Over the past few months I’ve taken a leap of faith and immersed myself in working full time as an artist. My intuition pulls me forward, telling me that this is the correct path to take, yet fears of failure and self-doubt are never far off and can be destabilising.
About 8 years ago I discovered a performance titled ‘Paradox of Praxis 1’ (subtitled Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing) by Mexico City-based artist Francis Alÿs. The work resonated with me profoundly then and continues to positively reinforce my focus as an artist to this day. However, after years of faith in my work, Paradox of Praxis 1 now has new relevance – what happens if my practice (now my only source of income) really does lead to nothing?
Paradox of Praxis 1 exists as an edited 5-minute video documentation of Alÿs’ 1997 performance, in which he pushes a large cuboid of ice through Mexico City under the heat of the sun. We see Alÿs’ tall, slender frame arched forward, his bare hands on the frozen surface. The heavy lump of ice slides along steadily, across pavements, over roads, down steps; it gradually decreases in size, eventually scuttling along under the control of Alÿs’ foot, until it is finally reduced to a small puddle on the floor.
The absurd, laborious nature of this performance (it took 9 hours) engages with the futile struggles of everyday life in the city and emits a sense of the artist’s solitude despite his urban setting. Ice, placed in the baking heat of Mexico City, needs no assistance to melt. However, through the purity of Alÿs’ process and his simplicity of means, he imbues a sense of humility, humour and honesty grounded within the reality of his environment.
So much pressure looms throughout our culture, especially with expectations of success. Struggle, failure and disappointment are part of development and learning, yet with prescribed social measurements of success, such as salaries and job titles, risk taking can be seen negatively. Such expectations focus on the future and draw attention away from the immediacy and quality of now. Indeed, a large investment of energy could feel like it has led to nothing, but it doesn’t mean that nothing would have been achieved in terms of growth.
For me, the beauty of Paradox of Praxis 1 is in embracing temporality rather than the over-glorification of an end goal. The spontaneity and adaptability of creative practice energises new ideas that drive us forward.