Speaking of video art, I would also like to share one of my favorite video pieces by contemporary Belgian artist Francis Alÿs. In his Alÿs’ best-known work (and my personal favorite), When Faith Moves Mountains (2002), the artist recruited 500 volunteers in suburb outside of Lima, Peru. The volunteers and artist gathered around a sand dune where the work was executed. Each participant was given a shovel and instructed to move a shovel full of sand one step at a time from one side of a dune to the other, and together they altered the geographical location of the dune by a few inches. Combining land and performance art, When Faith Moves Mountains culminates not only in the site itself, but also the video recordings and photographs that the artist took. Like Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty or his Incidents of Mirror Travel, the viewer is unable to travel to the sites at which the works are located, and they therefore exist to the broader public as documentation. Embracing documentation as a means for passing information, Alÿs aims to make works that exist outside of the events themselves through stories disseminated by sound and image.
Alÿs’s motto for When Faith Moves Mountains is “Maximum effort, minimum result.” “Demonstrating a ridiculous disproportion between an effort and its effect, the work is a metaphor for Latin American society, in which minimal reforms are achieved through massive collective efforts. Participants in the project gave their time for free, reversing conservative economic principles of efficiency and production” (http://www.moma.org/interactives/exhibitions/2011/francisalys/#/moma/when-faith-moves-mountains). When Faith Moves Mountains is a beautiful documentation of these efforts and is definitely worth everyone’s time to watch.