The Rules of the Game
Amish Morrell, May 2007
In Hound’s Tooth Forsooth two miniature papier-mâché zebras occupy a playing field tiled in hound’s tooth weave, a pattern of identical and interlocking black and white checks. Letters from the exhibition title extend into the playing field - forming goal lines - and the viewer is invited to complete the space of the sports arena by sitting on the bleachers at either side of the room. Within this absurd arrangement, in what Meyer calls a “textile stadium”, are mirrored or repeating forms: the two opposing teams, the position of the audience in relation to the playing field, the stripes of the zebra, and the interlocking black and white weave of the hound’s tooth playing field. Hound’s Tooth Forsooth sets a metonymic constellation of forms into motion that interrupt the ideologies upon which social reality is conventionally organized.
Hound’s tooth check, developed in the early 19th century as a result of the invention of the mechanical loom, filled a desire for a fabric that was aesthetically and practically versatile.1 Connoting sport and leisure within the expanding middle-class, hound’s tooth tweed became symbolic of a privileged social position. While hound’s tooth served historically to suggest one’s class status, it works as a metaphor for social organization on another level: As a repetition of forms, it is suggestive of an emerging mass culture, organized through Taylorist labor practices within industrial workplaces, and further describes the resulting class antagonism that these conditions produced.
The pattern of hound’s tooth weave mirrors what Sigfried Kracauer termed the “mass ornament,” a surface level expression of economic production.2 The mass ornament produces a physical arrangement where the individual is subsumed to the structures and ideologies of industry, the state, and social class, constituting what he described as the “empty and rational form of the cult.”3 Individuals are
thus immersed within a set of ideologies and a power structure that Meyer cleverly re-routes in Hound’s Tooth Forsooth.
In previous works, such as her 2001 installation, Unnecessary Roughness - an audio intestinal sports opera, Meyer conflates the rituals of sport with that of the digestive process, via the rules of a football game. In her 2005-2006 project, Deer Heads, participants wore papier-mâché deer heads and migrated between urban wading pools, and accidentally wandered through World Cup play-off celebrations in Toronto where they aroused bemusement and confusion among flag ensconced revelers, who didn’t quite understand which team the deer were supporting. Meyer’s choreographed absurdist actions and use of handcrafted materials highlights rituals of collective belonging as a performance and critiques the rational logic upon which such forms are organized.
All teams define themselves in relation to their opponents as one class or ethnicity defines itself in opposition to another. This is the dialectic that Hound’s Tooth Forsooth complicates. In his history of the use of stripes in textiles, Michael Pastoureau asks; “Is the zebra a white animal with black stripes, as the Europeans have so long claimed, or a black animal with white stripes, as the Africans have always recognized it to be?”4 Meyer’s work proposes that oppositions cannot be resolved, and the zebra is thus an apt mascot. Reproducing rituals of collective organization through handicraft and camp exaggeration, Meyer intervenes into a taken-for-granted order, hijacking it in order to undermine its authority and propose alternative and imaginative forms of engagement. 1
* Thanks to Hazel Meyer and Diane Borsato for their comments and suggestions.
Hageney, Wolfgang (ed.). Hound's Tooth - Designs, Patterns & Ideas. Rome: Belevedre Books, Inc. International Publications, 2003.
Kracauer, Sigfried. The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays. Cambridge & London: Harvard UP, 1995.
Pastoureau, Micheal. The Devil's cloth: A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric. Trans. Jody Gladding. New York and Chichester: Columbia UP, 1991.
1 Hageney, Wolfgang (ed.). Hound's Tooth - Designs, Patterns & Ideas. Rome: Belevedre Books, Inc. International Publications, 2003.
2 Kracauer, Sigfried. The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays. Cambridge & London: Harvard UP, 1995. Pp. 78
3 Ibid., pp. 84.
4 Pastoureau, Micheal. The Devil's cloth: A History of Stripes and Striped Fabric. Trans. Jody Gladding. Columbia UP: New York and Chichester, 1991.