Video Art Worth Watching

If you’re like me, you’re probably quite leery when it comes to video art. Fear not, there are actually some great works within the genre, Reel-Unreel being one of them.


ABOVE: Francis Alÿs, Reel-Unreel, 2011, single channel video projection, dimensions variable with installation

Full disclosure, being unfamiliar with the genre, my guard is often up when it comes to video art, and when in galleries, I’m rarely able to sit through a full showing. Maybe it’s me, but I find most of it to be pretentious and nonsensical. That was until I came across Reel-Unreel by Francis Alÿs in an off the path room at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). Stumbling upon it by accident, I was quickly compelled to stay for the full 20 minutes.

Based on the street game ‘trundling a hoop’ – which is common among Afghan children – the film consists of two boys reeling and unreeling two spools of film through the streets of Kabul, Afghanistan. As the first boy unwinds the film, he is followed by the other who rewinds it onto a second reel. While the action takes place on screen, the film itself reels and unreels in its projector.

Although simplistic in nature, Reel-Unreel provides an insider’s glimpse into the daily life of Kabul as the boys run through the oldest parts of town, over the rubble of war, and up a hill overlooking the city. Throughout it all, the sights, sounds, and people of the Afghan capital pass in and out of the frame, and the city itself becomes one giant movie set.

I really liked Reel-Unreel. If you’re going to the AGO, I suggest you see it.