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b. 1959, Belgium

Francis Alÿs Biography

Francis Alÿs is a Belgian-born conceptual artist whose interdisciplinary practice examines the geopolitical and social conflicts embedded in the urban environment. His multi-faceted projects include performative gestures, video, installation, painting, and drawing, with which he stages poetic and playful actions to reveal the bifurcation of individual memory and collective mythology within politicised terrains.

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Born in 1959 in Antwerp, Francis Alÿs studied architecture and urbanism before moving to Mexico City in 1986. There, he began undertaking public actions as an immediate and more direct means of exploring issues of urbanisation and social unrest. Through these early experiments, Alÿs developed his 'paseos': walks following meandering routes, often with props, that intervene in the local imaginary through allegory and metaphor.

'Paseos' include The Collector (1991–2006), in which Alÿs walked a magnetic dog through the Centro Histórico, collecting metallic debris; Paradox of Praxis 1 (Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing) (1997), where he pushed a block of ice around the streets of Mexico City for more than nine hours; and The Green Line (2004), where the artist trailed green paint out of a can along the 1949 armistice border between Israel and Jordan.

Border zones have become an important site of Alÿs' artworks. The Loop (1997) saw the artist travel from Tijuana to San Diego without crossing the Mexico/United States border, opting instead to circumnavigate the Pacific Ocean over 29 days. In When Faith Moves Mountains (2002) Alÿs recruited 500 volunteers to move a sand dune several inches on the outskirts of Lima in Peru.

Through grand yet ephemeral actions such as these, Francis Alÿs questions the obstacles and inertia imposed by state forces, suggesting the potential for transformation. 'I try to trigger a question or doubt about whether change might be possible, but it's up to the audience to decide if things need to change and in which direction,' the artist has said.

Francis Alÿs has worked as a war artist in some of the world's most contested regions. In 2013 he was attached to the United Kingdom's Task Force Helmand in Afghanistan, and in 2016 he was dispatched to the frontline with Kurdish Peshmerga soldiers near Mosul, Iraq. In 2020, he completed Sandlines, the Story of History: a feature-length film shot in Mosul with a cast of local shepherd children.

In Sandlines, the starring children re-enact the history of Iraq, from the Sykes-Picot secret agreement of 1916 to the contemporary Islamic State of 2016. The film seems to exemplify Alÿs' enduring commitment to collaborative modes of creation, and his engagement with history through storytelling.

Francis Alÿs Solo Exhibitions include:

Francis Alÿs, Fragmentos, Espacio de Arte y Memoria, Bogotá, Colombia (2020); Children's Game, Eye Filmmuseum, Amsterdam (2019); Francis Alÿs, Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami (2018); La dépense, Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai (2018); knots 'n dust, Beirut Art Center, Lebanon (2018); Without an Ending There is no Beginning, Jan Mot, Brussels (2017); Le temps du sommeil, Secession, Vienna (2016).

Francis Alÿs Group Exhibitions include:

The Location of Lines, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (2020); Our world is burning, Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2020); For an Imaginist Renewal of the World. The Alba Congress: 1956–2019, Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art, Italy (2019); The Absent Museum, Wiels, Forest, Belgium (2017); On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010).

Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2020

Exhibition view: Francis Alÿs, Wet feet __ dry feet: borders and games, Tai Kwun Contemporary (28 October 2020–28 February 2021). Courtesy Tai Kwun Contemporary. 

Francis Alÿs Featured Artworks

Untitled (Don't Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River) by Francis Alÿs contemporary artwork
Francis AlÿsUntitled (Don't Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River), 2006–2008Drawing: Oil, staples, graphite on vellum; Painting: Oil, encaustic on canvas on wood
11 3/4 x 8 1/2 inches
David Zwirner Contact Gallery

Francis Alÿs Current & Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Francis Alÿs, Wet feet __ dry feet: borders and games at Tai Kwun Contemporary, Hong Kong
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28 October 2020–28 February 2021 Francis Alÿs Wet feet __ dry feet: borders and games Tai Kwun ContemporaryHong Kong
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, 20/20 at David Zwirner, 20th Street, New York
29 October–19 December 2020 Group Exhibition 20/20 David Zwirner20th Street, New York
Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, UNIQUE at Parkett, Zurich Exhibition Space
12 September–18 December 2020 Group Exhibition UNIQUE ParkettZurich Exhibition Space

