Walking through the carefully orchestrated exhibition, a sense of displacement occurs - as though you are wondering idly, observing the inner most thoughts and ideas of Francis Alÿs. The rooms on the 5th floor have even been transformed by pale purples and greens on the walls to create an immersive, ephemeral experience. Through Francis Alÿs: A Story of Negotiation, I too felt like the idle wanderer or flâneur of Albert Camus' L'Étranger protagonist, discovering the world and geopolitical issues and tribulations through the absurd practices and works of the artist.
There are so many interpretations and ways of analyzing his works. These social projects, [to name one When Faith Moves Mountains (a 2002 collaboration of volunteers to shovel and move a large sand dune in Peru - a commentary on Peru's political transition)] take years to develop. They are then articulated through the archival documents created, such as film, sketches, notes and art pieces. In Francis Alÿs: A Story of Negotiation at the AGO (from Dec 8 2016 - April 2, 2017), the artist created a curatorial project to display and celebrate the artistic process and how an idea in the imagination is then changed, negotiated and articulated through crude realities it meets.
This exhibition, like most of Alÿs work deal with a number of interwoven complexities. Since I could write for days on days about one of his projects, I will spare all of your time by outlining 2 interesting aspects.
Francis Alÿs: A Story of Negotiation is a collaborative curatorial project between artist Francis Alÿs and curator Cuauhtemoc Medina. It is set to tour 3 major countries, beginning with Mexico and traveling to Canada and finally the USA. By creating this bridge of networks (fusing three countries together through one project), the geopolitical issues and stress become emphasized, circulated and discussed. This rhizomatic tendency outlined by the the philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, as a non hierarchal theory of knowledge thus allowing for multiple entry and exit points of interpretation for data. This echoes through all of Alÿs works and specifically this exhibition itself. Upon entering the pale purple room in on the 5th floor of the AGO, the viewer is confronted by a materialization of the project Gibraltar Cross. A line of flip flops made into boats lay lined up on the floor against a mirror to create an illusion of infinity. This 2008 project had the artist create 2 lines of children carrying small boats made of a flip flop into the water. The children were essentially bridging Africa and Europe by ascending into the water from Spain and Morocco bridging the two together. Here Alÿs brings up the subject of migration. The mirror against the wall, literally confronts us to reflect upon the ongoing issues surrounding migration and our role within this world geopolitical issue - again bridging the larger issue to the individual. By having the the film, sketches and notes and lastly an object based work, the artist allows the viewers to bridge his experience with our own, thus creating a number of vastly different but important interpretations.
Another key aspect I found to be of relevance was the idea of a circle, both figuratively and literally. The idea of cyclical movement is a prominent form and idea throughout this exhibition articulated perfectly through the installation Coyote. Coyote is a set of "guns" created by reels of film , aluminum cans and wood that were arranged in a circle all pointing with one another. Across this installation plays a looped film of an american soldier disarming his gun. Echoed right behind this film, plays another looped film of an Afghani rebel arming his gun. These cyclical actions as well as the materialization of the gun installation echoes the absurdity of by doing something, sometimes it leads to nothing. It is a reflection of the political realities that plagued and still plague us today. By invading a country, does it really bring peace? These actions are paradoxical, do they really bring anything good?
Probably his most poetic, subtly beautiful yet absurd is his film Tornado (2000 -2010) (again we see the idea of cyclical come into play). Playing in a blacked out room, isolated from the rest of the exhibition, a sense of quietness overwhelms the room. The film demands attention. We sit and watch the inception of small tornado being created throughout the ravaged farm fields in Mexico. We slowly watch it become larger and watch the artist run after the tornado, attempting to find its peaceful centre over and over again. While the film like all his works relate back to larger social issues - in particular here, the economic tribulations in Mexico at the moment, there is still a sense of optimism and beauty being portrayed. Through the repetition of his actions and trying to chase the eye to find the peace and quiet he is relaying that his efforts are not in vain. There is a validity in trying and trying to get to a better place. This piece to me was the most beautiful, absurd and heartwarming.
Francis Alÿs is successful at poetically engaging his viewers in urgent social issues. Through his complex works, he allows the viewer to exploit and discover the many ways of interpreting and understanding his work. We all have different views and interpretations. Maybe my views are vastly different from yours. This does not mean that they are wrong. This exhibition is probably one of the more influential exhibitions to come to Canada. It is really worth seeing and we would love to hear your experiences.