Francis Alÿs: Ricochets, Barbican, exhibition review: ‘Youthful inventiveness’

Haram football in Mosul, Iraq, 2017. Photograph: Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Julien Devaux and Félix Blume

Children’s play is imprinted on the background of our lives.

The yelps of joy, screeches of camaraderie and exuberant self-expression can be heard on virtually any street in any country.

In a new exhibition at the Barbican, Francis Alÿs zeroes in on the deeply creative aspect of the games that wee ones devise.

Parol in Kharkiv, Ukraine, 2023. Photograph: Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Julien Devaux, Félix Blume and Hanna Tsyba

The centrepiece of the show by this Belgian-born, Mexican-based artist is a series of videos of children playing in different parts of the world, including war-ravaged Ukraine and Iraq, as well as local communities in London.

The videos are intermeshed with other play-themed works by the artists, as well as snippets of text and paintings shedding light on the role of games in different cultures down the ages.

There are even rooms where visitors can themselves indulge their youthful spirits in a spot of gleeful fun.

Musical chairs in Oaxaca, Mexico, 2012. Photograph: Francis Alÿs in collaboration with Elena Pardo and Félix Blume

Most striking is the ingenuity of youngsters in making use of simple household materials, found objects and their own bodies to fashion elaborate fantasy worlds.

Alÿs’s intense engagement with community groups in more than 15 different countries yields rich documentation of the resilience of kids, the diversity of ways in which they entertain themselves and the universality of youthful inventiveness.

Above all, we see children as the artists they are.

Francis Alÿs: Riochets runs until 1 September 2024 at the Barbican Art Gallery.