Francis Alÿs Represented By

David Zwirner contemporary art gallery in 19th Street, New York, USA David Zwirner New York, London, Paris, Hong Kong

Francis Alÿs In Ocula Magazine

RoseLee Goldberg: Performance Then and Now Ocula Conversation RoseLee Goldberg: Performance Then and Now By Fawz Kabra

RoseLee Goldberg had long been invested in contemporary performance art before her founding of the inter-disciplinary arts organisation Performa in New York in 2004. Born in Durban, South Africa, Goldberg studied political science and fine arts at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, and then art history at the Courtauld...

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TarraWarra International 2019: Tracing Tangible Shadows Ocula Feature TarraWarra International 2019: Tracing Tangible Shadows By Natalie King, Melbourne

Everyone I encounter along my journey asks: 'Where are you based?' 'On my feet,' I answer. 'Where are your feet based then?' 'Feet are never based,' I say. This haunting voiceover from Hiwa K 's video, Pre-Image (Blind as the Mother Tongue) (2017), follows the artist retracing a journey that he made when he was 25 years old, fleeing Iraq...

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Shanghai Art Exhibitions to See: The Lowdown Ocula Feature Shanghai Art Exhibitions to See: The Lowdown By Sam Gaskin

There is no official Shanghai Art Week, but the term has nevertheless entered the lexicon of the city's contemporary art community. It's especially apt this year, with the firmly established West Bund Art Fair (8–11 November 2018) and Art021 (9–11 November 2018) taking place the same week that the 12th Shanghai Biennale opens at the Power Station...

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Gwangju Biennale: Imagined Borders Ocula Feature Gwangju Biennale: Imagined Borders By Tessa Moldan, Gwangju

'I have felt persecuted for weeks by this same asphyxiating dream.' So narrates the forlorn Portuguese speaker in Kiluanji Kia Henda's film, Concrete Affection – Zopo Lady (2014), as city scenes and modernist buildings in Luanda flit past the camera's lens. The narration is pulled from Another Day of Life (1971), Polish writer Ryszard...

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Francis Alÿs In Related Press

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10 Highlights from the inaugural Kathmandu Triennale 2017 Related Press 10 Highlights from the inaugural Kathmandu Triennale 2017 10 April 2017, Art Radar Journal

The Kathmandu Triennale is an event developed on the back of past success of the Kathmandu International Art Festival, held in 2009 and 2012. The inaugural edition of Kathmandu Triennale (KT 2017) takes ‘The City’ as a thematic starting point – a catalyst to explore the many socio-cultural and political issues embedded in urban settings. Francis...

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Francis Alÿs to create new work inspired by his frontline experiences in Mosul Related Press Francis Alÿs to create new work inspired by his frontline experiences in Mosul 7 December 2016, The Art Newspaper

The Belgian artist Francis Alÿs will create a new work for the Iraqi pavilion at the 57th Venice Biennale next year (13 May-26 November 2017) based on his recent experiences spent on the frontline in Mosul, northern Iraq, as part of the ongoing military offensive against Islamic state (Isil) militants. The piece was commissioned by the Ruya...

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Francis Alÿs at David Zwirner, London Related Press Francis Alÿs at David Zwirner, London 1 December 2016, Art in America

'When the operative system of a society collapses, can art bring about an alternative way of thinking... ?' Francis Alÿs wrote this question on a notebook page reproduced in the brochure accompanying Ciudad Juárez Projects, his powerful exhibition at David Zwirner in London. For the works on view, Alÿs brought his poetic sensibility to...

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Here are the artists in the 2016 Taipei Biennial Related Press Here are the artists in the 2016 Taipei Biennial 8 July 2016, ARTNews

The Taipei Fine Arts Museum has announced the artists tapped for their 2016 Taipei Biennial, which takes place from September 10 this year through February 5 of 2017. Now in its tenth edition, the biennial this year takes on themes related to artistic and curatorial practices, and as per press release, 'embraces the catalytic role of museums in...

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