mon 15/07/2024

Francis Alÿs: Ricochets, Barbican review - fun for the kids, yet I was moved to tears | reviews, news & interviews

Francis Alÿs: Ricochets, Barbican review - fun for the kids, yet I was moved to tears

Francis Alÿs: Ricochets, Barbican review - fun for the kids, yet I was moved to tears

How to be serious and light hearted at the same time

Children’s Game #40: Chivichanas, La Habana, Cuba, 2023 by Francis AlÿsIn collaboration Julien Devaux and Félix Blume

Belgian artist, Francis Alÿs has filled the Barbican Art Gallery with films of children playing games the world over.

Many of them are familiar; they’re playing five stones in Nepal (pictured below left), conkers in London, stone skimming in Morocco, scissors/paper/stone and musical chairs in Mexico, hopscotch and leapfrog in Iraq, flying kites in Afghanistan and having snowball fights in Switzerland.

On one level, then, the show is about the ubiquity of children’s games and it provides perfect entertainment for the kids. But it is also much, much more. Some of the films are pure delight. Three girls skip on the roof terrace of a dreary block of flats in Hong Kong (pictured below). Their skill is incredible and the pleasure they take in both competing and collaborating is infectious. A circle of kids link hands in Copenhagen; by twisting and turning around one another, they tie themselves in knots. The shout of “mother” is a cue for a girl to try to unravel the tangle of limbs without breaking the hand holds.

The laughter induced by this simple game among the kids is in such stark contrast to the blank faces I see of children staring at their mobiles, that it made me cry. I was mourning the tech-induced loss of communal activities that seems to be gathering pace along with the joy engendered by these simple yet important pastimes.Francis Alÿs, Children’s Game #22: Jump Rope, Hong Kong, 2020 In collaboration with Rafael Ortega, Julien Devaux, and Félix BlumeOther films reveal the astounding creativity of young people. In the Democratic Republic of Congo two boys play subbuteo. Their pitch is not a fancy board, but rows of sticks stuck in the dirt to form an arena and players defending each goal. Agile fingers take it in turns to flick a marble over the defenders’ heads, hopefully into the opponent’s goal while an enthusiastic crowd cheers their efforts.

In Havana, Cuba kids pile onto DIY gocarts made from bits of found wood with ball bearings for wheels (main picture). They race downhill a few inches off the ground hoping that their rickety contraptions won’t fall apart as they career along narrow streets and round steep bends.

In Mosul, Iraq we see a group of lads getting ready to play football, a game banned under Islamic Law (pictured below). They prepare the pitch – a stretch of road in front of a bombed out building – by brushing off the rubble and erecting goal posts from bits of broken concrete. The ball is lobbed into play and there follows a graceful sequence of dribbling, passing, tackling and shooting. Except that there is no ball; as a way round the ban, the boys play imaginary matches on non-existent playing fields.

Francis Alÿs Ricochets, installation view, Barbican Art Gallery, 27 June – 1 September 2024 © Jemima Yong  Barbican Art Gallery.jpgElsewhere, the trauma of war is a source of inspiration. In Ukraine children compete to imitate the wail of sirens warning of Russian bombing raids. Three boys, meanwhile, have set up a check point to flush out spies. Brandishing wooden guns, they flag down passing cars, check the driver’s ID, inspect the boot and demand the password, which is palyanitsya, the name of a traditional Ukrainian bread which Russians find difficult to pronounce.

Young boys in Mexico play soldiers armed with bits of mirror in place of guns. Chasing each other through a row of abandoned houses, they “shoot” the enemy with beams of reflected sunlight and if someone gets hit, he obligingly falls down dead.

Accompanying the installation is a display highlighting the history of games. The earliest recorded description of activities like skipping, wrestling and hide-and-seek is on a cuneiform tablet dating from 1500-1000 BC in Mesopotamia and, since then, games have been recorded everywhere and in every culture. Not only are they ubiquitous, but necessary for the development of physical, mental, social, technical and creative skills – so much so that Article 31 of the 1989 UN convention on the Rights of Children acknowledges them as a human right.

In this country, that right is being systematically undermined by the sale of playing fields and the closure of playgrounds and public swimming pools, not to mention the axing of music and other arts from the curriculum in favour of subjects deemed to be more useful. All is not lost, though. Working with local schools, the Barbican team came across 40 odd games still being played by the kids. We shouldn’t be complacent, though. Alÿs first started recording games in 1999 and, in the years since then, he has noticed a marked decline in the number of children playing together outdoors. It makes his project especially timely, since many of the games he’s recorded might soon disappear.

Francis Alÿs, Children’s Game #19: Haram Football, Mosul, Iraq, 2017 In collaboration with Julien Devaux and Félix BlumeAlongside the films there’s a series of animations illustrating various hand and finger games, including shadow play. And in one room a beam of light invites you to cast your own shadows and interact with other players in the space. In another room, three discs furnished with wheels sit a few inches above the floor. By kneeling, sitting or standing on them, you can spin round at speed and play dodgems with other riders if, that is, you are willing to risk a pratfall!

The show made me aware of how much I miss communal activities undertaken for the sheer pleasure of being in the moment, whether as a child or an adult. In my view, Margaret Thatcher committed a crime against humanity by declaring that “there is no such thing as society”. Hopefully this moving and joyful exhibition will rekindle in both parents and children the desire to get together and have some communal fun.

The laughter induced by this simple game is in stark contrast to the blank faces I see of children staring at their mobiles


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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