Francis Alÿs blurs the boundaries between melancholy and humorous story-telling by means of seemingly naive paintings and drawings that form the basis for small animated films addressing socially critical actions and studies relating to everyday life on the streets ofhis chosen home, Mexico City.
He first came to wider international attention with his Paseos – seemingly casual walks through the city that provide documentary, glimpses of the city’s political, social and historical situation as though by chance.
In this exhibition, the nine-part video installation Choques (2005/06) ran like a connecting theme throughout all the rooms. The films showed the encounter between a man and a dog from different viewpoints. Many of the other works were produced in and around Mexico City’s large main square, known as the Zócalo – an area rich in history and impacted by social problems. One such work is Cuentos Patrióticos (1997) documenting a performance by the artist in which he walks around the flagpole at the centre of the Zócalo with a ram trotting behind him on a leash. Each time they round it, another sheep is added to the procession until an unbroken circle is formed. This deeply symbolic act is based on a specific event: during the upheavals of 1968, thousands of civil servants descended upon the Zócalo in what appeared to be a demonstration of support for the government, only to turn their backs to the official podium in an act of rebellion and start bleating like a vast herd of sheep. Between 1992 and 2001, Alÿs photographed animals and people in the streets of Mexico City, including the displaced, the homeless, and the hawkers. He documented the everyday life of this bustling metropolis in images that speak for themselves – images that show how creatively solutions are sought to poverty and hopelessness, and how the non-places of the city become places of survival, and of life. For the slide projection Ambulantes (1992–2001)he photographed people carrying or dragging all manner of things –crates, plants, barrels, balloons – across the street in their own improvised approach to transportation within the megalopolis of Mexico City.