Playing With The Rules Of The Game | Performance artist Anthea Moys challenges the FNB JoburgArtFair to an arm wrestle

“I am essentially fascinated with how we play and work together, how we make, abide by, break and remake the rules of the game – in sport, in life, in work, in play”, says Johannesburg-based performance artists Anthea Moys. Motivated by this empathetic curiosity, Moys’ work is inherently playful, experimental and experiential, using games as both performance form and theoretical framework.

Last year, Moys took on the world in a series of performances in which she pitted herself against individuals, teams, and whole cities competing in a wide range of activities including arm wrestling, karate, playing the Alpine horn, soccer, ballroom dancing and an historical re-enactment. “Setting up this kind of competition”, Moys explains, “asks the participants two very clear things: are you willing to teach me how to play your game? And, are you willing to play your game in a different way – all of you against me?” Through these impossible matches, Moys explores and challenges notions of wining and loosing, the rules of play, and the individuals’ relationship to the group.

The creative process Moys goes through developing a work is as important to her as the final performance. In fact, Moys views all her work as an ongoing performance trajectory, where each live performance counts as part of a larger creative process, “part of part of an on-going investigation into the things I am interested in: play, games, people, learning, exchange, winning, losing,” she says.

Unlike more traditional art forms, performance art “is arguably a more engaged and often a physical experience that happens between people”, Moys explains. Indeed, engagement and participation are paramount, and occur at every point from conception, through creation, performance, and documentation. For Moys, there is the personal engagement with the initial idea and the process of developing it into a reality. Then there is the interaction with the people she works with, the listening and learning that takes place as the idea takes shape. This is followed by what she calls “an engagement with ‘rewiring’ or ‘re-contextualising’ the ‘rules of the game’”, a central aspect of her work. The audience’s engagement with a work is equally important for Moys, and lastly the documentation of a work is another form of contact that frames the live event in a form that will replicate all of this for future viewers.

At the FNB JoburgArtFair, Moys will be performing a work entitled The Artist is Arm Wrestling. This is both a playful re-imagining of the Marina Abramović work The Artist is Present (2010), and a continuation of her own performance cycles Anthea Moys vs. The City of Grahamstown and Anthea Moys vs. The City of Geneva. It will similarly continue Moys’ long-standing engagement with participatory performance practice as well as her interest in play, risk and failure. “By inserting an arm-wrestling contest into the space between the artist and the public I introduce the rules and create a completely different game. The Artist is Arm Wrestling explores how rules paradoxically encourage play, and reveal true character. How and why do we compete, and for what?” Moys challenges us.

In The Artist is Arm Wrestling, Moys invites anyone and everyone to sit down across the table from her and engage in a physical manner for a brief period of time. “You might win, you might lose; but for a time we will sit opposite each other, look into each other’s eyes and battle it out”. In short, Moys’ hope is that through this interaction, people will experience something in this time, which is unique; a small personal victory. “The value of my art, for me, is largely in the experience itself – the time, space and action between the people I am playing with/competing against and myself”, Moys concludes.

[This article was published in the Mail&Guardian in August 2014 and adapted from an interview with the artist I did previously forBetween 10and5.]

Image supplied. Photographer: Chris Saunders

Image supplied. Photographer: Chris Saunders

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