Last month, a large exhibition of the socially relevant work of Belgian interdisciplinary artist Francis Alÿs opened in Tokyo, the artist's first solo show to be held in Japan. The exhibition, split into two parts, presents people's actions that engage with political spaces by reclaiming them as sites for telling stories.

The first half, a sampling of works based on walks in the center of Mexico City, consists of actions that play with everyday life, allowing the depiction of brief and often random encounters in the city to pose philosophical questions. The second half, a new work in the Strait of Gibraltar set to open this summer, digs into one particular story — one that forms a meaningful link between Europe and Africa through the activities of children.

Much of Alÿs' work and life have been determined by chance. He started a career as an architect in Italy and would very likely still be there if he hadn't gone to the countryside of Mexico in order to escape Belgian military service. During our interview in Tokyo he puffs on an electronic cigarette while discussing the early experiences that made him become an artist.