Belgian artist Francis Alÿs has created a video of a fox named Bandit roaming the National Portrait Gallery in London. The video was actually lifted from the museum’s state-of-the-art closed circuit video system (CCTV) and the fox was brought into the museum after-hours while the galleries were completely empty.
Alÿs trained as an architect but has entered the world of video art installations. Often, his work is related to issues of urban living. His interest in surveillance and the city of London has brought him into the world of CCTV. Originally, he wanted to create a sort of portrait of London as seen through CCTV video but was unable to publicly broadcast the images due to privacy and security issues.
The fox video entitled Nightwatch shows nothing more than an incident which is out of context. So what is the purpose outside of the absurdity of the incident? Does the fox have some symbolism in his work elsewhere? The unfortunate thing is that the fox looks like he is perpetually trying to escape and, as such, conveys a strong sense of discomfort. Is this possibly a statement on how dwindling the numbers of museums visitors have become? Or is it a statement on how uncomfortable some folks feel towards museums in general? (i.e. because they feel it is elitist or the domain of only those in-the-know).
I have to admit, as a museum worker, this was a bit disturbing in terms of preventative conservation and risk management. The video shows occasions where the fox actually puts his paws onto the walls of the gallery and quite possibly onto the works as well.
You can see Nightwatch in the Main Hall of the Gallery through November 20th or you can watch the video here:
You can see more of Alÿs work via his DIA Center contribution at: