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Anthea Moys

At my own risk

JOHANNESBURG 6 Jellicoe Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196 Private Bag 5 Parklands 2121 South-Africa Tel: + 27 11 788 4805  Fax: + 27 11 788 5914  Email: gallery@everard.co.za  www.everard-read.co.za CAPE TOWN 3 Portswood Road, V&A Waterfront, Cape Town Tel: + 27 21 418 4528  Email: ctgallery@everard.co.za  www.everard-read-capetown.co.za
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Anthea Moys

At my own risk

The Brait-Everard Read Art Award 2009

Anthea Moys at risk in Johannesburg
Penny Siopis

It’s a gorgeous spring day in Johannesburg in 2006. South Africa’s famous annual cycle race, the 94.7 Cycle Challenge, is in full swing and Jan Smuts Avenue pumps with the energy of cyclists and supporters. The finish line is the goal for everyone. There is one exception. This cyclist won’t be going anywhere because she rides an exercise bike, a heavy metal stationary machine. But she seems oblivious to her fate. Sporting the full outfit of her competitors, she peddles like mad. Some supporters yell, ‘Where are your wheels?’ and ‘Fucking loser!’ Others feel sorry for her and offer food and drink. She looks steadfastly ahead. This is Anthea Moys’ performance-piece 94.7 Cycle Challenge. The whole scene

constitutes the work, for Anthea’s practice is action through intervention and interaction. For this she needs more than an audience. Her fellow cyclists and supporters become players in her work. The physical setting has its way too. Anthea needs the race and all it signifies to reveal the goallessness of the play that drives her. For her, and indeed others of like mind, we generally lack this kind of play in our consumer society. Our play is dominated by the functionalism and utilitarianism of capitalism: a controlled release from the pressures of the workplace, calculated to refresh us in fuelling our economic drive. Sport is sanctioned play. Its elaborate scoring systems, rules and conventions reflect

something of the constraints and competitiveness of our larger world. But it also offers other dynamics that Anthea likes to tap. What is it, then, that interests Anthea about pointless play? She says that ‘it’s about being in the present moment and not thinking of what came before or what will come after’. Later, she adds, ‘It’s also about communing with others.’ I am interested in this ‘communing with others’ as it seems key to her most recent work, Playing with Pirates which she has just (literally within the last five minutes) completed. It’s an encounter with a rugby team. I reckon this was a real communication challenge. But more about that later. There is a paradox to Anthea’s purpose-

less play – there is purpose to purposelessness. It’s a paradox she embraces. And it’s the same spirit that American theorist Pat Kane promotes in his book The Play Ethic: A Manifesto for a Different Way of Living (2004). ‘Living as a player,’ he writes, ‘is precisely about embracing ambiguity, revelling in paradox, yet being energised by that knowledge.’ Kane goes on to assert that there is in fact an ethic to this play. ‘An argument can be made,’ he writes, ‘that ethics become even more important in an endemically uncertain world. An ethic of play is, in effect, an ethic which makes a virtue, even a passion, out of uncertainty.’ These ideas about play are key to the performance art to which Anthea subscribes. Internationally this ‘genre’ is well developed. Locally, Anthea sometimes seems the sole candle-bearer. Her knowledge of her field is passionate, driving her to pursue play in her studies for her Masters degree. In her quest she discovered many kindred spirits. Pat Kane was one, as was the British psycho­ analyst Donald Winnicott. Winnicott developed theories about play, asserting that play is essential for healthy human development. His notion of a transitional space in which

play is enacted in childhood directly influenced Anthea’s ideas about the social space in which she performs and interacts. As she says, ‘This transitional space is where adults can play – at least momentarily. In this play we give up the usual roles we adopt in life and give over to being human.’ The Dutch cultural theorist Johan Huizinga also featured in Anthea’s pan­ theon. Writing in 1955, H ­ uizinga coined the term homo ­ludens, which translates as ‘[man] the player’, a play on homo sapiens. In his book Homo Ludens: A study of the play element in culture, Huizinga makes the point that play is as essential to human beings as life itself. Game theorists Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman, writing in the early 2000s, also inspired Anthea with their idea of play as ‘free movement within a rigid structure’ a phrase becoming something of her mantra. The resistance to the commodification of everyday life embodied by the Situationists of the Fifties and Sixties, the ‘happenings’ of the Sixties and the more contemporary practices of artists such as Tino Sehgal and Gustavo Artigas have all spurred Anthea to explore the limits of play in performance.

Anthea’s sojourn in Switzerland in 2006 also had a profound influence on her work. She spent eight months at the Ecole Cantonale d’Art du Valais (ECAV) based in Sierre, Switz­ erland as part of the interinstitutional MAPS project (Masters of Arts in the Public Sphere). ECAV espouses performance art, and it was here that Anthea ­created her first ‘sport’ piece in which players tried in vain to swim across snow. But it has been Johannesburg that has exerted the most striking influence of late. Johannesburg is a risky place to live. Seeing this risk as productive is vital to Anthea’s practice. ‘The more I risk, the more alive I feel,’ she says. ‘To take a risk means to have the courage to try something new, to accept that change is indeed the only constant and to acknowledge that it is only through change, error and risk that we grow.’ Performing this risk involves Anthea sensing the limitations of her body. These limitations, more often than not, determine how her work develops. This is especially so with the more impromptu pieces. Bloody Finger from her Accident Series (2006) is a perfect example. Here Anthea’s play at having an accident – repeatedly

The Brait-Everard Read Art Award 2009

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sliding down a snow dune in slapstick style  – ended when she sliced her finger on jagged ice. But this penchant for risk does not mean that Anthea or her players deliberately put themselves in harm’s way. Here Anthea’s work differs from much performance (body) art of the day in which ‘meaning’ is ascribed in terms of how much pain the artist can endure. Rather, Anthea seeks to perform acts that are ‘ordinarily’ human. For her, to be human is to feel the heightened energy that the experience of risk often provokes. In this she concurs with Kane who highlights ‘[t]he need to fully test out all the possibilities of being human, yet under conditions which are themselves not fatal, violent or beset with

privation and pain.’ As already noted this does not mean that Anthea’s acts leave her unscathed. She has just shown me the grass burn on her arm – the mark of the risk she took with her rugby team. In her insistence that the action in the moment is the most important aspect of her performance and that this action is, as mentioned, a form of communing, Anthea shifts from performance that focuses on politics of difference to politics of community. In South Africa the former has dominated the field. In it the subjectivity of the artist/performer has been emphatically marked as racialised and/or sexualised. This is understandable given our history and the broader concerns of feminism and post-colonialism. While not

denying the significance of these concerns, Anthea wants to show other sides at play in subjectivity. This is an important part of her piece, Boxing Games (2007). Here Anthea worked with a team of boxers and their instructor, George Khosi from K Khosi Boxing Gym in Hillbrow. There were various performances of this piece. The later version took place on a rooftop in downtown Johannesburg. Spectators watched from the 19th floor of the adjacent Lister Building and from surrounding apartments. The scene was dramatic. High energy exuded as spotlights flooded the rooftop, illuminating the arena of action. The players came alive and boxed furiously. At times it seemed that their boxing turned to dancing. Only they

knew the rules. They stopped suddenly, shouted to the sky and all fell down, like a ring-o’-rosies game. The lights went off. If there was any social comment to this piece, it had to do with the risk of being downtown, a place that is no safe haven for anyone irrespective of race, gender or physical self-possession. A similar take on risk was key to Anthea’s more recent work Nessun Dorma (2008). In this performance Anthea relocated her bedroom to the rose garden in downtown Joubert Park for one night. Here she slept under the watchful eyes of four CSS Tactical Security guards, lulled by the serene voices of two opera singers performing Puccini’s Nessun Dorma. The gates of the park were opened for the event. They are usually closed as the rose garden is considered a dangerous place. While this work played directly with risk in its site-specificity, the image of fear was undercut by Anthea’s apparent enjoyment of the occasion. Snuggled in her bed she read her book before falling asleep in the way she does every night in the safety of her home. In fact there is no safety. Anywhere. Just as security guards watched over her in

Joubert Park, there are security systems all over Johannesburg. The point here is that Anthea’s openness to risk is enlivening. American philosopher John Dewey’s words in his Art as Experience (1934) are relevant here. Commenting on how openness to experience has the potential for heightened vitality, Dewey writes: ‘Instead of signifying being shut up within one’s own private feelings and sensations it signifies active and alert commerce with the world.’ This brings us back to play as useless action. Useless in the sense that it is free from utilitarian domination. Anthea’s Gautrain: Ophelia (2008) situated her small body in the bowels of the earth, the same earth currently being shaped into the monumental construction of the Gautrain project. Her action of digging with her bare hands into the soil, shifted by huge industrial machinery, appeared ridiculous to all who witnessed it. But for her, in her hardhat and safety outfit, this was a site of potential à la Winnicott’s transitional space. As Anthea says, ‘It was a space of uncertainty – because I was so helpless in the face of the larger action. Yet the action of burying myself in the earth was a way of embracing

