Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception at Tate Modern

Francis Alys in Collaboration with Ortega
Rehearsal I (El Ensayo) Tijuana, 1999-2001
I'm honestly not sure what to say about this exhibition. Whilst my friends were grunging out in Camden, I decided to dash across the city to Tate Modern; more for the sake of catching 'Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception' a few days before it ended than for want of actually seeing it. Overwhelmingly positive reviews from across the board had stirred some interest (it was "thought-provoking, funny and full of pathos" according to Adrian Searle at The Guardian and "Tate Modern's finest show to date by a living artist" according to Richard Dorment of The Telegraph), but, as Reception Theory dictates, the art experience is as reliant on the mental state of the viewer as on the physical state of the work. With other things on my mind, such as the fact that my fringe was plastered sweatily to my face, I forked out £8.50 to wander disorientatedly around the exhibition, pausing to watch the videos as gallery etiquette demands.

It seemed to speak the global language of human futility: cars roll up hills and back down again to grand orchestral scores; Alÿs pushes a block of ice around Mexico City until it melts; children defend a mound of sand against the oncoming waves; and yet I felt as lost and confused as the fox that he releases to pad silently around the National Gallery at night. A wall of CCTV monitors track its progress, and serve as a mirror to our own pretentious act of sniffing around, unsure of what we'll find or how we should react. The fox, moreover, is blissfully free of all of our bourgeois manners and feigned comprehension. As Alÿs throws himself sickeningly into a tornado in what is by far the most breathtaking exhibit, I sympathise with the nauseous spin of his camera lens. I feel like a grain of dust swept up by this storm. When I finally step back out into the daylight, blinking like an urban fox, I cannot decide whether it's for better or for worse.