Francis Alÿs has a knack for turning his walks into art. In Albert’s Way, however, his walk is limited to the four walls of his Mexico City studio. For 10 hours per day during 7 days he circled the periphery of the room, adding up to the 118 km of the Camino Ingles, a pilgrimage route from El Ferrol to Santiago de Compostela. His inspiration came from Albert Speer, Hitler’s architect, known for being the only Nazi leader at the Nuremberg war-crimes trials in 1945-46 to admit his guilt: Rumour goes that while jailed in Spandau, Albert Speer walked in circles in the prison patio, pacing the exact distance from one city to another and imagining the places he’d be passing through on his virtual tour around the globe.
Francis Alys is a Belgian architect turned artist. He went to Mexico City in 1987 to help with a rebuilding program after an earthquake and has been living in Mexico City ever since. He abandoned his career as an architect and started working in a number of media including photography, video, installation, and painting. Alys is an avid wanderer and much of his work draws inspiration from the streets around his studio in Mexico City.
Being Belgian, Alys occupies an interesting position as a foreigner and an immigrant. From his stance as an outsider he presents his version of reality by taking the mundane and shifting it slightly into the absurd or the poetic.
Humor is very important in Alys’ work. He says, “Laughter is a symptom of incomprehension… a simple manifestation of the defeat of intelligence.” But While Alys may make us laugh, he also makes us think, at the core of his work we often find the more brutal implications of city life.
In his video El Gringo, Alys explores the discomfort of being an outsider. Gringo, the Latin American name for Americans is usually used to generalize all white foreigners, this video is a comment on the social tendencies to group people together based on their appearance. In the video the viewer follows the camera down a rural path, a few pot hounds approach and start circling the camera and barking wildly. They get increasingly riled up and begin snarling and baring their teeth. The camera suddenly drops and we are left to assume that the man behind the camera has been bitten. Everything is still for a little while until the dogs return and start sniffing and licking the camera.