Blackpaint 180

Francis Alys

“A Story of Deception” at the Tate Modern.  A series of videos and films,  with a number of little paintings on paper, tiles and such and some artifacts – machine guns with tape- and film spools standing in for ammunition magazines (I suppose that’s deception, but so is any art except ready-mades); and a rack of shelving filled with toy metal trucks, presumably collected by the magnetised dog he pushed or pulled through the streets.

The booklet offers maybe the clearest explanation of each of the projects documented here that I’ve seen.  The explanations are plausible – but more of that later.

The first is “Mirage”.  Film of a desert road with white centre markings, apparently dissolving into a “sea”, framed between two wavery horns of sandy soil.  Hypnotic image, as mirages are.  Booklet says, “A goal that is longed for but never reached.”

Second is “The Loop”.  Alys was invited to an exhibition in San Diego, across the border from Tijuana, Mexico.  He decided to go there, avoiding crossing the border – that meant flights down through Central America and the Pacific rim of South America, across to Australia, up the Pacific rim of China, through Alaska and down to San Diego.  The booklet says, “(the trip) highlights the difficulties faced by Mexican citizens trying to visit the US, and the excesses of artworld travel”.  Alys, however, in his postcard to punters, says “The project remained free and clear of all critical implications beyond the physical displacement of the artist.”  So if it highlighted something, it wasn’t the artist’s intention.

The third room contains a number of videos of projects in Mexico City.  There are the magnetised dogs, sheep endlessly circling a monument (increasing by one every turn) and the famous block of ice that Alys pulled like a dog round the city until it melted.  This was titled, appropriately, “Sometimes doing something leads to nothing”.  I was interested to see that he was kicking the ice block before him as it melted, using its “skating” properties to make the journey more efficient; I felt this was cheating, for some reason.  The booklet says the piece “speaks to the frustrated efforts of everyday Mexico City residents to improve their living conditions”.  Pity; I thought the point being made was more universal, somehow.

There are a number of these “futile” activities paralleled elsewhere: kids kick a half full bottle of Coke up a hill (looks good as the liquid rolls and foams) and build sandcastles; a Volks goes uphill to music and rolls back down when soundtrack stops; 500 students shift a sand dune a few inches with shovels; a cartoon woman pours water from one glass to another endlessly, while singing about “manana”; the artist films himself running into the eye of a duststorm.  The booklet defines these actions in terms of Latin American socio-economic and political conditions; Alys is offering a political critique, it appears. 

I won’t go into what does or doesn’t happen when he goes for a walk through Mexico City carrying – very visibly – a handgun.

One action is clearly political (as well as poetic, as Alys says); The Green Line.  He walks the 1948 Israel – Jordan border in Jerusalem, dribbling a line of green paint behind him.  Soundtrack of various Israeli and Palestinian comments.

The booklet is clear and plausible, as I said – but it seems limiting and a little depressing.  The pat explanations fit OK, but they are too specific.  Most of these projects are variations on the myth of Sisyphus so why interpret them exclusively as comments on Mexican or South American political realities? Surely they have a much greater irrelevance.

A great show, very funny at times.

The Twins




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