Francis Alÿs, Belgian (1959 - )
Francis Alÿs was born in 1959 in Antwerp, Belgium. He attended the Institut Supérieur d'Architecture Saint-Luc in Tournai, Belgium, from 1978 to 1983 and the Instituto Universitario di Architettura in Venice from 1983 to 1986, where he received a master's degree in urbanism with a thesis on the presence of animals in medieval and Renaissance-era European cities. After graduation, he moved to Mexico City, where he worked in the workshop of the weaver Jacobo Islas Mendoza in collaboration with Felipe Sanabria. The abundant presence of street animals in that city inspired the early work The Collector (1991–92), in which the artist "walked" a magnetized sculptural model of an animal through the city, extracting random metal detritus from the street. The sculpture, along with photographic documentation of its use, was exhibited in Alÿs's second solo exhibition, at the Galería Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City in 1992.
Many of Alÿs's subsequent works examined the act of walking through an urban environment. The Leak (1995) consisted of a walk through Ghent with a punctured can of paint, which left a trail behind him. In Paradox of Praxis (1997), he pushed a block of ice through Mexico City until it had completely melted away. His work also developed a political edge; in Patriotic Tales (1997), he led a flock of sheep into the Zocalo, the central square of Mexico City, in reference to the bureaucrats who authored the suppression of a protest there in 1968. For the photographic series Sleepers (1999), he took photographs of animals and homeless people sleeping on the street. In his recent project When Faith Moves Mountains (2002), which was exhibited at the Bienal Iberoamericana de Lima in 2002, his focus shifted from the urban experience to notions of collective myth making: five hundred volunteers used shovels to move a sand dune four inches from its original location.
Alÿs has had solo exhibitions at the Museo de Arte Moderno in Mexico City (1997), Musée Picasso in Antibes (2001), Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut (2002), and the Museum of Modern Art in New York (Projects 76, 2002), among other venues. In 1999, he produced a web project for the Dia Center for the Arts in New York. His work has also appeared in the Bienal de La Habana (1994), Bienal de Arte Tridimensional in Mexico City (1997), Bienal Barro de Amï¿½rica in Caracas (1998), Melbourne International Biennial (1999), Mexico City: An Exhibition about the Exchange Rate of Bodies and Values at P.S. 1 in New York (2002), and Moving Pictures at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (2003). Alÿs was a finalist for the Guggenheim Museum's 2002 Hugo Boss Prize. He continues to live and work in Mexico City.