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26 JANUARY 2014


Performance artist Anthea Moys took on Grahamstown in 2013. Now she’s tackling Geneva. Next up? The world. By Oliver Roberts

A NTHEA Moys goes after her dreams — even when she dreams that she is a rugby ball. In

2009, Moys took part in a game at the Pirates Rugby Club, standing in for the ball. Dressed in a red cotton dress, she was tossed around, thrown into a line-out and touched down on the try line. The display was just another in a long line of bizarre, amusing and perilous acts devised by Moys, who was awarded the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Performance Art in 2013.

Moys, who was a lecturer at the time, explains: “I was working a lot with my students on the Yves Klein image, Leap into the Void. I was also watching a lot of rugby because I wanted to do something with it. One morning I woke up with this image of me as the ball, and that was it.” But her jaunt as a rugby ball is quite normal, even tame, compared to some of the other routines she has devised. She once spent the entire 94.7 Cycle Challenge pedalling madly on a stationary gym bicycle along the route. Another time

on a stationary gym bicycle along the route. Another time WAX ON: Moys takes on the

WAX ON: Moys takes on the karate okes


she moved her bed to Joubert Park and spent the night there, accompanied by guards and two opera singers, who performed Puccini’s Nessun Dorma (None Shall Sleep Tonight). It was a statement about the fear South Africans experience sleeping in their homes. Her zenith came at last year’s Grahamstown Arts Festival: over a number of days, she competed solo, and very publicly, against masters of several disciplines such as karate, choir singing, soccer, chess and ballroom dancing. She even took on the British Army, alone. Admittedly, that battle

was against the South African Battle Re-Enactment society. But still — mad girl. Moys did not plunge into any of these performances untrained: putting herself through intense physical and mental conditioning is central to her work. Plus, if she hadn’t had at least a little basic training, she might have got seriously hurt — as she almost did during her karate match-up. At one point she was winded by a punch to her chest and staggered about the mat gasping for oxygen. After a quick rest and a drink of water, she bounced back onto the

quick rest and a drink of water, she bounced back onto the SWAY TO GO: Moys
quick rest and a drink of water, she bounced back onto the SWAY TO GO: Moys
quick rest and a drink of water, she bounced back onto the SWAY TO GO: Moys

SWAY TO GO: Moys in ballroom mode

mat and faced up to the black belts again. Moys is currently in Geneva, Switzerland, where she is preparing for a new performance called Anthea Moys contre les Communes Genevoises, which will be staged at the Antigel Festival in February. Her new challenges include ice hockey, velodrome cycling, wrestling and playing the Alpine horn. Moys hopes this is the beginning of a larger project, entitled Anthea Moys vs The World. “At the moment, I am feeling quite strong and optimistic about the challenges,” Moys says. “It has taken me a while to get to this point — it has been extremely challenging and I have been in contact with real fear and real pain on a daily basis. But the training is going well. I can play two melodies on the alphorn; I have learnt three main moves in wrestling; and I’ve hit a speed of 40km/h on my bike, but still have to master getting on and off the bike without falling. And the skating is great. I feel like a Transformer every time I put on my kit and I am starting to love gliding really quickly over the ice.” The thing with performance art is that it’s not only difficult to define — there is no static and repetitive message, such as with a painting — it is also impossible to contain. Although recorded footage of her performances can forever be viewed, the live experience, the one that is the truest form of the art, cannot. Moys isn’t particularly perturbed by either of these nuances. “I really am doing what I love to do and that’s what’s important to me,” she says on the line from Geneva. “What I’m doing doesn’t really fit into any other category; you can’t really call it anything else except art or performance practice, so for me it’s more about the joy of the actual doing. “And as I get older, I am becoming less and less interested in the object or the photograph or the video. I think it’s lovely to share with others and that’s the main reason why I do it, but what’s more important for me is to be engaged with the questions of what it really means to be a human being.” At first glance, her performances may appear to amount to playing the fool, or creating weird scenes just for the sake of it.


But a more thorough inspection of her body of work uncovers significant statements about the nature of context, our connections with each other and, in the case of her Grahamstown performances, the meanings of winning and losing and “being good” at something. For Moys, who studied fine art at Wits University, her art is also inclusive of her own fear. Taking on experts in their physically demanding fields or sleeping in Joubert Park are risky pursuits, but thrill-seeking forms a meaningful part of her medium. “I do enjoy a bit of risk. And I think it’s important to get out of one’s comfort zone and to go to new places and meet new people, but it also has a price to pay. In

Her new challenges include ice hockey, velodrome cycling, wrestling and playing the Alpine horn

Grahamstown, I was quite alone out there; I was engaging with all these different activities and people but I was still very alone. With some of the more physical challenges, there is this heightened sense of feeling alive; it brings a lot of joy, but there’s also a lot of fear involved as well.” I wonder, though, if the life of a performance artist, like the lifespan of a professional athlete, is a limited one. Moys says she would like to explore more choreography, while still engaging with all those seemingly impossible corporeal dares. She is 33 now, so there is the question of how many more years she can be a rugby ball, or box in Hillbrow, or prance about in places and contexts where she is dauntingly out of her depth. Another 20 years perhaps? 25? “No, I want to be rocking when I’m 80, I want to be on roller blades,” she says. “I love new experiences and engaging with new experiences. I am constantly curious. I don’t think that will ever die.” • Moys’s work can be viewed at and on Facebook