Phil Collins. They Shoot Horses

Phil Collins’s video work They Shoot Horses shows a disco dance marathon produced in Ramallah with a group of young Palestinians. The work’s title is taken from a 1935 novel by Horace McCoy and its film adaptation directed by Sydney Pollack. These both focus on the American craze for dance marathons during the Great Depression, which became a form of popular entertainment based around the exploitation of the contestants.

Ramallah, a Palestinian city under Israeli occupation, has been the site of much violence and political unrest. While not directly political, They Shoot Horses resonates with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The artist auditioned participants in February 2004 and filmed two separate groups of young people dancing during the course of a day, without any breaks. Throughout, the production was interrupted by power failures, technical problems and calls to prayer from a nearby mosque revealing the dancers’ elation, stoicism, and eventual exhaustion. The work is concerned with heroism and collapse, and reveals beauty surviving under duress.


Phil Collins was born in 1970 in Runcorn, England, and now lives in Berlin. He studied visual arts at the Ulster University. In 2000 he was picked as one of the New Contemporaries and in the same year won the Absolute Prize; in 2006 he was nominated to the Turner Prize. He authored such works as They Shoot Horses, Baghdad Screen Tests, The World Won’t Listen or How to Make a Refugee, presented at the Manifesta 3 Biennial in Ljubljana. Collins teaches at the Academy of Media Arts Cologne.