The Power of Community

My visit to the Belgian Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale

Francis Alÿs is one of my favorite artists so I was thrilled to learn he was chosen to represent Belgium in its Pavilion at the 59th Venice Biennale and made sure to put aside enough time to visit the exhibition, titled The Nature of the Game, more than once. Upon entering the show, I was instantly attracted to the videos displaying scenes of children playing in regions ranging from Iraq and Hong Kong to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Belgium, and Mexico. Each one was telling me a different story. Each one forced me to look. Some kids seemed to be privileged and others less privileged yet they all appear to be connected by the creative and innocent way in which they relate to the world. On the one hand, this made me think about the frequently harsh reality children from troubled parts of the world face, but on the other, the videos also connected me with my inner child. The joy, the freedom, and the seemingly endless possibilities, all came to life in each frame.

Even if I could not recognize all the games, I was hypnotized by their patterns, sounds, colors, and shapes. The whole display looked like a harmonious dance of children coming from different cultures and backgrounds. While visually pleasing, the videos also uncover the many layers of meaning and cultural interactions embedded within a child’s innocent game. Which games are for boys and which for girls? How can children both compete and cooperate when they play? How repetition and rules but also intuition is crucial for any game? Without a doubt, this show reflects all the aspects I love about Alÿs's work, mainly his ability to observe and document human behavior and the notion of community with a poetic sensibility. As part of his quest for observing urban life, the Belgian artist has been documenting children playing around the world since 1999. I think this exhibition crystallizes the decades-long attraction the artist has had for the concept and experience of play and it does so in a powerful and transformational way.

When exiting this great show, reality suddenly kicked back. I needed to sit down and write my thoughts. I needed to decompress. This is something that I wrote in my notebook: “What has happened to that child I once was? Joy is more expensive, friendship is harder to maintain. In a divided world, a good story is for the price of freedom.” While all these things are certainly  true, Alÿs playfully reminds us life goes on…

Author Dima Bondarenko

Editor Constanza Ontiveros, Art History PhD

Oct. 20, 2022

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