1. Q&A: basketball artist Hazel Meyer

    A couple of weeks ago, I discovered the Tumblr blog for Walls to the Ball, an art project created by Canadian artist Hazel Meyer. I was thrilled by the great photos and quotes she was finding to put on her site, and wanted to talk to her about how basketball became part of her art. 

    As kindred spirits, we talked for a long time, so I’ll break this up into three parts with some loose thematic connections. This is the first segment, where we talk about how the project came to be.

    Eric: Are you a basketball fan?

    Hazel: Yes! Yes I am a basketball fan, and I also play basketball.

    Did you play in high school?

    No, I played when I was in grade school, and when I went to high school I remember having this big decision between going to the sports high school or the art high school and it being a very black or white situation. It was one or the other; no cross-over. I went to the arts high school and dropped out of sports for a long time but after a while I started playing sports again because it gets in your blood. So I started playing basketball soon after, and when I moved to Toronto a few years ago, I found a group of people who also liked to play basketball, so that’s been the trajectory.

    What is the meaning of your chosen title “Walls to the Ball”?

    A lot of the work I do has to do with word play. Language, and messing with it. Usually what happens with my artwork is I think of the title first and it works as a starting point. I value the absurd and what that can do as far as suggesting alternatives to things. So with Walls to the Ball, I thought of the project first and needed a title. The whole project is sort of about subverting these ideas we have around sports. It’s a familiar term, and the change makes you step back a bit.

    This looks like a room-filling project from what I can see on your cargo collective site. It must have been percolating in your brain for some time before you went ahead with it. What catalyzed this interest in combining sports and art?

    I’ve done it for a while. The first project I did that combined sports and art was in 2001. It was called Unnecessary Roughness, and it happened at a gallery in Montreal that we turned into a scaled-down football field. I had heard years ago that the human intestine was as long as a football field. I always really liked that because it was sports combined with this very essential part of your body. I’d been doing a lot of work about psoriasis and ulcers and things that happen to your body that are kind of stigmatized, so I thought about this “fact” that I had heard, and I used a sock knitter to make an intestine out of cotton thread that was 110 yards long. So that was sort of the first time I combined sports and art, and structural textiles in particular. And, it totally turns out that the surface area of your intestine could cover a football field, and it’s not actually 110 yards long.

    From there, I worked with a badminton team in Stuttgart a few years ago on a project. It was while I was there that I conceptualized Walls to the Ball. I also had a project called Hyper Hyper which was all about hypertrophy – that process where your cells need to break down in order to build up and get stronger – and I was using hypertrophy as an art methodology to create work, because the two are actually really similar.

    A really big part of my practice has been performance-based and within the past eight years, I’ve been teasing apart the connections between athletics and sports and what happens when your body and brain are really invested in these things.

    We often glorify the creative spark, that ‘aha!’ moment, but so much of art (and basketball) is the process and the work. What’s your process like?

    My process is scattered! What is my process? You mean my process in thinking through a project?

    For instance, you said you were in Stuttgart when the idea for Walls to the Ball first came to you. So, about how long does it take from the first instance when a concept occurs to you to when you have it knocked out as a project?

    Being in Canada, we have artist-run centers here. How Walls to the Ball happened, and what I find my process very much being, from being in an environment that kind of dictates that it be this way, is that I wrote a proposal for it, and sent it out to a bunch of galleries. That’s how I tend to deal with things. I flesh out the ideas in my head, what kind of references I’m interested in, blah, blah blah.

    So with Walls to the Ball I definitely did that, and I got a residency in Sackville, which is in New Brunswick, so I went there for about a year. And within a year, I didn’t really do much about the project. You know, there’s a folder on my desktop that I throw images in, I’m watching basketball, I’m playing basketball, all that’s going on. And it’s sort of big, and there’s a participatory element in which people can engage with the balls and the net, so instead of work in a gallery you can work in a gymnasium-type setting.

    So when I was in Sackville that was great, because I was able to work through how I was going to construct these nets. At first I thought I was going to use macramé stitches, but I ended up using old-school knots, fisherman knots that tended to work better than macramé knots. I was playing around with making gifs and I got my hands on some old basketball cards, I was making different uniforms, just working through ideas and how it would manifest in a bigger space. I really like stadiums because they bring people together. How you feel when you’re in a stadium is very special. I think Durkheim wrote about it as ‘collective effervescence’, and he talked about it happening in church. It’s a collective energy that can be felt and I was really interested in that.

    Also, the art gallery is often this white cube where you stand back and just look, and by engaging with sports, it’s a good way to break that down. 

    Next: Working on basketball art with inner-city high school students.

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