An artist begs
by Willem Boshoff

On a cold winter's day in 2006 commuters on the N1-North motorway around the city of Pretoria are finding it hard to get to their destinations - four lanes of traffic move at a snail's pace. Frustration and aggravation bordering onto road rage set the emotional tone. A scruffy-looking drifter moves slowly down the middle lane of one of the gridlocked off-roads, demanding attention and begging by holding up a makeshift placard, causing somewhat of a consternation. The beggar is artist Jacques Coetzer and he is begging. Not for money. The words on his placard read:


The impossible curse of the modern traffic jam provides a lucrative theatre of the absurd for opportunist hawkers and down-and-outers who hassle for money or simply sell junk. Its theatre is free and its theatre-goers deeply captive - it is going nowhere and they are not going anywhere in a hurry. Does the act of Coetzer remonstrate against modern travel being impossible or against beggars being there? At a guess he appears to be against the whole lot, unambiguously, pro-actively.

On the busy streets of Munich, in 1992, Gia Edzgeveradze, the Georgian artist and art lecturer resident in Düsseldorf, Germany, presented what he called an 'artistic action'. Like Coetzer, he wrote out a placard and inserted himself as a seated beggar on a city corner. His placard, in broken English, read:

I am already 40
I couldn't understand
anything. PLEASE maybe
somebody can help me ...

Edzgeveradze tells how his appeal for understanding and sympathy was met by apparently kind-hearted pedestrians who kept dropping money in his hand, in his lap and on the floor in front of him, even though he was clearly not appealing for any. No-one stopped to speak to him and to find out what his real need was.

Next to Pretoria's deadlocked highway, in the hills on the southern outskirts of the city, affluent South Africans are building a new suburb for themselves. They try and upstage each other in their zeal to acquire the best money can buy. The size of the homes, virtuous architectural display, grandiose garden layout, extravagant security entrances and fencing, down to the number of their jacuzzis and garages are clear for all to see against the burgeoning hillsides. A massive advertising sign brings the incredible project to the attention of potential buyers. The sign reads:


Freshly recovered from his highway supplications, Jacques Coetzer attacks the overbearing signpost with much intrepidity, his diminutive shifting spanner the whip in a flagellation of the hawker's endorsement. Is there any redemption for the declared Pretorian temples of prosperity? His havoc duly played, he leaves the sign reading:


With Cervantes's Don Quixote and John Kennedy Toole's Ignatius Reilly, Coetzer dares to make a difference in the world (Ignatius Reilly is the main character in Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize winning book, published in 1980). He has declared his spirit not negotiable, free. He presses on with his (t)rusted horse Rosinante and his affable servant Sancho Panza, regardless of how many people apparently don't give a damn or who are too preoccupied to give the status quo a second thought. He will appeal, subvert, de- and reconstruct.