Francis Alys

Alys was born in Belgium in 1959 and now lives and practises in Mexico City.  I have come across his work before, in Paradox of Praxis, in which he filmed himself pushing a large block of ice around Mexico City until it melted, demonstrating the idea that sometimes making something leads to nothing.

Another piece of his which I love is 1-866-FREE-MATRIX.  This was a telephone number that museum visitors were able to call, inspired by the artists own frustration at trying to contact a museum himself, and failing to reach a human, but simply being routed from one automated sequence menu to another.  aargh! I can’t stand automated telephone answering systems.  Alys set up his own sequences with disquieting options:

If you know where you want to go, press 1; If you want to know where to go, press 2; If you go where you are knowing, press 3; If you know where you are going, press 4.

and after that the choices get weirder and stranger, relating to existance, the destiny of mankind etc.  I would love to experience this piece for real.  It reminds me of a court case for criminal damage reported in the newspapers about 2 or 3 years ago.  A man got so frustrated with the poor customer service from an electronics retailer he overwrote their telephone answering message.. he changed it from “your call is important to us, but you are in a queue and we will answer as soon as possible” to something along the lines of “we don’t give a shit about your problems, why don’t you just f*** off”.  I have tried to find the article on line but as I can’t remember the shop or the date I haven’t had any luck.
alys1squareZócalo (Mexico City, 1999 collaboration with Rafael Ortega) is a 12 hour documentary following the progression of the shadow of the flagpole in the Zócalo (the main square in Mexico City) during the course of a day.   The Zócalo was redesigned at the beginning of the revolutionary era as a setting for huge propagandist spectacles and became with time the ideal space to express public discontent. Alÿs’ film records how arbitrary social encounters can sometimes be perceived as sculptural situations.   When I saw this I thought all the people were standing in the shadow as directed as part of the art work, but actually they are just taking advantage of a bit of shade from the sun.


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