As long as I am walking
As long as I am walking, I am not choosing
As long as I am walking, I am not smoking
As long as I am walking, I am not losing
As long as I am walking, I am not making
As long as I am walking, I am not knowing
As long as I am walking, I am not falling
As long as I am walking, I am not painting
As long as I am walking, I am not hiding
As long as I am walking, I am not counting
As long as I am walking, I am not adding
As long as I am walking, I am not crying
As long as I am walking, I am not asking
As long as I am walking, I am not believing
As long as I am walking, I am not talking
As long as I am walking, I am not drinking
As long as I am walking, I am not closing
As long as I am walking, I am not stealing
As long as I am walking, I am not mocking
As long as I am walking, I am not facing
As long as I am walking, I am not crossing
As long as I am walking, I am not changing
As long as I am walking,
As long as I am walking,
As long as I am walking,
As long as I am walking, I will not repeat
As long as I am walking, I will not remember
Francis Alys 2010.
In Paradox Of Praxis #1 (1997) (a.k.a. Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing), the sound of ice on concrete pavement, scraping along the floor, until it becomes a small ice cube, and finally puddle of water, that soon evaporates. All 9 hours of work involved in pushing the ice block around Mexico City’s historic center, all the energy expended leads to nothing; just as thousands of local people push, carry heap loads of stuff around for sale everyday, with nothing really to show for the efforts.
Francis Alys uses petty, absurd public performances, including getting arrested for carrying a gun in his hand around on the street, to subvert societal norms and bring to light some facet of human existence, which sometimes in itself can be quite absurd, or to bring attention to other relational issues. The mere fact of choosing to live in Mexico is in itself part of the performance: he is officially a tourist there, but he has lived there for almost 30 years. While one could get away with a lot more pranks in the name of art as a tourist, there is also the inherent ambiguity between being a visitor and a resident: is he a tourist? It says so on his passport, but he’s lived there for 30 years and has a family etc..
For Enactments (2001) Alys went and bought a gun and walked along the street with it, holding it in plain sight to see how long he could last and what would happen, filming the event with a partner. This is where being a European tourist helps; although he only managed 11 minutes of free-time, he did manage to avoid jail-time.
Getting 500 people to form a line to move a sand dune in Lima is silly, but the desire for community and comaraderie persuaded people to join in. The sand dune is in a shanty town and as the people climbed up the hill, passing by the inhabitants of this village, it made them think about the people there, unbridled urban development, how much physical labor it takes to move a sand dune, and how profoundly it affects people living there.
What’s the art? Are the people the art? Or is the experience of shoveling sand the art? A memory of the experience is created, a collective mythology where people will talk about for future generations.
The Green Line , 2004: “Sometimes doing something poetic can become political and sometimes doing something political can become poetic.” In the work, Alys carries a tin of green paint, with a hole in the bottom, through the streets of Jerusalem. He dribbles paint along the division between Arab and Jew, a symbolic act, an act of petty vandalism inviting an (over) reaction from the Israeli authorities, a gesture, a joke. It is an action painting, both poetic and political, an ephemeral work which, like the boundary it follows, will dissolve with time.
The Green Line (2004) is a tracing of a line drawn on a map by Israeli military leader Moshe Dayan which used to divide Israel and Jordan at the end of their war in 1949. As absurd as it seems, it is also a reminder, a memory of a time of relative peace and stability, however short.
Alys moved to London for a few years in the early 2000’s to make a series of interventions about the structures of power and the ‘establishment’ there. Guards (2005) is one of the films of the ‘situations’ that happened: a group of 64 Queen’s Guards dispersed throughout the city (of Westminster, (London) arrive in the morning and march around the street finding each other. As soon as they do, they march in together in formation, resulting in groups large and small. When all the groups come together, there would be an 8×8 formation, and when this was achieved, they would march to the nearest bridge and disperse.
Their bright red outfits, black ‘bearskin’ hats and structured, in-step stamping sounds from their boots create a surreal atmosphere which is highlighted when they arrive at the bridge and disperse; highlighting the dramatic contrast between marching and natural human posture/behavior.
Paraiso, Panama 2008 (Ex US Panama Canal zone)
Alys patiently, diligently repaints 60 road median strips as locals look on in bewilderment. Even though he is somewhat of a nuisance to passing vehicles, who can’t speed by with him in the middle of the road, here is somebody willing to take time to care for a public facility. This is in contrast to the surrounding local houses which are decaying and in neglect, while the local people in the vicinity, laze around and do nothing.
Is it art or a political statement? It looks more like a political statement, but Alys doesn’t say anything; he doesn’t hold a press conference at the end and talk about some issue for the Government to look into. And if part of the ‘job’ of art is to reflect or express some sort of state of our existence, then this fits in.
Kabul, 2011. Upon noticing that local children have a habit of playing with metal wheels, rolling them around with a stick, Alys got two of them to roll 2 ends of a film reel around, unreeling it and reeling it simultaneously (the film) through the streets in the process. The reason: On Sept 5th, 2001 Taliban took thousands of reels of Afghani film and burnt them outside Kabul. But they didn’t know they were mostly given copies, which can be replaced, since the originals are intact, which makes this also a poli-artistic act.
The idea of walking has been central to Alys art practice. It is the primary mode of interaction that most people have with a place. While walking can draw attention to locus, the performance brings specific attention to the issues pertinent to the place. While pushing a block of ice around Mexico City in Paradox Of Praxis 1 (1997) draws attention to the plight of free-lance hawkers and their praxis, kicking a flaming ball around Ciudad Juárez is quite different. Here the praxis is not so clear, as the Government battles drug cartels in the area, they also shut down the once roaring, if torrid, nightlife, leaving the place as a ghost town. So if the praxis of Ciudad Juarez is no praxis, since its been destroyed, then the paradox is that kicking a flaming ball around wouldn’t burn it down some more, but begin building it back up.
Walking is also the act that usually keeps one out of trouble, as opposed to loitering which is illegal in many places, but for Alys is the act that paradoxically makes ‘trouble’ for city officials. It is also the vehicle for the enactment of communal myths, and re-enacting different local praxis of being.
For Guards (2005) it is the Queen’s Guards particular type of walking that is being investigated; a highly structured, pageantry of soldiers dressed in bright shiny ‘costumes’ but carry live ammunition, and are not allowed to do anything to deviate from the order and formation of the march, that in totality is so alien to everything else in the city that it is surreal. For these guards, as for street hawkers and people who carry a gun around to commit a crime, Alys’ poem ‘As Long As I’m Walking’, holds true.