|Francis Alÿs||Interview with Francis Alÿs|
begin by asking... how would you define yourself as an
artist. Considering that you are working with different
media (performance, painting, photography...) and
strategies, is it a well pondered result of your
reflection on the state of the arts or a way to feed your
own curiosity towards art practice, which would also be
normal for someone who didn't attend the ordinary
I entered the art field by accident: a coincidence of geographical, personal and legal matters resulted in indefinite vacations which, through a mixture of boredom, curiosity and vanity, led to my present profession. The rather mixed media practice is the consequence of ignorance: not being skilled in any specific medium, I might as well pretend to all of them. My only skill might be in finding the right collaborator for each project, each medium, someone who will translate, adapt and hopefully challenge the plot I'm purposing.
Do you mean all your work realized is made by someone else?
Not all of my works are realized with someone else, but most of them are done in the prospect of an eventual collaboration... The way it happens is that , once the first scenario is set, I pass it on and watch it evolve, or die. If the concept holds, "it" will bounce back and forth (from the "other(s)" to me and vice versa), grow into something else or reinforce itself through the process of its multiple interpretation... If the concept is weak, it will have a short term live and disintegrate within the exchange process itself. It's the test of the articulation, from an idea to a product. Not all ideas need to turn into products though, the best ones tend to become stories, without the need to turn into products.
Also when considering the same practice - let's say painting for instance - I see a lot of variety among your series of paintings.... how come?
It could be any style , as long as it serves the purpose of the game.
What kind of commitments were you asking to the billboard painters you hired to realize your first paintings?
Let's say there was some kind of agreement between the sign painters and myself, at first the "commissioner": I was asking the sign painters (on top of enlarging and multiplying the original model) to question the image and to use their skills to improve the image's communication power; or to deviate its message; or to extend its content till it would lead to a new image/situation - I wasn't asking a simple copying process, and the team (that quickly became a cooperative of painters with shares holders etc..) producing hundreds of images over a period of 4 years was initially formed by the painters who were willing to enter these premises, and to enjoy- that is to have fun - the challenge
Shouldn't we expect different attitudes between a painter sitting in front of an empty canvas and the performer moving his body through the city?
My paintings, my images, are only attempting to illustrate situations I confront, provoke or "perform" on a more public, usually urban - and ephemeral level . I'm trying to make a very clear distinction in between what will be addressing the street and what will be directed to the gallery wall. The photo residue of an act acquires a very different status (other than the act itself) once hanged on a gallery wall. It can become the finality of the piece. I tried to create painted images that could become equivalents to the action, souvenirs without literally representing the act itself. Most of the time, I would try to imagine a more domestic situation that could translate a similar situation, but also function as an autonomous painting on the wall, and fulfill the more "commercial" aspect of the profession, within its commonly accepted parameters. That distinction also had the advantage to leave me with an enormous freedom when it came down to both practices (always simultaneous: one feeding the other). I'm using the past tense since I stopped collaborating with sign painters in December 1997. I've been trying since to achieve the same purpose trough music video clips.
Writing about your painting, Cuauhtemoc Medina mentions the possibility "of recuperating paintings as a means of intercultural and intersocial communication". How shall we interpret the "social" in your work?
I think Cuauhtemoc refers to a discussions we had about the potential of painting as a commonly digested medium. On an average base, figurative painting is still accessible to a wider public, and can be used as a mean to limit (and sometimes hopefully bridge) the actual gap existing in between a "general" public and a more elitist contemporary art scene, this without denying or diminishing the eventual contemporaneity of the content. So I hope.
This being attached to processuality as a way to make art, is it a reflection of a personal impatience towards the idea of art as a ready made and pre-established code?
I think the on-going processuality is just a mean to avoid conclusions.
I am more interested in the attempt of articulation than the actual enunciation. "Art as Ready made" sounds fine, but it's just not the way it happened to me.
How does this attitude relate or detach you from the conceptual tradition?
..."the conceptual tradition"...why does it sound slightly paradoxical from here...? How can one talk about tradition within a field that is still developing?...Anyway.... I suppose that, for example, as long as the elaboration of most of my scenarios is , so to say, "medium-free" in their first stage, that is "pure idea", I do somewhere, somehow belong to that tradition .... The medium usually defines itself along the progress of the concept.
How come you say that it sounds "slightly paradoxical from here...?" Do you mean from Mexico? Has this country so much to do in the shaping of your poetical method?
It's more than an influence in the shaping of the practice: it's where I switched from architecture to my current profession. There seems to be a strange chemical reaction happening each time I return; I can arrive emptied and find myself working away two days later, without questioning vainly the mechanics and ethics of the profession. The City provokes an urge to react, you can't ignore it or it'll beat you... I think I am very lucky to have found a place that was coinciding with my obsessions, and that allowed me to develop the case (and supported me in doing so). My "poetical tendency" is challenged and brought back to life's crude reality just by going down to the corner shop. No ivory tower allowed for the street will always beat your imagination... So, might as well stay on the street... Mexico City has got all the ingredients for "Modernity", but somehow has managed to resist it. And it acquired a unique identity trough the resistance process.
"Francis Alÿs: streets and gallery walls"
Flash Art #211, 2000
"Zocalo, Mexico D.F., Nov 14 1998"
"The Last Clown", Barcelona 2000