the uncertainly – even relishing it – rather than feeling disempowered by it.’ The rugby piece has just happened. I missed the game but will see the documentation. The documentation of this piece – as with all of Anthea’s work – has a kind of autonomy in that it offers us a means to imagine the moment of the performance. We might well read other things into the documentation – photographs and videos – and indeed the performances themselves. But that is up to us. For me, the leap Anthea describes she took from the side-line of the rugby field in her performance, lifted as she was by hefty players who flung her like a ball into the air above the scrum, evokes conceptual artist Yves Kline’s famous, Leap into the Void (1960). With Kline’s leap there was manipulation of the photographic document to make his leap out of a window onto a street appear more risky than it was. Not so with Anthea. But the players caught her. For me this piece, like so much of her work, speaks of how her desire to commune with others through play is as much about trust as it is about risk.
Penny Siopis is professor of Fine Arts at Wits University

The Brait-Everard Read Art Award 2009

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94.7 Cycle Challenge Johannesburg, 2006 One-hour performance
PHOTOGRAPHER: JULIANA SMITH

In 2006, I rode the 94.7 Cycle Challenge, South Africa’s biggest cycle race, on a stationary exercise bike. The performance provoked reactions ranging from encouraging cheers, to shouts of ‘fucking loser!’ This interruption was an attempt to open up a space of play in a highly structured event. For me, play is free movement within the constraints of a structure, and it feeds off that structure to create its own rules.
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Boxing Games Two sites in Johannesburg, 2007 Two-week collaborative performance
Photographer: Chris Saunders

I worked on Boxing Games while participating in the KinBeJozi residency in April 2007. For two weeks I trained at the George K Khosi Boxing Gym in Hillbrow. With the boxers and their trainers, I developed games that explored the fraught relationship between violence and play, safety and survival.
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Boxing Games (rooftop performance) Two sites in Johannesburg, 2007 Four-minute collaborative performance
Photographer: Alastair Mclachlan

The Boxing Games project culminated in a performance on a nearby rooftop, viewed from a gallery on the 19th floor of a neighbouring building. The final performance incorporated aspects of dance, theatre, and boxing. The performance was viewed not only by the gallery’s attendees but also by the many residents living in the surrounding buildings.
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Gautrain: Ophelia Gautrain Construction Site, Braamfontein, 2008 Three-hour performance Performance commissioned by Urban Concerns project and Johannesburg Art Gallery
Photographer: Alastair Mclachlan  Cameraman: Benji Magowen

Gautrain: Ophelia was a project that explored the symbolic dimensions of the monolithic Gautrain project at a more human level. These sites are transitional space of tremendous potential, but also threat. The futile act of digging with my hands, as giant graders and bulldozers remake the landscape around me, was an admission of the helplessness that many South Africans feel in the face of change, but also an attempt to be part of that change.
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Tunnel Shout Gautrain Construction Site, Braamfontein, 2008 Three-hour performance Performance commissioned by Urban Concerns project and Johannesburg Art Gallery
Photographer: Alastair Mclachlan  Cameraman: Benji Magowen

In Gautrain Series: Tunnel Shout I shout greetings down a large pipe which leads into the depths of the earth to where the construction workers are building the future. Even if it is only my own voice that echoes back to me, I enjoyed the attempt to make a connection with the unknown.

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Nessun Dorma (None Shall Sleep Tonight) Joubert Park in front of Johannesburg Art Gallery, Johannesburg, 2008. Two-hour performance with opera singers Rheinald Moagi and Khotso Tsekeletsa and four CSS Tactical Security Guards
Photographer: Chris Saunders

The performance was repeated and the prints exhibited at the Dray Walk Gallery in London in November 2008. In recent years, the parks and avenues surrounding the Johannesburg Art Gallery in Joubert Parks have become crowded taxi ranks and hawkers’ markets during the day and no-go areas at night. In the Nessun Dorma performance, I relocated my bed to the rose gardens in Joubert Park. Guarded by four CSS Tactical Security guards, and serenaded by two opera singers performing Puccini’s aria Nessun Dorma, I fall asleep in a familiar state of mind to South Africans – relaxed but forever on guard.
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Sleeping Around (Newtown vs the North) Newtown, May 2009 Sleeping Around (Alex vs Sandton) Alexandria, May 2009
Photographer: Chris Saunders

