Jocks are jocks and art kids are art kids, and never the twain shall meet, right?
Canadian artist Hazel Meyer had to make that choice when she was a teen. She had to choose whether she would attend a high school that focused on the arts, or one where she could play interscholastic sports. She chose art, and left sports behind for a few years. She’s been trying to reconcile the two disciplines ever since. In 2001, she did a show called Unnecessary Roughness, displaying textile works on a scaled-down football field. Other shows with titles like Witness Fitness and Hyper Hyper also explored themes of the human body, exercise, and movement.
In her newest work, Walls to the Ball, Meyer returns to her first love: basketball. “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,” Meyer says. “[The project] is 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.”
Meyer took that philosophy a step further as artist-in-residence at an inner-city Toronto high school. She worked with a group of 50 students to make an 80-foot basketball net, which was then installed in the school gymnasium and opened to the public. “All the kids from the school came in and forty basketballs were being played with at one time and it was kind of wild and chaotic,” Meyer says. “So it was a good lesson that you can work on a huge thing and at some point you have to just step back and let whatever happens, happen. That’s an interesting lesson when you’re working on a larger project.”
Meyer admits her approach to building a team out of unique individuals was partially inspired by the Zen Master, Phil Jackson. Larger themes, like exploring the collective effervescence of playing and watching sports, were enriched by smaller day-to-day epiphanies the students experienced.
“I had taught them to do macramé, and a week later, a student was like ‘Miss, Miss, Miss, I forget how to do this!’ and I showed her the first two movements and there was this gorgeous moment where her eyes lit up and she was like ‘Miss, Miss! I get it, I get it!’ The muscle memory that’s such a part of sports is a part of any learned movement.”
In collegiate sports, we often use the term student-athlete in a near-sarcastic way. Meyer hopes her project helped a few kids learn that the two words are not mutually exclusive.
“I think we opened up and broke down this idea that you have to be one or the other. You can coexist and have some interesting relationships. I hope that idea germinated in their young minds.”