The art of Francis Alÿs is a reflection of political realities. In this film he pushes a block of ice around the streets of Mexico City for six or seven hours until it melts. On the same streets, thousands of locals spend their days pushing, carrying or towing wares or chattels. The results are the same: nothing to show for all the hard work.
But Alÿs does have something to show for it, a five minute film. And in a work called Ambulantes I and II, he also gives the street traders and removal men their due. Physical labour has given rise to art, if not profit, but what good is that to people who earn a living by the sweat of their brow?
The piece is called Paradox of Praxis I (Sometimes Doing Something Leads To Nothing), as if Alÿs were making a point about the futility of art. And yet this is not merely art about art. The routines of manual workers are just as much of a praxis and must at most times feel just as paradoxical.
Compared with such hardship the artwork melts away; the city absorbs it and the viewer, whoever they may be, can see those hot, dusty streets as if for the first time. And that is something.
Francis Alÿs: A Story of Deception is at Tate Modern until 5 September.