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Francis Alÿs: The Last Clown

Multiple depictions of a man tripping over a dog in a park

Belgian artist Francis Alÿs talks about his work The Last Clown 1995-2000, an installation that comprises animation, drawings and paintings all depicting the same incident: a man tripping over a dog in a park.

Alÿs explains how this absurd, real life event can be read as a metaphor for the predicament of the artist.

My name is Francis and the piece you are going to see is called The Last Clown. It was made over a period of more or less five years. The Last Clown was based on a small kind of anecdote, an incident that happened when I was walking with a friend of mine a curator Kotenco Madena. We were walking actually in London in Hyde Park and he just stumbled, tripped over something and fell. And the discussion kind of radiated into the relation between art and humour, art and laughter if you want, and the whole aspect of the artist as the last great entertainer, and the way the art industry as such is moving more and more towards the kind of entertainment industry.

As it often happens in my work the pieces are generated by minor events of you know everyday life. Probably between that incident and the actual starting of a project it might be three to five years of just like you know sleeping and that’s part of the reason why there are so many mediums involved in the making.

This animation was at first thought as a just a kind of sequence of paintings that would tell the story a bit like comics if you want. The animation itself is much more an anecdote I mean it could be reduced to a simple anecdote where the loop effect makes one trapped always in between two falls.

On the table is what you see simply is a display of all drawing parts. I am using the tables probably because it’s easiest and the closest way to the studio situation where all the images are kind of like overlapping. I tried to illustrate the obsessive… that obsession dimension where you will see I don’t know fifty different attempts to resolve the figure of the dog, or the right kind of like character of the dog. The same thing could happen with the kind of moment where the tail of the dog is getting around the foot of the clown.

I think you have got actually here one sample of the actual animation, the archive you see here is everything but the animation in a sense, except for this one which must have been unused for the final shooting. I think I mean the paintings again is like a very simple storyboard where you would have introduction of the first character, the dog, introduction of the clown, the encounter, the accident or the meeting if you want again, the accident about to happen, the fall and the introduction later on and the animation of the laughter which was trying to kind of fictionalise a little bit the moment and dramatise it. The fall and again the work etc.

This as you can see is a much earlier version because the dog is still following the clown so there was not yet this kind of idea of this chance encounter. The possibility of trying to recreate the whole creative process before the product is probably the most lively moment of the piece. I mean the… I often see the last painting or the film as more like the evidence of a whole process that happened before. It’s in a sense where the essence of the work happens and it is very difficult for me to disassociate the two.