Alÿs has maintained a studio in the Historical Centre of Mexico City since the early 1990s, and has made a series of works ‘within walking distance’ of this studio examining everyday life in the megalopolis, some of which are brought together here. The Collectors 1990–2 were magnetised ‘dogs’ which he walked around the city so that metallic detritus stuck to their surfaces. The slide projection Ambulantes 1992–present, shows people pushing carts of goods around the city: Alÿs was fascinated by informal labour all around him, and the improvised creativity of street tradesmen. While this work documents street life slowly disappearing from the centre, other pieces have more allegorical suggestions. Paradox of Praxis I 1997 shows an absurd expenditure of effort, as Alÿs pushed a block of ice around the ‘Centre’ until it melted. The subtitle of the work is ‘Sometimes Doing Something Leads to Nothing’, an idea which speaks to the frustrated efforts of everyday Mexico City residents to improve their living conditions. Patriotic Tales 1997 targets the rut of Mexican politics in other ways. Alÿs leads a circle of sheep around the flagpole in the Zócalo, the ceremonial square and the site of political rallies. The action is based on an event in 1968 when civil servants were paraded in the city to show support for the government, but bleated like sheep to protest their subservience.
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