June 21, 2012

When Faith Moves Mountains

"When Faith Moves Mountains" is a work of art initiated by Francis Alÿs (1) and serves as a powerful metaphor of the possibility of change for me. "500 volunteers were equipped with shovels and asked to form a single line in order to displace by 10 cm a 500 m long dune from its original position" describes what took place in Lima, Peru on April 11, 2002. I have seen the video documenting the event a while ago at the Guggenheim Museum in Berlin as part of a group exhibition titled „Once Upon a Time: Fantastic Narratives in Contemporary Video.“ (2)  The video tells the stories of the people who took part in the event:

When Faith Moves Mountains (making of), April 11, 2002, Lima, Peru.

The work demonstrates the impact a faithful group bonded by a shared vision can have, when applying a simple action collectively to an overwhelming, arduous or complex problem:  moving a great dune 10 centimeters by shoveling a line of sand first up and then downward. The power behind the Chinese proverb "The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones"(3) increased exponential within a group and changed the peoples feeling of helplessness when individually facing the enormous challenge of moving a huge dune in the hot desert around Lima into a kind of euphoria when the group finally reached the top of the hill.

What the participants are saying in the video reflects how the event invoked transformation within the group's mindset mirroring the change in the physical world:
"But a group of people on the base of their faith can do things that otherwise would be impossible. Something totally irrational"
"Up at the top, we could see for miles around. We felt on top of the world you know."
Francis Alÿs goal is to infiltrate the local history and mythology by translating social tensions into narratives. Unlike the transience of the physical result of moved sand, the stories told by the participants will, if passed on, persist and become a myth that survives the event itself.

(1) http://www.francisalys.com
(2) http://www.deutsche-guggenheim.de/ex_onceuponatime_full.php
(3) via Inspiration e-mail for Agile Coaches from Lyssa Adkins

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