Francis Alÿs - When Faith Moves Mountains, 2002

Alÿs visited Lima in 2000 just before the collapse of the Fujimori government and found ‘a desperate situation that called for an “epic response”, at once futile and heroic, absurd and urgent.’ He returned in 2002 to organise When Faith Moves Mountains, persuading 500 Peruvian students to walk in a line up a sand dune on the outskirts of the city, digging as they went, thus displacing the dune by a few centimetres. The action – Alÿs’s most visually spectacular to that date – was filmed from various positions and the images were subsequently used on postcards, whilst the artist also encouraged the spread of news of the work through rumour and myth.TATE

Francis Alÿs

Patriotic Tales, 1997

In Patriotic Tales (1997), Francis Alÿs led a flock of sheep into the Zócalo, the central square of Mexico City, in reference to the bureaucrats who authored the suppression of a protest there in 1968.

Francis Alÿs - When Faith Moves Mountains

For his 2002 “When faith moves mountains” he literally transformed a common figure of speech into an action piece. In the mountains just outside Lima, Peru, Alÿs asked 500 volunteers to walk in a line and use a shovel to move the sand dune 10 centimeters from its original position. The work might be considered a social commentary on the shifting of the country from Fujimori’s dictatorship to democracy and a deeper questioning about the effective role of mass movements of people in causing such shiftings. Furthermore it might be seen as a cynical reading of the artist on the act of “believing” and the absurdity it entails: the effort sustained by the volunteers only produces a small change, which is invisible and unmesurable.

“Every year since 2001 Alÿs, at the highpoint of the dry season in March, drives his car to the southeast edge of Mexico City where smoky clouds rise from cornfields burning after the harvest, and grey swirls of ash and sand loom on the horizon. He carries his video camera and runs toward the tornadoes hoping to catch them as a surfer catches a wave. His nose and mouth are protected only by a handkerchief. Once he reaches one, he runs into the eye of the storm and stays as long as possible. This is an absurd act but he tries to forge a moment of bliss in the midst of chaos.” —Un-marked source

(The perfect allegory for life.)

Francis Alÿs, The Green Line, 2004.

In 1995, Francis Alÿs realised an action in São Paolo called The Leak in which he walked from a gallery, around the city, and back into the gallery trailing a dribbled line from an open can of blue paint. This action was reprised in 2004 when he chose to make a work in Jerusalem. Using green paint, Alÿs walked along the armistice border, known as ‘the green line’, pencilled on a map by Moshe Dayan at the end of the war between Israel and Jordan in 1948. This remained the border until the Six Day War in 1967 after which Israel occupied Palestinian-inhabited territories east of the line.

Though palpably absurd, and greeted by onlookers with some bewilderment, Alÿs’s action of dribbling green paint behind him raised the memory of the green line at a time when the separation fence was under construction to the east of the green line. He later encouraged various commentators from Israel, Palestine, and other countries to reflect on his action, and their voices, sometimes sceptical, sometimes approving, can be heard while the video of his action is screened. Most importantly Alÿs wanted to ask what the role of poetic acts could be in highly charged political situations, while acknowledging that the relation of poetics to politics is always contingent.