Skip to main content
//empty //empty

When the Canadian artist Joyce Wieland died in 1998, she left behind a lot of stuff in her house in Toronto’s east end – evidence of a creative life, detritus or raw materials, depending on your point of view. That stuff included flat slabs of marble the artist had collected at some point, perhaps thinking to use them in her work, although she was always known for her films, paintings and textiles, not carving or sculpture. More than 20 years later, that marble is finally being put to artistic purpose, but perhaps not in the way Wieland might have imagined.

“It’s run-of-the-mill marble, the kind used for kitchen counters,” said performance artist Hazel Meyer, who is turning the story of the marble into a project investigating Wieland’s legacy. “You don’t see it and say, ‘Oh, I can carve a Michelangelo replica with that.’”

Canadian artist Joyce Wieland is the subject of a project by performance artist Hazel Meyer.

JOHN WOOD/For The Globe and Mail

Nonetheless, Meyer wonders why Wieland collected it – and why nobody thought to preserve it after her death from Alzheimer’s at the age of 67. And those thoughts, about art, archives and garbage, are the inspiration for The Marble in the Basement, the show that launches the annual Progress Festival of Performance and Ideas on Jan. 30. It features some scripted action and some improvised, with three actors including Meyer herself, as well as a puppeteer: The marble is played by a puppet.

Story continues below advertisement

The 40-year-old artist, who established her career in Toronto but recently moved to Vancouver, has been intrigued by Wieland since childhood. She grew up in Ottawa and when she was about 9, she first saw Wieland’s most famous work at the National Gallery of Canada.

Created in 1968, it is a vibrant quilt on which the artist, inspired by the nationalistic optimism and Trudeaumania of the day, spelled out then-prime minister Pierre Trudeau’s evocation of REASON OVER PASSION in stuffed lettering. The colour and the humour, the folksy textiles and the apparently unironic embrace of the politician may have lead people to underestimate Wieland.

She was well-regarded in the 1960s and 70s both for her experiments with film, including manipulating the celluloid itself, and for her quilts, part of a feminist project adapting a traditional craft to fine art. Another well-known example of her work is a stuffed fabric hanging showing a herd of caribou that is located behind glass in the Spadina subway station in Toronto. However, after the 1970s, she was never elevated to the Canadian canon in the manner of her former husband, artist and filmmaker Michael Snow, and she was often ignored in the history of artists’ filmmaking.

As Meyer pursued the cheerful figure she had been introduced to in childhood, she discovered her politics and her anger.

“She was a lot more fierce than people give her credit for,” Meyer said. “Her interests were way more complex than we were lead to believe.” She points to a 1986 interview unpublished during the artist’s lifetime in which she is highly critical of Trudeau, in particular for invoking the War Measures Act during the October Crisis of 1970.

Meyer's 2012 zine Raisins Over Passion got the attention of publicist Jane Rowland, who was living in Wieland's former home.

Hazel Meyer

It was Meyer’s investigation of Wieland that led her to the marble. In 2012, she published Raisins Over Passion, a humorous zine paying tribute to the earlier artist; it came to the attention of Toronto publicist Jane Rowland, who was living in Wieland’s old house. Rowland invited Meyer over and, on the second-floor landing, the artist stubbed her toe on a piece of marble simply propped against the railing. “There’s more in the basement,” Rowland told her, and eventually invited her to take it away.

For Meyer, the heavy marble, mute, space-consuming and tough to move, seemed to symbolize difficult issues of artistic legacy … and storage.

Story continues below advertisement

“Is the value because it belonged to Joyce Wieland? If it was a handwritten note, would it have made it into an archive? I get it; no archive has room to store marble and I’m not suggesting that. … I’m thinking through accumulation and dispossession.”

Meyer’s larger artistic project investigating these issues is continuing – she calls it The Weight of Inheritance – but, for starters, the stone will speak.

The Progress Festival runs Jan. 30 to Feb. 15 at the Theatre Centre in Toronto. www.progressfestival.org

Live your best. We have a daily Life & Arts newsletter, providing you with our latest stories on health, travel, food and culture. Sign up today.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies