Posts Tagged ‘Francis Alys’

Blackpaint 247

January 30, 2011

Gabriel Orozco at the Tate Modern

One of the main exhibits at this show is a stone(? actually plasticene, the booklet says) ball that Orozco rolled around Monterrey, and then New York – an act reminiscent of Francis Alys and his melting block of ice (Blackpaint 180).  Different point, of course; ball was to pick up impressions, not to disappear in a demonstration/celebration of futility.  Close though, trundling objects round the streets.  The connection goes further;  Mexico City is where Alys lived.  Who had the idea first, I wonder.

The booklet that goes with the exhibition, like the Alys, is great; pretty much everything listed with a brief explanation.  The trouble is, you end up having everything explained to you and you don’t think about what you see.  Martin Creed is right – you should go round, look at it all without reading anything (unless there are words on the art itself) and then, maybe, read the booklet and the wall plaques and labels.  Then again, see the stuff above about the plasticene ball; wouldn’t have known that, without the booklet. 

So, what’s in the exhibition?

Some lovely small oil works on paper – blotty, a bit Nogueira, bit Tillmans..

The squashed-in Citroen (actually middle chopped out and resealed).

Four bikes, screwed together in improbable ways to make a sculpture.

Lots of – too many – photos of two yellow motor bikes, like little friends, parked in different locations.

Inner tubes inflated to huge balls.

A whole room of shredded tyre fragments, laid out, alligned on the floor.  Kieferish.

“Lintels” – shreds like flags, strung on wires across the room, assembled from the fluff collected in industrial cleaning machines.  When this, according to the booklet, was first exhibited in NY in November 2001, “the ash-coloured lint took on a poignant significance”.  I thought of Beuys – a bit.

A billiard table with no pockets, and a red ball suspended and swinging in an arc across.  Children were playing , trying to get the red ball as it swung.

“Samurai tree” paintings, on wooden blocks; highly coloured spheres and half spheres, connected like some table construction game.

The chequered skull, of course.

Ripples in lines of print on long, Chinese scrolls that turn out to be tiny numbers assembled from phone books.  A huge amount of fiddly work – symptomatic, really.

I felt that, with some exceptions, the show consisted of knick-knacks; contrivances to make you smile wryly, or exclaim gently, like something in Covent Garden on a Sunday afternoon.  The skull is beautiful – skulls are – and so is the way the chessboard pattern is stretched in the eye sockets, for instance, like netting – but none of it really says much to me, unlike the Francis Alys.  I would compare it to Anish Kapoor’s show at the Guggenheim – high quality fun objects, to make you smile, but not laugh or frown.  I couldn’t see a dark side to it at all (the September 11th suggestion in the booklet didn’t persuade me).   

all that said, the small oils were beautiful and there were two intriguing photographs; “Plastic Bag with Water”, I think, Prunella Clough – type image, and “Simon’s Island” – I can’t make out if it is an egg in close-up or someone’s – presumably Simon’s – globular belly, rising from the bath water.

Varda Caivano

Argentinian abstract painter, looks more my sort of thing; at the Victoria Miro Gallery to 12th March.



Blackpaint 206

October 13, 2010

Ai Weiwei in the Turbine Hall (cont.)

So I went up to the Tate Modern to see for myself.  I was wrong; it doesn’t look like a builder’s yard or a railway yard – it looks like a beach.  The place was full of couples with kids who’d obviously read the Guardian article and brought them there to play in the “sand”.  there was a cleared pathway of a couple of feet round it and a team of Tate young persons sweeping the escaping seeds back in.

The seeds are actually variable in a ppearance; some are dark grey, some lighter.  The hand painting consists of three or four strokes.  They feel like stones; some people were taking photos of them.  I spent five minutes, then went up to see Jorn and Kline and Mitchell and the others.  Did it make me think of Twitter, or crystallised labour (see Blackpaint 205)?  No – it made me think “There are 150 million of these seeds and they certainly look like 150 million; so there are a lot of people in China  – 7 or 8 times as many seeds”.  Incredibly shallow, but there you are. 

The trouble with conceptual art is that it often has to be explained to you, so that you get the right message.  Once you’ve got the message, that’s it, job done  – mostly, there’s nothing more.  With a painting, you can go back to it over and over again and get something from it.  I think only the Balka and the Eliasson have made me want to repeat the experience.

It occurs to me how difficult it must be to get these things into existence, how much persuasion and organisation….  I see them (the artists) as being a bit like old style entrepreneurs, Brunel, Carnegie.  Getting these seeds made reminds me of Francis Alys getting those students to shift the dune, or Tunick, or Vanessa Beecroft persuading large numbers of people to strip off for photographs.

Andrew Marr

Blogs are the “spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night,” he says.  Right about that, anyway.


Looked him up on google (see Bl. 205).  He’s done a lot of thick circles.  I like them.


At Tate Modern, looked at Cy’s three big paintings of circular, arcing red paint.  I thought they were blood – but they’re called “Bacchus”; its wine.  Puts a different complexion on it.

Joan Jonas 

Next room to Twombly.  She did a children’s play at Whitechapel in the 70s and this is a video loop of the performance.  Terrifying – Japanese masks, blood.. Only thing I heard clearly was “Then she brought it down on his head!”  Costumes, props and lots of flags, red on white , white on red, like blood of course.

Natchez Burning

Another one gone



Blackpaint 180

August 23, 2010

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



Blackpaint 49

January 25, 2010

My Abstract Expressionist binge

Exhausted and feeling sick today, after efforts of last two nights – plus that crash when you think you’ve done something passably good and the scales suddenly fall from your eyes.  I fiddled with AbEx no.2 this morning, to see if I could give it some structure, but not happy with it.  As Pollock said, “..the painting has a life of its own.  I try to let it come through.  It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess.  otherwise there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well”.

That’s absolutely right – everything that Pollock says about the act of painting is very clear and straight; he reminds me of Bacon in that respect.  Anyway, I decided I’d fly the results, whether they were crap or just mediocre, so this is it.

Francis Alys

This artist is my current hero and this is why (extract from 100 Contemporary Artists, Taschen) : “In 1997, Francis Alys pushed a large block of ice through the streets of Mexico City until it was reduced to a puddle of meltwater.  This…illustrated the futility of the sculptural endeavour…but its very absurdity guaranteed its continued existence through word of mouth anecdote” – which I suppose is sort of what I’m doing now.

Can’t write more tonight, but since most visitors to this blog come for Michelangelo, here he is-