Francis Alÿs. Matrix 2

22 may 2002 - 01 september 2002


Curated by Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev

May 22 – September 1, 2002


Matrix.2, 2002 by Francis Alÿs is a public art project that you experience in the privacy of your home, over the phone (The phone numbers +39.011.9565.255 and 800-180281 are active during the period of the exhibition). It is located in the institutional spaces of the museum, but moves beyond the institution’s physical boundaries to reach unknown and distant people and places.


Matrix.2 is accessed by telephoning the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art and entering into a labyrinth of automated recorded instructions. After a predictable welcome – “Benvenuti in Matrix.2 / Welcome to Matrix.2” – the listener is offered menus of options that are both disquieting and liberating: “If you know where you want to go, press 1. If you want to know where to go, press 2. If you go where you know, press 3.

f you know where you go, press 4.” You are soon lost in a maze of intentions, desires, and thoughts triggered by these choices. Communication is disrupted in order to suggest introspection. Rather than feeling frustrated by the endless flow of options and the lack of any human voice, so typical of automated answering services in our daily life, however, you feel empowered and refreshed by this displacement of a simple technology normally used to create a functional system of information, to an ambiguous terrain of personal and collective memories laden with paradoxes. Binary choices, such as success/collapse, self-reliance/doubt, past/future, good/evil intertwine vertiginously, and at every step the artist requires our careful pondering, grounding our experience of his art project in our most intimate and personal sphere of beliefs. The options were written by the artist in the wake of September 11th, and although no direct references are made to those events in the work, Matrix.2 discretely resonates with a sense of the absurdity of life and a need to readdress fundamentals – raising questions pertaining to the ‘why’, ‘when’, or the ‘whom’, and to politics, fate and religion.


Trained as an architect in Tournai, Belgium, and in Venice, Italy, Alÿs (b.1959) moved to Mexico City in 1987, where he still lives and works. Fundamentally, in all his art, Alÿs is a story-teller. Through the years, he has made poetic little oil paintings both humorous and suggestive of solitude; he has made complex drawings that include various kinds of notations and scribbles, as

if transcripts of his mind’s wanderings; he has done erformances and made videos including ‘low tech’ animations that are suggestive of early vaudeville and the utopian beginnings of film at the turn of the century. But he is best-known for his ‘Walks’ through the contemporary city which he has been taking since the mid-1990s. The experience of wandering through a maze of options in Matrix.2, and the thoughts and emotions triggered by them, recall these ‘walks’. In Sao Paulo in 1995, for example, he walked the streets holding a can of paint that leaked- creating a winding line drawing on the pavement (The Leak). In 1997 in Mexico City, he pushed a huge block of ice through the city streets until it finally melted (Paradox of Praxis – Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing). For The Ambassador, 2001 at the Venice Biennial, instead, it was not the artist who walked, but his emissary: Alÿs sent a peacock to freely ramble through the exhibition sites, creating a ‘zoological metaphor’ and a light comment on the spectacle and desire aroused in such international exhibitions.


To walk and to think go hand in hand. Winding through the city, different textures of space suggest trains of thoughts and emotions that Alÿs taps into. Such procedures recall the ‘psychogeographic dérive’- drifting – in the city of the Situationists in the late 1950s and 1960s. The Situationists believed in the possibility of revolutionary change in a modern society which they felt was confining. Alÿs‚ works are contemporary dérives, poetic attempts to open up spaces, possibilities and choices, whether these expansions of fields be the result of the accumulation of rumors about a project, or the creation of new, unexpected itineraries in real and virtual spaces.


The first version of this project, 1-866-FREE MATRIX, 2001, was commissioned last Fall for the phone system of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut. While that version was accessible only in the United States, Matrix.2, 2002 introduces the project to Europe and the world by offering both a toll-free number from Italy and a regular number that anyone can call from anywhere.


Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev



Italian voice: Andrea Viliani

English voice: Carol Bazzani

Software: ET Infotree Advanced Edition, ET Elettronica Telecomunicazioni.

We would like to thank the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, Connecticut.