press release

The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo is pleased to present Francis Alÿs: GIBRALTAR FOCUS, the artist's first solo exhibition in Japan.

Alÿs (b. 1959), born in Belgium and currently residing in Mexico, invests his works with a keen sensibility towards socio-political concerns of our time. Owing to the poetic delivery and narrative nature of them, however, Alÿs translates site-specific problems into universal issues that can be shared by viewers beyond locales and cultures. The exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo is Alÿs's first solo presentation in Japan. It reviews the artist's oeuvre from his earliest to his most recent works through two stages. The first stage, MEXICO SURVEY (April 6–June 9, 2013), provided an overview of his artistic activity, mainly introducing works that have been created in Mexico. The second stage, GIBRALTAR FOCUS, will present Don't Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River, the largest project conducted by the artist in recent years.

Don't Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River took place in 2008 in the Strait of Gibraltar separating Europe and Africa. The Strait's geographical context, being just 14 kilometers wide at its narrowest crossing, has made it a place where many people attempt to smuggle their way into Europe from Africa. The rough waves particular to this area, however, have also posed serious obstructions for illegal immigrants, many of whom try to cross the Strait in makeshift boats.

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.

The catalogue accompanying the exhibition will include a "logbook" that Alÿs wrote while developing this project. While only fragments of the work have been introduced till now, Don't Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the Riverwill be shown in its entirety for the first time in Japan.

Curated by Kazuhiko Yoshizaki (Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo)

Organized by Tokyo Metropolitan Foundation for History and Culture, Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo

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Francis Alÿs

Francis Alÿs

Kazuhiko Yoshizaki