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Winner Eye Prize 2018 | Francis Alÿs

Artist Francis Alÿs is the fourth winner of the Eye Art & Film Prize.

Francis Alÿs in Mosul. © Akam Shex Hadi.
Francis Alÿs in Mosul. © Akam Shex Hadi.

Born in Belgium in 1959, Francis Alÿs trained as an architect and relocated to Mexico City in 1986. On his many walks around the city he started to record everyday life, to which he was never impartial as an artist. In 2016 he spent nine days embedded with Kurdish Peshmerga troops stationed outside Mosul. He documented that journey in the video work (Untitled, Mosul, Iraq, 31 Oct 2016), screened last year at the Iraqi Pavilion during the Venice Biennale.

In his 1997 short film Paradox of Praxis: Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing, the artist pushes a big block of ice through the bustling streets of Mexico City for nine hours until it has completely melted. In Peru, some five hundred volunteers help him to move a dune, one shovelful at a time, as captured in When Faith Moves Mountains (2002). This dedicated Sisyphus labour is a recurring image in his work and a reason why he is often dubbed the ‘architect of the absurd’.


Since 2004 Alÿs has focused on border locations to explore the role of the artist in highly charged social and political settings. What can the artist say that hasn’t already been said by the media? Alÿs has filmed in such places as the frontier town of Ciudad Juárez, considered the most lawless place in Mexico, in the Strait of Gibraltar, and in the waters between Cuba and Florida. In Jerusalem he left behind a trail of green paint along the so-called Green Line, considered the border after the 1948 ceasefire. Alÿs has also made videos about children’s games played all over the world. In Reel-Unreel (2011), Afghan children tap two film reels forward with their hands through the landscape: the front reel uncoils a film, and the second rolls it up again.

Almost all projects by Alÿs begin with a performance, often a walk through the city, from which various works then emerge – from hand-drawn animation loops and videos to sculptures, paintings and drawings. His work is both playful and serious, and always rooted in the real world. Alÿs has had solo exhibitions at, among others, the Tate Modern in London (2010) and the MoMA in New York (2011).

Francis Alÿs. © Akam Shex Hadi, Mosul, Iraq, November 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Jan Mot, Brussels.
Francis Alÿs. © Akam Shex Hadi, Mosul, Iraq, November 2016. Courtesy of the artist and Jan Mot, Brussels.

““Conceptual artist Francis Alÿs draws on a richly poetic and imaginative sensitivity in observing and probing political and social realities, such as those encountered along national borders and in conflict regions. The jury was highly impressed by his sincere and sensitive work that displays his personal and sometimes playful exploration of cities and urban areas. A major artist of his generation, Alÿs has amassed a complex and varied body of work that comprises videos, paintings, performances, drawings and photographs.”

Sandra den Hamer, director of Eye Filmmuseum and chairwoman of the Eye Art & Film Prize, on behalf of the jury

Eye Art & Film Prize

Eye Filmmuseum and the Paddy and Joan Leigh Fermor Arts Fund in 2015 launched an annual prize to promote new work by an artist or filmmaker who is making an important contribution to the intersection of film and visual art. The award comes with a GBP 25,000 cash prize.
Past winners are Hito Steyerl (2015), Ben Rivers (2016) and Wang Bing (2017). These three artists/filmmakers were the subject of an exhibition on show at Eye from 24 March to 27 May 2018.