Re-Enactment by Francis Alÿs, 2001

Alÿs has always taken an interest in the ways in which performances are repeated and re-staged. For Re-enactments 2000 he walked into a gun shop, bought a weapon, and carried it very visibly until he was arrested. The next day, somewhat implausibly, he persuaded the police to take part in a reconstruction of the exact same events. The work exposes the fallacious idea that any performance can be known to us with pure immediacy and without mediation, yet it also points to the violence in Mexico City in a way that Alÿs has sometimes felt was too sensational.

Tate Modern

With Re-enactments the aim was apparently to see how long the artist could get away with walking the streets with a gun, but the work was a test not just of courage but of reality itself. After he was arrested, Alÿs got the police officers to take part in a re-enactment of the scene. The ‘original’ first version is projected side by side with the simulated version, which differs only in the choice of close-ups and in having a few extra cuts that add to the suspense. The credibility of the first version suddenly seems undermined: what if that too was not authentic but staged? And conversely even the second, ‘pretend’, version seems dangerous: what if an unwitting passer-by had violently tried to stop the gunman? Either way, any vestige of pathos, any idea of the artist fearlessly risking his life à la Chris Burden (who famously got himself shot in the arm for Shoot, 1971) disappears in the gap between fact and fiction, between two similar versions of what seems to be one event.

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