In REEL-UNREEL, the recently completed film by Belgian artist Francis Alÿs, two Afghan boys race through the streets of Kabul, dodging traffic, pedestrians, and other children while military helicopters fly overhead. Mimicking a game hoop-rolling, they push two large film canisters, a trail of film spilling out behind them as they go. Winding through the streets and up into the hills of the Afghani capital, the reels of film take their fair share of abuse as they are dragged through dirt, puddles, and even a small fire before being mistakenly rolled straight off a cliff.
Produced for dOCUMENTA 13 in Kassel, Germany, Alÿs’s film is finally on view at David Zwirner in New York, premiering to New York audiences after delays caused by Hurricane Sandy last November. Following the path of the two reels, Alÿs takes his camera on a tour through Kabul, capturing the everyday life of the Afghan capital while avoiding any set interpretation of a country that has survived over 30 years of violent struggle.
The film is a continuation of Alÿs’s complex geopolitical explorations, simultaneously exploring the nature of art and memory in a society marginalized by turbulence within its borders. The filmmaker makes express reference to the 2001 burning of the Afghan Film Archives in Kabul, and the destruction of thousands of reels of film copies by Taliban militants. Much like the embattled archives, the reels of film onscreen roll on, continuing in their journey through the bustling streets. Emphasizing the fragile, delicate nature film as it drags across the ground, Alÿs underlines the challenges of creating during wartime, and the inherent difficulties of separating art from the perceptions of a society in the midst of violent conflict, as well as the role that art can play in providing alternative narratives to these same perceptions.
Alongside the film, Alÿs is presenting a series of paintings emphasizing the intricate relationship between representation and Afghan society. Showing scenes from Kabul and the surrounding regions, the artist continually interjects the familiar color test bars from a television system, reminding the viewer of the interrelationship between their perceptions of Afghanistan and the mediums allowing them a vantage point into a society halfway around the world.
Taking a nuanced and poetic approach to representing a complex social and political environment, Francis Alÿs’s REEL-UNREEL becomes a multifaceted exploration into the issues of representation and creation in a society that has already been characterized in black and white terms.
REEL-UNREEL is on view until February 9th, 2013.
—D. CreahanSuggested Links Francis Alys Website Watch REEL-UNREEL David Zwirner REEL-UNREEL on ArtDaily