Francis Alys: Don’t Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River (currently being re-shown in tokyo).
In the main exhibition hall a two-sided screen plays a video loop of a 2008 “action”: two groups of children carrying “flip-flop boats” simultaneously set out from Tarifa in Spain and Tangier in Morocco, walking towards each other into the ocean and meeting at an imaginary point on the horizon.
The Strait of Gibraltar lies between the southernmost tip of Spain and northwest Africa and is only 13 kilometers wide at its narrowest part. It is this narrow channel that separates the two continents of Europe and Africa. The significance of “building a bridge” here is clear. In reality, the two columns of children, walking straight into the ocean, can never meet—an allusion to the colonial history of European nations in Africa and the limits placed on migration by the economic systems of the so-called free world.
For Alÿs, “the Strait seemed like the obvious place to illustrate this contradiction of our times: How can one promote global economy and at the same time limit the global flow of people across continents?” To do so, he conducted an ambitious project with the help of children from both sides of the Strait, Spain and Morocco. He asked children to hold toy boats made by hoisting sails on sandals in their hands and swim out into the water. The idea was to have two lines of children, one from the Spanish shore and another from the Moroccan shore, meet beyond the horizon and create an imaginary bridge between the European and African continents.
The exhibition, comprised of a film documenting the action, approximately one hundred paintings and drawings, installations, photographs, sculptures and texts, is in its totality a melange of reality and fiction, and has the capacity to evoke the imagination of all viewers. By presenting elements that conjure up the image of the event as opposed to showing the very action, Alÿs enables viewers to construct their own stories, which are then shared beyond localities and time periods. The narrative quality is markedly exemplified in Don’t Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River, and reflects a style which Alÿs has been increasingly pursuing in recent years.
View video below:
Francis Alÿs - Don’t Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River. 2008 from Universes in Universe on Vimeo.