The Thief (1998)

Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Rafael Ortega and Luis Felipe Ortega
The Thief
Medium: Screensaver
Duration: 1 minute
Commissioned by DIA Art Foundation
Creative Commons Licensed
Courtesy of the artist and DIA Art Foundation


Oscar Muñoz introduces The Thief (1998) by Francis Alÿs:

‘These days I have been working on a projection of sun and shadows that brings back, with great intensity, the memory I have of the first time I saw The Thief by Francis Alÿs. I am still moved by its simplicity and complexity. The economy in the action and in the monochrome materiality of this video, which is nothing more than the silhouette—or is it a shadow?—of a character jumping into the void through a window/screen. No other points of reference appear.’

About the film:
During the Italian Renaissance, Leon Battista Alberti developed a system of single point perspective that created the illusion of depth in two-dimensional work. For subsequent generations of artists, painting came to simulate a window onto another world.

The end of the twentieth century popularised the personal computer, whose monitor likewise offered a window into the virtual world. For Francis Alÿs, this technology, along with Windows 95 (the predominant operating system in the 1990s), were fitting analogues to the revolutionary potential of Alberti’s model.

The Thief represents Alÿs’ first engagement with the computer and internet as mediums, taking the form of a short screensaver accompanied by an explanatory website. In the video, a window gradually takes shape against a black background, then a shadowy figure approaches the window and hops over the edge. Alÿs manipulates light and perspective to create ambiguity in the final moments, in which the figure appears to fall forward, dropping out of sight into uncharted depths.

Shot in film and manipulated for the computer screen, this video carries cinematic echoes in its use of title and end credits. The white window can thus be viewed as a movie screen lit by a projector, deepening the connection with artistic mediums as windows to other worlds.

Adapted from an original text by Lynne Cooke.

Courtesy of the artist and the DIA Art Foundation

Screening and Booking Information

The Thief (1998)
Francis Alÿs
Experimental | 1 minute
No dialogue

This screening is part of the Genealogies in the Middle East and Latin America project, which explores historical and contemporary relationships between artists from these two regions. It unfolds along narratives revealed by the artists' personal accounts that provide critical alternative perspectives and insights by decentralising dominant narratives, schools and paradigms produced and affirmed in the West.

To learn more, please click here.

Related Content

Francis Alÿs : The Thief (1998)

Genealogies in the Middle East and Latin America

Sharjah Art Foundation presents a series of online film screenings jointly organised with Anna Goetz, who initiated this collaborative project featuring 21 artists and collectives from the Middle East and Latin America working in film and video.

Francis Alÿs : The Thief (1998)

Alÿs, Francis

Francis Alÿs explores issues ranging from political structures and transnational boundaries to questions of how the individual makes sense of social representations and cultural mythologies.