These two images are part of a planned series of performances entitled Sleeping Around that stem from my Nessun Dorma performance at the Johannesburg Art Gallery. In both of these performances, I am re-enacting my bedtime routine in unfamiliar territory. The locations are symbolic of the manufactured divisions that exist in South Africa between safe and unsafe spaces: the safety of the northern suburbs starkly juxtaposed against the perceived danger of the inner city and the township. Security guards stand watch over my body in an enactment of safety, and a reminder that the very idea of safety in South Africa is itself a performance.
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Playing with Pirates Pirates Rugby Club, Parkhurst, June 2009 Two-hour collaborative performance with Junior Pirates Rugby Team
Photographer: John Hodgekiss

In Playing with Pirates I worked with the Pirates Junior Rugby team. In this performance I played the role of the ball. Throwing oneself into unfamiliar territory always involves risk. It asks of both performer and participant to engage in a shared space of play. For modern humans, this is a risky proposition, for there are no winners or losers in my rugby game. The outcome is the experience.
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I would like to extend my greatest thanks and wondrous appreciation to the following people for going out of their way in helping to bring my often quite unbelievable and hard-to-fathom ideas into reality. Thank you for playing with me. George K Khosi and all the boxers I worked with at the K Khosi Boxing Gym in Claim Street, Hillbrow. Jackon Mamashela at the Braamfontein Gautrain construction site. Johan Bothma, Martin Scheepers, Non Welsford and the Junior Pirates Rugby team: U19 and U21. The CSS Tactical team – specifically the guards who watched over me while I slept and Rheinald Moagi and Khotso Tsekeletsa for singing Puccinni’s aria Nessun Dorma so beautifully I would like to thank the following photographers, videographers and printers for their ongoing support – for giving me their precious time and making the intangible tangible so that this ephemeral art can live on in solid form and in this way live on through others … Chris Saunders Alastair Mclachlan John Hodgekiss Adriano Giulio Giovanelli Benji Magowen Alexis Fotiadis Amichai Tahor I would also like to extend my thanks to the following people who have always supported me in my risky adventures and who have been there

literally for all the ups as well as the downs. My family: Denise, Michael and Joshua Moys and Priscilla Scott as well as my extended family. My love: Gwyd. My fellow players and friends: Nicola van Der Linde, Lester Adams, Robyn de Klerk, Caitlin Judge, Gia Thom, Bronwyn Lace, Amy Watson, Rob Peers, Murray Kruger and the Wits players, Nadine Hutton, Murray and Lucy Turpin, Donovan Pugh, James Happe, Toni Morkel and Kai Lossgott. I would also like to thank the following people for their continuous support in my studies and artistic endeavours over the years: Dorothee Kreutzfeldt, Joseph Gaylard, Lesley Purkiss, Anthea Buys, Leora Farber, Sue Williamson, David Andrew, Kathryn Smith, Jeremy Wafer and all at The Trinity Session. I would also like to extend special thanks to Penny Siopis, a great mentor and friend, for your guidance. Thank you to the Everard Read Gallery and the Brait Foundation for taking a risk and giving me this amazing opportunity. And grand applause to all at the Wits School of the Arts – you have been my inspiration! Finally, I would like to acknowledge the contribution made by all of the extraordinary people who have collaborated with me over the years – the boxers, grannies, rugby players, opera singers, security guards, trolley-men, stockbrokers, construction workers, bell-ringers, snow-swimmers

and cyclists. All have welcomed me into their homes, their workplaces and their playgrounds. My performances have been facilitated purely through the generosity of strangers like these who have found themselves approached out of the blue by a short girl with a tall story and, to my surprise and continuing delight, have agreed to play. These works belong as much to all of my collaborators as they do to me. www.antheamoys.co.za

This exhibition catalogue is published in conjunction with the exhibition At my own risk at the Everard Read Gallery, Johannesburg 30 July – 23 August 2009 Published in 2009 by Everard Read Gallery (Pty) Ltd 6 Jellicoe Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg Copyright © Everard Read Gallery (Pty) Ltd Copyright © Anthea Moys at risk in Johannesburg, Penny Siopis Copyright © Photographs, individual photographers All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without prior permission from the publishers. ISBN 978-0-620-44395-1 Designed by Kevin Shenton Printed by Ultra Litho, Johannesburg

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