Francis Alÿs, best known for his public actions, installations, video works, paintings, and drawings that focus on issues ranging from the politics of borders to children’s games, was named the winner of this year’s EYE Art & Film Prize, an annual award established by EYE and the Paddy & Joan Leigh Fermor Arts Fund in 2015. The $35,000 prize supports the creation of new work by an artist or filmmaker who makes a significant contribution to the interdisciplinary fields of film and visual art.
The Belgian-born, Mexico-based artist was first trained as an architect and did not start making art until after relocating to Mexico City in 1986. Among Alÿs’s long list of projects and interventions are Paradox of Practice 1 (Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing), 1997, a short film of Alÿs pushing a large block of ice through the busy streets of Mexico City for nine hours until it completely melted; Tornado, 2000–10, a video work documenting his attempt to enter the center of a tornado; and The Green Line (Sometimes Doing Something Poetic Can Become Political and Sometimes Doing Something Political Can Become Poetic), 2005, for which the artist trailed a leaking can of paint along the Israel-Palestine border.
“Conceptual artist Francis Alÿs draws on a strongly poetic and imaginative sensitivity in observing and probing political and social realities, such as those encountered along national borders and in conflict regions,” said Sandra den Hamer, the director of the EYE Filmmuseum. “The jury was highly impressed by his sincere and sensitive work that displays his personal and sometimes playful exploration of cities and urban areas.”
Dubbed the “architect of the absurd” because of the recurring theme of Sisyphean labors that appear in his practicesuch as in Faith Moves Mountains, 2002, for which he enlisted the help of five hundred volunteers to move a sand dune two inches away from its original locationAlÿs has had solo exhibitions the Tate Modern in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, among other places.
Commenting on receiving the award, Alÿs said, “When this sort of thing happens to you it makes you feel as if you are heading in the right direction.” He told Lauren Cavalli of artforum.com that he is planning to use the prize money to return to Iraq, where he will make three or four video works.
Alÿs first traveled to Iraq in 2016, during which he spent nine days embedded in the Kurdish Army as they attempted to expel ISIS from Mosul. “I first went there during the height of the ISIS’s occupation of the territory. Now, everything has changed . . . As an entry point to this new narrative I plan to approach a Yazidis community to film children playing the game of hopscotch.”
“When you work with another culture, particularly one with a language barrier, you have to be open and absorbing, and you have to question the relevance of your presence there . . . Hopscotch is a game of redemption. There are so many different versions played by so many different cultures. To make a film about Yazidis children playing hopscotch is to make a portrait of them at a certain moment, a time of grief and sadness, following the trauma caused by conflict.”