Collectors is an installation by the Belgian-born artist Francis Alÿs comprising thirty-six small toy-like sculptures of dogs made of tin and a wall-mounted collage. The crudely proportioned dogs vary in size and each bears the distinctive colourful branding of the used tin containers from which they were fashioned. Each one is decorated with magnets, is mounted on wheels and has a nylon string attached to it. When exhibited the toys are positioned on the floor several inches apart from each other in a seemingly random arrangement. Affixed to the wall adjacent to the tin dogs is a collage mounted on wood made up of a pedestrian street map of Oaxaca (the capital of the southern Mexican state of the same name), a fragment of a photograph of unidentified urban buildings, and a partial, unfinished pencil sketch of what looks like a parade of men moving along a city street – only their legs and feet are depicted – trailed by a stray dog, who appears in danger of being caught by a figure to the right who holds a leash. In the sketch, only the dog and dog-catcher are coloured in and appear as solid forms. The elements of the collage seem to carry some form of symbolism, and when viewed alongside the dogs, they transform the otherwise playful assembly of toys into an ambiguous scenario.
The tin dogs that make up Collectors were constructed in the artist’s Mexico City studio in 2006. The title of the installation alludes to one of Alÿs’s earliest works, a performance piece from 1991 called The Collector. For that work, the artist walked through the streets of Mexico City pulling a small magnetic toy dog, similar to the ones in the 2006 installation, to which various metallic objects and debris became stuck as it moved along, ‘collecting’ souvenirs of the urban expedition. Discussing The Collectors in 2011 Alÿs stated:
After three days people started talking about the crazy gringo walking around with his magnetised dog, but after seven days, the story, the anecdote, had remained even though the characters were gone. That’s how I started developing the idea of introducing tales and fables into a place’s history at a particular moment of its local history.
(Alÿs in Faesler 2011, accessed 17 November 2014.)
Following on from this, Alÿs made several works relating to The Collectors that resemble souvenirs or the collected debris of a metropolitan journey, including a set of twelve postcards, produced between 1991 and 2001, depicting the artist walking toy dogs, and a group of individual tin dogs entitled Ghetto Collectors 2003. While the toy dogs in the 2006 installation also feature magnets, which along with their wheels and nylon leads suggest that their function is to collect detritus, their arrangement in a gallery also seems to invite reflection on the concept of a museum collection. In particular, the contrast between the collage, which alludes to journeys and adventures, and the stationary presentation of the toy dogs draws attention to the way in which functional, exchangeable objects are rendered static and less playful when displayed in a museum setting.
Understood in relation to its much earlier predecessor, this pack of small dogs, made up of pieces of rubbish, seems to offer a pun on the word ‘litter’, while their branded bodies speak of the mass production and reproduction of imagery, including artworks, in contemporary culture. The art historian and curator Corinne Diserens has observed that ‘In our era of the ceaseless reproduction of images’, Alÿs’s role in his actions and performances is ‘to step back and provoke a multiplication of storytellers’ (Corinne Diserens, ‘Borders and Subway Exits’, in Medina 2005, p.158).
Carlos Basualdo, ‘Head to Toes: Francis Alÿs’s Paths of Resistance’, Artforum International, vol.37, no.8, April 1999, pp.104–7.
Cuauhtémoc Medina (ed.), Francis Alys: When Faith Moves Mountains, Coyoacán 2005.
Carla Faesler, ‘Artists in Conversation: Francis Alÿs’, BOMB Magazine, vol.166, Summer 2011, http://bombmagazine.org/article/5109/francis-al-s, accessed 17 November 2014.
Supported by Christie’s.