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Essays / March 16, 2020

The Weight of Inheritance

In the spring of 2016, I was gifted a ton of Joyce Wieland’s marble, and with it a piece of her legacy
Hazel Meyer, <em>The Weight of Inheritance</em> (performance documentation), 2019. Courtesy Untitled Art Society. Photo: Katy Whitt. Hazel Meyer, The Weight of Inheritance (performance documentation), 2019. Courtesy Untitled Art Society. Photo: Katy Whitt.
Hazel Meyer, <em>The Weight of Inheritance</em> (performance documentation), 2019. Courtesy Untitled Art Society. Photo: Katy Whitt. Hazel Meyer, The Weight of Inheritance (performance documentation), 2019. Courtesy Untitled Art Society. Photo: Katy Whitt.

In the spring of 2016, I was gifted a ton of Joyce Wieland’s marble. The marble was a gift from Jane Rowland, who moved into Wieland’s house on Toronto’s Queen Street East shortly after Wieland passed away, in 1998. Joyce had originally bought the house to use as a studio, but after divorcing her husband, it became her full-time residence. Jane lived alone, using Joyce’s old bedroom as her office and Joyce’s studio as her bedroom.

When Jane moved in she took up residence with an odd assortment of objects that hadn’t been cleared out, rehomed or archived: a trio of wooden cassette racks, a pink moiré valance, hand-painted wallpaper trim and slabs of marble—all left in situ by Joyce’s next of kin. The marble was the heaviest of the remnants, and Jane would leave it exactly as she found it, which was where Joyce had left it: leaning on the second-floor banister and in a pile in the basement, slowly dimpling the earth with its weight.


In January 2019 I received an invitation from the Canadian Filmmakers Distribution Centre to present work at “Re-Joyce: Wieland for a New Millennium” in Toronto. I proposed to do a performance called The Weight of Inheritance, which would chart my relationship to Joyce Wieland’s marble. Through a constellation of objects paired with spoken text, I mapped a sprawling, erratic and radiating cosmos—a queered chronology. There was a tall piece of marble, a length of moiré fabric on a roll, a wooden cassette rack (and blank cassettes that I asked the audience to write on), several large black-and-white printouts of raisins, a banner and a printed example of book-matched marble. There was also a pot of black ink and a brush with which I wrote out select words on a long, narrow strip of paper I’d wrapped around a concrete column. I started with infrastructure theorist Susan Leigh Star’s first sentence in her 1990 essay “Power, technology and the phenomenology of conventions: on being allergic to onions”:

“This is an essay about power.”

Living at the whim of chronic illness, capitalism (like, who isn’t!), patriarchy (duh!) and the foundations of a queer youth, I have no linear stories to chart. What has formed me, with my sticky fingers and porous mind, is a messy, sweaty, often uncertain inheritance. It isn’t biological (though I do love my mom and sister very much).


In 1971 Wieland opened “True Patriot Love” at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, when it was on Elgin Street, in the now-demolished Lorne Building. There are many things to appreciate and acknowledge as groundbreaking about Wieland’s signature show: live ducks waddling around, a brass band inaugurating the opening, collectively produced embroidery hanging on the walls, handmade patches on I Love Canada – J’aime le Canada calling out US imperialism and a collaborative sugar mountain sculpture Wieland made with Canada’s parliamentary restaurant chef. What stays with me, as an artist who makes, hangs, unfurls and drops banners, is the documentation of the banner that stretched across the building facade, emblazoned with the exhibition’s title in English and French. Not quite a banner-drop from the activists’ toolbox, but an embrace, a binding, a consensual bondage. I wonder how tight it needed to be in order to stay taut and remain legible. When does this kind of pressure maintain function and when does it create pain?


Does Joyce Wieland get enough attention? Has she gotten enough attention? Wieland gets enough attention compared to other women artists who get no attention. Wieland does not get enough attention compared to her artist ex-husband and other men working contemporaneously with her in both film and art.


On June 26, 2016, at 5:38 p.m., I received an email with the subject line “raisins over passion indeed.” It was from Jane Rowland.

