Francis Alÿs, trained as an architect, moved from Belgium to Mexico City for the redevelopment programmes after the big earthquake of 1986. Recurring themes in his work are the individual and the urban environment. In imaginative, politically aware and especially poetic films, videos and photos of performances, paintings and drawings, he maps out the city, subtly interweaving it with his own life and undertakings.
In Guards, a subversive twist is given to a typical London tourist phenomenon; the Changing of the Guard. What begins as one guard marching through the empty streets ends in the strangely beautiful choreography of a ritual display of power, accompanied by the hypnotic cadence of stamping boots. Guards is one of the films from the series Seven Walks, which was created on commission from the London art centre, Artangel. Alÿs used the positions of the city’s CCTV cameras for filming. The video Shoeshine (together with some sketches and a display of led soldiers) completes the work of Alÿs in the museum’s collection. Shoeshine documents the preparations of one of the guards before he appears in public.