Anna Zett plays with the physical end of language in a newly commissioned video and text work, with performance. Through the production of text and images emerging both from her own boxing practice and the archives of modern art and commerce, she searches for links that connect the experience of fist fighting with verbal and visual communication. The boxing ring, a square in fact, is re-imagined as a mythical space, created by boxers, artists and writers alike. Its ritual purpose would be to celebrate the dangerous transformation of monologue into dialogue, despite the extreme vulnerability of the human nervous system.
In 19th century England, boxing – timed fist fighting with gloves inside a ring – started out as prize-fighting and the most dubious kind of sports betting. Barely legal and often bloody, it emerged from capitalist society with the promise of fame, money and respect for young men who had nothing to sell but their labour power. Unlike a factory worker though, a boxer is left to himself in the ring, stripped of everything but his vulnerable, versatile, aggressive, alert physical self.
Women were banned from the boxing ring longer than almost any other place in secular Christian societies. To meet, with the ambition to channel physical aggression face-to-face is an ability seriously at odds with patriarchal notions of feminine competition. Boxing is a radical form of dialogue, just like a caress, but at the other end of language. A punch stands for nothing but itself, it isn’t symbolic; it has no meaning.
A punch can’t lie, but it can trick you. Ideally you notice your opponents body move a split second before the punch, you notice their shoulder twitch, their arm fall, their foot step, their hip turn. But your response has to be quicker than a conscious decision could ever be.