Ice 4 Milk is an installation by the Belgian-born artist Francis Alÿs. It is comprised of two slide projectors, which display images on either side of a room’s corner. The projectors face away from one another at right angles and are mounted on small plinths, in order that the bottom edge of the two images are projected as close to the floor as possible. Each projector is filled with eighty 35 mm slides. One set of slides depicts milk bottles on doorsteps in London, while the other shows ice deliveries on the streets of Mexico City, where the artist resides.
The positioning of the images in alignment with the floor adjusts the perspective of the viewer, drawing his or her attention downwards to the level of the milk and ice deliveries, an area that might typically escape notice. Both sets of objects are also commonly overlooked due to their ubiquity. However, the presence of these objects is precarious. As the writer Coline Milliard has observed:
In Ice 4 Milk, the artist juxtaposes photographs of milk bottles delivered to Londoners’ doorsteps with images of ice blocks delivered to traders in Mexico City. Both are barely noticeable events in the daily reality of city dwellers, and yet they reveal the unwritten tradition of tiny industries, almost obsolete but persisting in the megalopolises - a touch of humanity nestled within the concrete landscape.
(Milliard 2010, pp.2–3.)
Alÿs photographed these objects during walks around London and Mexico City. Many of Alÿs’s works emerge from walking, an activity the artist has associated with an expansion of perception. As he noted in 2005: ‘when you walk you are aware or awake to everything that happens in your peripheral vision, the little incidents, smells, images, sounds’ (Alÿs in 21 Portman Square 2005, p.48). Alÿs’s understanding of the narrative behind seemingly everyday objects emerges as his walks unfold. By isolating these objects and displaying them in a repeating sequence of photographs, Alÿs is able to share his expanded perspective with the viewer.
Ice 4 Milk is one of nine works in Tate’s collection from Alÿs’s series Seven Walks. The series was created over the course of six years, as Alÿs wandered the streets of London and mapped its habits, rhythms and rituals in a range of different media. In 2005 the resulting films, videos, paintings, photographs and drawings became Seven Walks; works which either documented the artist’s own walks or those enacted by others on his behalf. Milliard has stressed how the series humanises the city in which it was made:
Alÿs’s walking creates a ground-level image of the city, fragmented, subjective and incomplete. It claims space for the fragile, the ephemeral and the poetic. In a commuter city where pedestrianism fights for survival, ‘Seven Walks’ transforms increasingly alienating surroundings into a new space tailored to human dimensions.
(Milliard 2010, p.4.)
Alÿs has used walking as an impetus for his work throughout his career, including in early pieces such as The Last Clown 1995–2000 (Tate T07993) and Pebble Walk 1999 (Tate T12193). Other works in the Seven Walks series include Sunny/Shady 2004 (Tate T12197), Railings 2004 (Tate T12194) and The Nightwatch 2004 (Tate T12195).
Francis Alÿs: Seven Walks, London 2004–5, exhibition catalogue, 21 Portman Square, London 2005.
Nicholas Whybrown, Art and the City, London 2010.
Coline Milliard, ‘Walks of Life’, Art Monthly, vol.337, June 2010, pp.1–4.
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