interview with Russell Ferguson found in the monograph Francis Alÿs)