Francis Alys at David Zwirner ,review


This is an artist I had only seen briefly and hadn’t really look at his work or watched one of his film all the way through, until I went to his latest show at the David Zwirner gallery.


Alys is an artist who has relocated his practice to Mexico, a city notorious for drug barons, extreme poverty, prostitution, violence and police that look the other way. With all of this going on in one city you would think it more than fuels his work, which it does but not for the reasons most would suspect. Me included, which is why I am now interested in his way of thinking about conflict and ruin and how the artist portrays this.


Over the past few decades he has become known for his multifaceted art practice exploring film, photography, performance and painting within his work. Art as an experience is a concept that is being reinvented constantly due to audience participation and can bring new ideas to the work otherwise not thought about.


Alys sociopolitical work is constantly reinventing new ways to create a narrative to be reinterpreted by the viewer. His work is always in different socio-geographical areas as he feels each culture has its own collective dialogue. His work always seems inspired by the marginalized societies where ruin and war are constant in one form or another.




Although his work touches on the political it is not in a didactic manner, it is more poetic leaving the audience to decide the meanings of the work. Weather that is though his drawings and painting or the video installations he creates.


These drawings and paintings are his ideas and his sketches that he uses to plan his films, but these are also shown with the work, so you also get the build up to the final film piece.


As this is the first time of seeing his work then doing a bit of research, what I have noticed is the simplicity within his practice using minimal materials to get the greatest of impacts.

The works in this show starts with small delicate inked postcards that are placed on the wall, you have to get extremely close to them to see that he has left small areas of light showing through, this makes you feel like you are simply peeping in on a person or event that they really don’t know the whole story of.

What I like about his work is the minimal open-ended questions he poses that could be relevant for any society. He shows that being a flaneur is not enough we are never just onlookers but become part of the geography in some form or other.

His film “Paradox of Praxis 5” at this show takes us though the ruins and streets of Ciudad Juarez, as he kicks this ball of flames you get sudden glimpses of life, death, danger and ruin throughout his journey and you eye is constantly drawn away back and forth from the fire to the street wondering want will happen.

Questions enter you head; how has he not set fire to his foot? Why is know one approaching him? How is this ball staying alight? Will this end well?

Like with other films he has done the fire slowly disappears, burns itself out to nothing, only the eerie darkness is left. Raising more questions about not just the area he is filming in but also life itself our journey, the ball of fire was like this earth being kicked by its inhabitants slowly disappearing, would it also burn itself out?

On the other hand his work has brought to my attention that the ruins around us are not only products of destruction and war, to create devastation and loss, but these ruins also become new spaces of habitation and life. He brings the hidden into reality and his work borders reality and fantasy.





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