Raisins Over Passion was a zine I made in 2012 loosely based on Joyce Wieland’s iconic work Reason over Passion (1968), as understood through a lens of my own chronic gastrointestinal illness. Jane had seen my raisin riff at Katharine Mulherin’s space No Foundation and gotten in touch.

We began corresponding and soon after I received an invitation to meet in person at Jane’s/Joyce’s home. I arrived with my partner Cait to a fairly nondescript three-storey brick row house. Before knocking
on the door, we took a moment to appreciate the shade of inky blue that Heritage Toronto and the Toronto Legacy Project had chosen for their “an-important-person-lived-here” plaques.


This house had a basement, a first and second floor, a third-floor attic and a backyard with birch trees. It had recently been taken on by a home-renovation television show. Jane mentioned this a few times as she walked us from room to room, pointing out the more garish decisions the gay television decorators had made: leopard-print carpeting, bathroom-floor tiles digitally printed with a stock image of light hitting the shallow water of a wading pool, pressed-tin ceiling tiles. She had experienced the very real financial and physical challenges of owning an old house, but explained her hesitation in making any changes to how Joyce had left it.

“There’s my chair / I put it there,” sings Diana Ross in her 1979 song “It’s My House.” The lyric will forever remind me of the aesthetic Cait and I met that day. As we followed Jane up the stairs to the second-floor landing, slabs of marble and piles of hooked rugs greeted us from their places, draped on and leaned against a banister and railing. Having once been deeply saddened by a girlfriend who “accidently” stepped on a drawing of mine while it was on the floor (among other precious objects), I understand this type of idiosyncratic feng shui Ross sings of and in which Rowland lived—and which I imagine Wieland lived in too. It is the “just so” aesthetic of a woman with no one to please but herself.

Hazel Meyer, <em>The Marble in the Basement</em>, 2020. Performance with Moe Angelos and Stephen Jackman-Torkoff. Courtesy FADO Performance Art Centre. Photo: Polina Tief. Hazel Meyer, The Marble in the Basement, 2020. Performance with Moe Angelos and Stephen Jackman-Torkoff. Courtesy FADO Performance Art Centre. Photo: Polina Tief.

Marble is tricky. It is dense, heavy and, more often than not, valuable. It demands to be kept—without providing easy answers as to how. Without a final form ascribed to it—as countertop, wall, sculpture or paperweight—a piece of marble requires the impossible, or at least Joyce’s marble did. Is this why Jane had decided to store/display the marble where it was? These were flat slabs of grey-and-white countertop marble. They bore no Wieland signature, and had no documentation placing them in her catalogue, no authentication. What kept these slabs in place? Their weight? The deep appreciation Jane had for Joyce?

Imagine the shells of trillions of marine invertebrates; now imagine cycles of pressure and heat over many geologic ages turning these shells into a polishable crystalline form. This is marble, and all the marble in Jane’s house was mine, if I wanted it: the two pieces leaning on the railing near our feet and the ton of it stored in the basement. Jane warned me that I would need men to help me remove it. I had Cait flex to indicate that my strongest girlfriends would do, but she insisted: men. Without seeing the pile of marble in the basement, we left the house planning our return, sans men, to retrieve what now belonged to me—Joyce Wieland’s marble.


Around the time Jane gifted me the marble, Cait and I moved in together into an apartment with a lot of light but little storage. I didn’t yet have a separate studio, and my storage unit was jam-packed. Having not seen the entirety of my gift, Cait and I spoke of the marble pile in hypotheticals, sometimes imagining every surface in our new apartment covered in marble, other times convincing ourselves that the SkyDome was the only place fit for its storage, its display. Anything else would be too small, too pedestrian. I knew the reality of the situation; regardless of how badly I wanted this piece of Wieland, there wasn’t room for the marble, this inheritance.


I kept in touch with Jane, reaching out every few months with an email describing my deep and ongoing desire for the marble. I would send along an image of Wieland that I thought maybe Jane hadn’t seen before—something pulled up from a dark corner of the web or out of a Hollinger archival box. Working as a publicist and fundraiser, Jane had very good email habits. She always responded immediately. Then one day she didn’t.

