Alÿs visited Lima in 2000 just before the collapse of the Fujimori government and found ‘a desperate situation that called for an “epic response”, at once futile and heroic, absurd and urgent.’ He returned in 2002 to organise When Faith Moves Mountains, persuading 500 Peruvian students to walk in a line up a sand dune on the outskirts of the city, digging as they went, thus displacing the dune by a few centimetres. The action – Alÿs’s most visually spectacular to that date – was filmed from various positions and the images were subsequently used on postcards, whilst the artist also encouraged the spread of news of the work through rumour and myth.
Here the ‘making of’ video is presented. The miniscule and temporary movement of the dune seems to dramatise a principle of ‘Maximum Effort, Minimal Result’ that typifies many Latin American modernisation schemes, yet it was also a monumental achievement made by communal co-operation. For Alÿs it was essential that the participants gave their time and effort for free so that the action could stand as a model for a lavish expenditure of energy, running counter to conservative economic principles of efficiency and production.