In January, Toronto-based, interdisciplinary artist Hazel Meyer presented her site specific installation and performance piece "Muscle Panic" at the Art League of Houston. Meyer first performed Muscle Panic in 2014 at the Cow Palace, Warkworth, Ontario. It has since been performed in numerous venues such as the Massie Family Sculpture Courtyard and Molson Community Gallery at the MacLaren Art Centre, Barrie, Ontario; Axenéo7 in Gatineau, QC, and the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, ON.
Much has been written about both Meyer and Muscle Panic, but very little attention has been given to the collaborators. Therefore, I thought I'd interview two performers in the Houston 2018 performance and discover what the performance was like from their perspectives. My first interview is with Evan McCarley. Evan is a performance artist, musician, photographer, art administrator, and curator. We conducted this interview via email.
ExA: First generation, hardcore Performance Artists swore off using actors, rehearsing or scripting performance, and doing repeat performances. However, in Muscle Panic, Hazel Meyer violates all of those principles. As performance artists, what are your thoughts on performing another artists work under her supervision? Did you feel that you had enough, too much, or not enough control and artistic freedom?
Evan: This was actually the third time that I have worked on a piece for another artist! I am all for it, I think the artist has a vision and trusts the people hired and/or brought on to fulfill it. Also, you implicitly interject a bit of your own style into the performance which I think the artist usually wants (if not, they let you know). Hazel made it very clear that she wanted us to just be ourselves, so that made the whole performance "easy" in terms of taking on a performative role.
I think it's ok to repeat performances! I have repeated my own work in different venues and to different audiences. Even if you are performing the "exact" same thing, it's never, ever the same. I like that, personally.
ExA: In interviews Meyer has stated that in her performances centered around sports she "champion(s) the intimacy, tenderness and radical potential of sports over things having to do with competition and virtuosity. Sports is a vehicle for me to talk about desire and the fluids, smells and leakages that accompany any and all kinds of bodies." That's her goal for the audience. As a performer in Muscle Panic, do you go through that same range of experiences and emotions or are you an artistic agent focused on producing those experiences and emotions in the audience?
Evan: I think the coolest thing about working on this piece was that I just got to be myself. It was easy to get comfortable around the other performers because I already knew two of them, and the other two were very open and easy and/or willing to be supportive. It was easy to reciprocate those feelings as well; it was something that we all wanted. I was not really focused on the audience at all and Hazel seemed to want it that way. We were not to interact with the audience, only with each other, which I think added to feeling of a team that the audience felt. I think that it is a great analogy for an idea that is pervasive today in queer culture, or really an oppressed group: reject those who don't understand or don't want to understand, take care of yourselves and each other. That's the key to survival for many.
ExA: To quote Paul Pederson, PhD and Lucie Thibault PHD, "Children learn from coaches, parents, teachers, peers, and siblings about what is normative, important, valued, and expected in a sport context - which helps them construct meaning of their experiences."
Muscle Panic is described by Meyer as an imagined sports team for an imagined sport.
Discuss your thought process in constructing "normative" behavior in this imagined sport or performing exercises or drills from which viewers could construct new, different or Meyer-focused experiences.
Evan: Most of our actions were improvised, save the very beginning and the very end of the piece. Hazel gave us drills or tasks to do that we could do at any time we felt necessary. The "kiss-ups" I am fairly certain Hazel came up with- so sweet!
ExA: In watching the piece, I felt that it was very collegiality. They're didn't seem to be any competition among team members. Was that prescribed by Meyer or did it just organically occur that way? Do you feel the piece would have been different if there was an explicit competitive element to your performance?
Evan: Hazel stressed inclusivity and camaraderie the entire time we interacted with her. I feel like in the art world, as well as in sports world, competition can consume you. It was really nice to work in an environment that actively rejected that competitiveness.
ExA: One of the most distinct boundaries in sport is sex. We have men's professional leagues and women's professional leagues, but we very seldom have co-ed competition at the professional level. Hazel Meyer has stated in other interviews that this piece is Queer focused. Sports organizations (a.k.a. the Wide World of Patriarchy) often use concerns "about desire and the fluids, smells and leakages" as a justification for separating the sexes and as a tacit or explicit argument to suppress and/or condemn any homoerotic display among same sex team members. Did Meyer discuss that point with you the performers? Did you notice or care?
Evan: LGBTQIAA+ individuals are ALL UP IN sports. It was a way to meet other gay people back when you couldn't be "out". I think that Hazel is fully aware of that historical context and integrates it into the props used in Muscle Panic. The one that stuck out most to me was the hammer made out of a tennis racket; I saw that as an homage to Billie Jean King or Renée Richards.
ExA: As an audience member watching Muscle Panic, I had the experience of watching a game that I'd never seen before. It was like the first time I saw cricket or rugby. I knew there was a point, I just didn't know what the point was. What was it like "playing" Muscle Panic? Freeing? Frustrating? Absurd? All inclusive?
Evan: Super inclusive! Hard! I am super out of shape! The running was the hardest part. I need to quit smoking!