Francis Alÿs, The Green Line, 2004
I’ve written about Francis Alÿs going for a walk here before (that time in the form of his Pradox of Praxis for which he pushed a block of ice around the streets of Mexico City until all he had to show for his efforts was a rapidly drying water mark of the pavement) but this week, given the awful news from Gaza, it’s his 2004 work The Green Line: Sometimes doing something poetic can become political and sometimes doing something political can become poetic that’s worked it’s way back into my mind.
I can’t pretend to have anything more than the most rudimentary understanding of the politics of the middle east but this is a work that at least helps with some basics by taking us back to the division of Jerusalem after the end of the Arab-Isreali war in 1948: the green line drawn on a map of the city by Moshe Dyan.
The relationship between map and territory is always an intriguing one and the result of Alÿs’s intervention is to conflate the two, leaving the territory marked by the map. But it’s the political act of making the line – now a trace of history rather than a contemporary boundary – visible now on a map but on the streets that gives the work its punch and its poetry. Effectively an intervention artwork, the piece is shown, unsurprisingly, as video both as recorded at the time and with a selection of voiceovers by people – activists, historians, journalists, and others with a connection to the city of Jerusalem, Isreal and Palestine – Alÿs asked to respond to the film (the different versions can all be watched on Francis Alÿs’s website; when the work is exhibited, the audience can select which track to listen to).
That this work is in my head just now is of course no real help in understanding anything very much and, as ever, I’m easily distracted, here by the thought that in this work Alÿs is following Paul Klee’s definition of drawing and ‘taking a line for a walk’.