Francis Alÿs’s First Solo Exhibition in Hong Kong at Tai Kwun Contemporary
Tai Kwun Contemporary is proud to announce Wet feet __ dry feet: borders and games, a solo exhibition by Francis Alÿs, one of the most influential conceptual artists of our time. Structured around the artist’s interest in migration, borders, and his fascination with children’s games from around the world, this exhibition brings together for the first time in Hong Kong three important and interconnected projects by Alÿs, including newly commissioned videos by Tai Kwun Contemporary. The exhibition runs from 28 October 2020 to February 2021.
Critically acclaimed and internationally admired, Francis Alÿs (b. 1959, Belgium; based in Mexico since 1986) has a complex and at times elusive artistic practice that poetically fuses an imaginative, conceptual sensibility with the socio-political momentousness of issues related to urban spaces, transnational borders, and geopolitical concerns. While his works are charged with political concerns, what is significant is how he opens up an artistic space for doubt and invention—often through ephemeral actions initiated and documented by the artist which leave no trace and yet conjure up fables.
Curated by Xue Tan and Sunjung Kim and co-presented by Tai Kwun Contemporary and Art Sonje Center, Seoul, the exhibition’s title is based on the “spark” to Alÿs’s works on view—the “Wet Feet, Dry Feet” policy on Cuban refugees in 1995. Under this policy, Cuban migrants headed for the United States faced vastly different treatment depending on whether they were intercepted at sea or on land, on US soil. If intercepted at sea (“wet feet”), they would be repatriated back to Cuba; if intercepted on land (“dry feet”), they would be allowed to stay in the United States. For a Hong Kong audience, this might sound uncannily familiar: the “Touch Base” policy in 1970s Hong Kong meant that Mainland Chinese migrants would be sent back to the Mainland if intercepted at sea or in the New Territories; only if they reached south of Boundary Street—the formal boundary between Kowloon and the New Territories—were migrants allowed to stay legally in the territory (in the quirky British sports reference, “touch base”).
Borders and games
The connection between borders and games in Francis Alÿs’s artistic practice lies at the heart of the exhibition. After his quixotic attempt to connect Havana and Key West, Florida by means of a bridge of boats from fishing communities and private individuals in Bridge/Puente (2006), the artist shifted his attention to the narrower Strait of Gibraltar, a waterway 13 km wide, with the imaginative impulse of connecting Northern Africa and Southern Europe with a line of fishing boats—which was later enacted metaphorically by groups of children departing from the shores with “shoe boats”, tiny boats made with babouches and flip-flop sandals. In a process that took two years of preparation, the artist evaded interference and interest from various parties, and filmed the final performance as a “Children’s Game”.
Presented alongside the video installation Don’t Cross the Bridge Before You Get to the River (2008) are over 100 paintings, drawings and notes drafted during the preparation of the project. While working with children for this project, Alÿs was reminded of his long-time observation of children at play, particularly their appropriation of public spaces for play and their strong sense of moving freely within “rules”.
His latest on-going project, Children’s Games (1999–ongoing), consists of more than 20 documentary videos of children at play in various locations; some were filmed in countries that have suffered from ongoing war and conflicts, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, while other places were shot in Nepal, Jordan, Mexico, France, and Hong Kong—the last featuring newly commissioned videos by Tai Kwun Contemporary. Without ever becoming directly involved, the artist documents children moving about in their own ways and playing their games—games which also echo the rituals, symbols, insights, superstitions and events of the specific society, culture, and locality. Children’s Games is in the vein of his artistic practice—touching poetically on conceptual displacement and alluding lightly, whimsically on politics and social engagement. Viewers can observe a poignant sense of innocence and the redemptive power of play—universal and transcending conventions, languages, and borders.
Tobias Berger, Head of Art, Tai Kwun, said, “We chose to work with Francis Alÿs because he has been very influential in Hong Kong for a group of artists with a certain type of artistic practice. We are delighted to show this exhibition—having worked on this project for nearly three years now—and elated that the artist has managed to come to Hong Kong in person during this difficult time.”
Xue Tan, Curator of Wet feet __ dry feet: borders and games from Tai Kwun, said, “I am thrilled to have been able to work with Francis Alÿs, an artist whom I have admired for years. This exhibition is conceived for Hong Kong, and so the fact we have been able to film additional children’s games in Hong Kong—despite the pandemic and travel restrictions—is significant. It speaks to how art can rise above difficulties, and how a great artist creates under all circumstances.”
Tai Kwun Contemporary Weekend Guided Tour
Come spend your weekends at Tai Kwun Contemporary. Learn about the art exhibitions by joining a tour with one of our professional, friendly docents.
Date: Every Saturdays and Sundays (starting from November; please check the Tai Kwun website for the latest updates on event dates) Time: 2:00pm-3:00pm (Cantonese), 4:00pm-5:00pm (English)
Free admission; register on the Tai Kwun website
Family Fun Guided Tour (for ages 5+)
Join Tai Kwun Contemporary for a fun Family Tour, which welcomes 1 parent/guardian participating together with 1 child. Participants will be fully engaged in the selected artworks through visual references in the form of a tour guide booklet.
Date: Designated Sundays (starting from November; please check the Tai Kwun website for the latest updates on event dates)
Time: 11:00am-12:00pm, 3:00pm-4:00pm
Free admission; register on the Tai Kwun website
Family Day at Tai Kwun Contemporary: Family Tour and Workshop ““The Ping-Pong Friends”
The Family Tour consists of guiding participants through artworks based on the exhibitions with interactive discussions and visual references in the form of an in-depth tour guide booklet. In the workshop, participants will cut out two countries on the world map and use them as patterns to make wooden ping-pong bats. After completion, children can play a two-player game and become players of that country. Pass the ball and praise each other at the same time. Children can understand each other and become friends through the activity. All activities are designed to welcome 1 parent/guardian participating together with 1 child (5+ years).
Date: 1, 15 & 29 November,13 & 27 December 2020, 10 January 2021 (Every other Sundays)
Time: 3pm-5pm (Bilingual)
Tickets: HK $80 per timeslot for one family pair (one adult with one child). Get tickets on Tai Kwun website
Wet feet __ dry feet: borders and games is on view from 28 October through February 2021, every Tuesday to Sunday from 11am to 7pm at JC Contemporary in Tai Kwun. Free admission, with guided tours and related public programmes available. Along with Wet feet __ dry feet: borders and games, visitors can visit SNEEZE, a solo exhibition by Mika Rottenberg featuring four video installations that create surreal alternative worlds of global everyday life.
The entire site of Tai Kwun is open to the public daily from 10am to 11pm, while Tai Kwun Contemporary at JC Contemporary is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 11am to 7pm. Visitors are encouraged to book their free Tai Kwun Pass online via https://www.taikwun.hk/en/visit/taikwun_pass prior to visiting for guaranteed admission. Walk-ins are also welcome, subject to site capacity conditions.
Please note that appropriate sanitary measures are in place with regards to the ongoing coronavirus situation.