Jane passed away on October 31, 2017. I found this out a few months later when Cait did what you do for your partner who is paralyzed by what they think they might find, and checked the Globe and Mail obituaries for me while we waited for the eastbound subway at Ossington station. And there it was: Jane Rowland had died a few weeks prior. Jane was 67, the same age Joyce was when she died.

Losing Jane was tragic and confusing, a combination that created an unnameable feeling. I was upset about losing her friendship, but I was also, more shamefully, upset about losing my marble. It was an uncomfortable feeling. I had made a chance yet meaningful friendship with an older woman over our shared love of Joyce Wieland, and with that came a swift and nonbiological inheritance, a queering of the straight line tradition dictates.


I never had a plan for the marble while Jane was alive. I was hoping she would just hold on to it until one day I found money to…I wasn’t even sure what. I imagined making leather WIELAND-branded weightlifting belts in the style of the WEIDER ones I had seen over the years, especially during my obsession with Nautilus exercise machines and their affiliations with the beginnings of gay male gym culture. Would I ask my strongest friends to don a belt and carry the marble up from the basement? Would we perform our way to a storage unit only to leave the marble there, behind a corrugated-metal roll-top door?


Inside Joyce Wieland’s house. Photo: Vincent Sharp. <em>Every reasonable effort has been made to identify and contact copyright holders to obtain permission to reproduce this image. If you have any queries please contact</em> Inside Joyce Wieland’s house. Photo: Vincent Sharp. Every reasonable effort has been made to identify and contact copyright holders to obtain permission to reproduce this image. If you have any queries please contact

Months had passed since Jane died, and Cait and I were preparing to move to California for their new job. We were driving home along Queen Street East one afternoon, and decided to stop at Jane’s/Joyce’s place to take a few pictures of the outside, for posterity. I looked through the front window. What I saw wasn’t what Jane had worked so hard to maintain—a livable home that was also part museum. The shelving that Joyce installed and which Jane adamantly preserved had been torn out. I was livid. Adrenaline rushed through me as I knocked on the door, unsure of what I’d say if someone were to answer it, but knowing I had to.

A young woman with straight blonde hair answered the door, a small white dog at her feet. Pointing to the blue Heritage Toronto plaque, I described my relationship to Joyce via Jane and asked whether there was a pile of marble in her basement. She said there was. I told her that it was mine and that I wanted it back.

She looked confused but invited me into this house that was now owned by her and her boyfriend and their renovations. It is hard to describe the sick thrill of following a stranger into their unfinished basement. Equally hard to describe is the disappointment of finding out that your pile of marble, slowly dimpling the earth, turns out to be just a few slabs stacked against a wall behind what looks like a deflated birthing pool. “Yep, that’s it,” I said, summoning the confidence of a terrier. Really what I wanted to do was sit down in the birthing pool, back against the cool marble, hold her pup in my hands and rub its belly, and recite Adrienne Rich:

…truth is not one thing, or even a system. It is an increasing complexity. The pattern of the carpet is a surface. When we look closely, or when we become weavers, we learn of the tiny multiple threads unseen in the overall pattern, the knots on the underside of the carpet.

Instead, we made loose arrangements for me to come by in the next two days to take my marble home. She would be leaving on a business trip, and I would be leaving for California, so I was given the contact information for her boyfriend. I would call and text, which amounted to nothing.


About halfway through the performance version of The Weight of Inheritance, I hand my script to a willing audience member and ask them to read aloud instructions for what amounts to proper heavy-lifting technique.

At this point I am wearing a leather WIELAND weightlifting belt and following the lifting guidelines using a piece of marble. It is heavy, and requires a moment of pause before I am able to lift it a few inches off the ground. The script continues:

I am holding Joyce Wieland’s marble.

Can someone come help me hold Joyce Wieland’s marble?
[wait until someone comes to help]

Look how much easier it is when we hold this together.

Can someone else come and help us hold Joyce Wieland’s marble?
[wait until another person comes to help]

Can someone come take my place holding Joyce Wieland’s marble?
[wait until a third person takes my place, then walk away from the marble]

This is how we hold things together.

This is an article from our Spring 2020 issue, “Influence.”

Hazel Meyer

Hazel Meyer is an artist who works with installation, performance and text to investigate the relationships between sexuality, feminism and material culture.