A small painting, without a title, is revealed as the fulcrum and synthesis of the articulated series of works that animate The Nature of Game, inside the Belgian pavilion within the Venice Biennale 2022.

The series consists of videos, paintings, drawings and a small publication, almost as a storyboard model, in which everyday moments are recorded by the artist through painting. Untitled shows, as if it were a frame from one of Alys’s videos, an urban scene: a car passes through a desolate street, behind two children chase each other probably imagining themselves in an exciting adventure that animates their games. At the right bottom right of the image the artist reports the place represented: Herat, Afghanistan, 2012. The painting almost becomes a postcard: a romantic memory of a place.

The delicate colors, the soft brushstrokes and the soft outlines allow the work to represent a bare and anonymous urban context with poetic tones: the yellow car, whose passengers remain in the shadows, carries with it the smell of fuel; the heat of the Afghan summer days emanates from the almost sketched walls. And even the strokes of color that outline the two children almost making them disappear are able to bring back their shouts and laughter.

The painted image, almost a reportage photograph, represents the context in which Francis Alys worked for a long time, studying and observing the cultural traditions and human behavior of the different urban realities, focusing in particular on the playful activities of children as a place in which there is a real abstraction from the real world. The small postcard, with its touching simplicity, is the springboard to be able to enter the dynamics of childish play, however making us participate in the context in which they enroll. The brushstrokes thus become the result of an exchange of glances: the sharp and measuring one of the anthropologist and the dreamy and enchanted one of the child.


Francis Alys
Herat, Afghanistan, 2021, Oil on canvas (13x18cm)
Part of The Nature of Game, 2022 – Pavilion of Belgium  
59 International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, The Milk of Dreams
© Francis Alys, Courtesy Galerie Peter Kilchmann, Jan Mot and David Zwirner Gallery