Francis Alÿs

REEL-UNREEL (Afghan Projects, 2010-14)

June – September 2014
Madre Museum, Naples, Italy


Reel-Unreel is the fullest solo show ever devoted to Francis Alÿs by an Italian public institution, internationally premiering all the works the artist produced in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2014, which are displayed in dialogue with some of Alÿs' seminal works.

Alÿs' research often takes the form of explorations, of walks in places that become the matrix of an open creative process, both narrative and documentary. Suspended between real and imaginary, from being physical Alÿs’s walks become metaphorical, aimed at intercepting and reinventing on his path the linguistic, socio-political and cultural realities which the artist has explored at various times. Animated by a sensibility that is both political and poetic, his works are like the single, often minimal episodes of a single discourse, in which reality is checked, subverted and rewritten by the surreality of gestures at the limit of the absurd and paradoxical.

The title of the exhibition, Reel-Unreel, is borrowed from the eponymous video produced in 2011 for dOCUMENTA(13). It is inspired by the classic street game of trundling a hoop, which consists of keeping it rolling without falling for as long as possible by driving it with a stick. In Alÿs’s version, two children “reeling and unreeling” two spools of film through the streets of Kabul, through the old town, the bazaar, the rubble of buildings destroyed by the war, up to the hills overlooking the city. Kabul is suddenly transformed into an improvised movie set and a gesture of play in the three-dimensional projection of a film that brings the tactile impression of the film, the multiple memory of a community suspended between past and future, memory and oblivion, drama and play.

Reel-Unreel also alludes to a more subtle dichotomy: the joyful subversion of every urban rule corresponds to the creation of an alternative narrative of the city that brings out the contrast between the real and unreal image of contemporary Afghanistan, which is usually "reeled and unreeled” for the use of the Western media.