Installation view of CAMH COURT, 2023. Photo: Peter Molick, Courtesy Trenton Doyle Hancock

Object Lessons: Trenton Doyle Hancock

I live in Houston and have done different projects at the Contemporary Art Museum over the past 20-plus years, so I know the space quite well. When they decided to convert the main space into a basketball court, they reached out to me because they thought my work would be a great fit for something that could be inventive and could work with the space, which has a very interesting shape. It’s nothing like a regulation basketball court—it’s a parallelogram. Right away I thought that it would be a really great challenge to find the perfect design that could complicate regulation play. When people come in, they expect certain things out of a basketball court, and they’re confronted with these lines that don’t quite line up with what they’re used to. My design means that people almost have to find new play patterns within it, until they can acclimate to the space and the work.

The imagery is these characters that I created called Bringbacks. They’re humanoid, black-and-white striped figures. It’s sort of impossible to understand it or see it when you’re standing on the court, because you’d have to see an aerial view to catch the totality of the design and really see the figures as a whole. But what you do see are eyes, so that you can position yourself on the sightline of these characters. Some of their heads are huge, and a couple of them are in front of the opposing basketball goals. You stand on the eyeballs to make free-throws and other shots. It’s sort of like you’re standing on a giant gameboard, where you’re going from black to white, white to black. But I think once you get the rhythm of your own sense of play, reacclimate yourself to where the goals are, it’s not terribly unlike the courts you’ve played on before, and all of that sort of disappears. Then once you exit the mindset of playing ball, you start to see the art again. It provides a nice, dynamic background for people to figure out how to play again.