Philadelphia- Cassils’ first solo museum exhibition in the United States will feature the artist’s ground-breaking work in photography, video, sculpture, and performance. Addressing ideas on traditionally defined bodies, lack of historical representation, transphobic violence, and the presence of these issues in our own community.
Cassils’ research into the violence experienced by Philadelphia’s LGBTQ community directly informs the artist’s presentation in PAFA’s Morris Gallery. Custom wall paper consiting of police “incedent reports” on these crimes are displayed with Cassils’ potent photographs from their Becoming an Image performance. These images show Cassils sweating, grimacing, and flying through the air, a primal force pummeling a block of clay and confronting the invisible histories of violence against transgender people. Cassils will perform Becoming an Image (originally commissioned by the ONE Archives in Los Angeles, the largest repository of LGBTQ materials in the world) in PAFA’s historic Cast Hall on December 2, 2016. These works resonate with Thomas Eakins’ (1844 – 1916) photographs on display in the Richard C. von Hess Foundation Works on Paper Gallery. Created over 100 years apart, the work of both Cassils and Eakins crosses media boundaries (Eakins as a painter and photographer and Cassils as a multi-media artist) and pushes forward dialogues on the body, gender, and sexuality.
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A Powerful exploration of media and violence by contemporary artist Cassils
September 15 TO October 15, 2016
Opening Night: September 16th from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The Artist will be present. The event is free and open to the public.
BOSTON– The School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University (SMFA at Tufts) will present “Breaking News: Cassils,” an urgent and timely solo exhibition of visceral video performances by contemporary artist Cassils, Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, at the Grossman Gallery and Anderson Auditorium, both at the SMFA at Tufts, located at 230 Fenway in Boston.
Cassils live performance of Powers That Be, April 2, 2016 at the Broad Musuem in Los Angeles, as part of the Tip of Her Tongue series curated by Jennifer Doyle. Photo credit: Cassils with Leon Mostovoy
“From every angle, with every motion, the potential meaning of Cassils’ severe, almost sickening, performance changes shape.”
- Arts and Culture, Huffington Post
Cassils unflinchingly confronts mediated images of violence by calling into question the roles of the witness and the aggressor and of simulated versus real violence. “Breaking News: Cassils” features three dynamic installations generated by Cassils’ performances. The exhibit includes the first exhibition screening of 103 Shots, a short film created in response to the June 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, the first public showing of Inextinguishable Fire since January’s Sundance Film Festival, and the world premiere of Powers That Be, a performance captured by audience members’ mobile phones, and installed as a multi-channel video installation.
The Sound of Everynight Life
“Magnificent against the monotonous repetition of everyday oppressions, dance incites rebellions of everynight life.” -Celeste Fraser Delgado and José Esteban Muñoz, Everynight Life: Culture and Dance in Latin/o America
Every time there is a mass shooting, it upends our sense of safety and danger. It is disorienting; we can no longer trust our senses. We depend on our brains to make sense of sound, to interpret it instantaneously and tell us what it is indexing. In a nightclub pulsing with music and sweat and heart beats, elevated by dancing to match the beats per minute of the music, we are listening for desire and sociality and escape. The sound of gunshots can’t be heard in this space — they register instead as the popping of balloons, opening champagne bottles, or setting off fireworks. In an inversion of the hypervigilance characteristic of PTSD, in which ordinary sights and sounds are falsely interpreted as a threat, the queer of color nightclub invites a welcome illusion of protection from racism, gay bashing, transphobia, and police violence.
In the aftermath of the attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando survivors described precisely this effect, heartbreakingly recounting their initial assumption that the popping sounds they heard were anything but gunfire. Artist Cassils took these narratives as the starting point for 103 Shots, a short film shot this weekend at SF Pride with the help of over 200 volunteers. Filmed in Dolores Park, the footage presents stark black and white imagery of a series of pairs of couples and friends bursting a balloon between their bodies with the pressure of an embrace; the soundtrack was created using foley recordings of balloons popping in a cement room. The film references the visual style of Gran Fury’s “Kissing Doesn’t Kill” campaign and the signature typography of Queer Nation. The faces of the film’s participants register affection, surprise, pain, discomfort, and laughter; each embrace is a minor enactment of the disorienting effect of violence in the space of intimacy. 103 embraces, 103 shots, one for each life lost or irreparably altered.
The pulse of 49 Latinx queers was stopped short; the hearts of extended brown and queer families have skipped a collective beat. In the wake of this horrific event, it is crucial to remember that the intrusion of terror and danger into zones of presumed or hoped-for safety is not exceptional. For many queer and trans people, the presence of trauma, violence, and loss in familiar sites is nothing new. For queer and trans people of color, this inversion of the terms of safety and danger permeates the everyday: in quotidian homophobia and racism, in encounters with the police, in the far-reaching legacies of colonialism and slavery. Nightlife has always been precarious, whether from the threat of police raids or gay bashers or of HIV/AIDS. On top of that, add the ordinary scenes of violence that all of us are susceptible to: intimate partner violence, sexual assault. Queers aren’t exempt from finding precarity in our most intimate relationships: sometimes home is the most dangerous place of all.
In the face of all this vulnerability, we have become accustomed to performances of security: guards posted at the entrance to schools, the hyper-securitized space of the airport, the bouncer gatekeeping at the club. Unsurprisingly, the events in Orlando were met immediately with performances of national security from Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump alike, both poised to drum up Islamophobia and blame ISIS while bulldozing over the complex issues of racism, homophobia, and precarious masculinity that motivated the shooting. San Francisco ramped up police presence at Pride, prompting Black Lives Matter to drop out as Grand Marshall of the event in protest. The NYPD issued new police vehicles emblazoned with rainbows just as President Obama declares Stonewall a national monument. The US Military announced its acceptance of trans soldiers in the week following the shooting, deploying a mediatized connection between trans embodiment and militarization. In moments of instability and perceived threat, there is a powerful impulse to clarify the boundaries between friend and enemy, us and them, but who exactly is the “we” that is invoked when speaking of the LGBTQ community? How do we make sense of our relationship to Omar Mateen, the shooter who may or may not have been a regular at Pulse and hooked up with men he met on Jack’d? The Orlando massacre and the politics at play in its aftermath lay bare a number of complex formations of identity, exclusion, and belonging: communities of Latinx queers and in particular Puerto Rican queers are suddenly the face of LGBT struggle. This in stark contrast to the usual evacuation of brownness from LGBTQ representation that even managed to displace legendary Puerto Rican trans activist Sylvia Rivera from her rightful place at the center of the Stonewall rebellion alongside Marsha P. Johnson.
The dance hall has always been a site of resistance forged through sweat, bodies and souls entangled for the night by a shared rhythm, glistening in the temporary suspension of the everyday. Delgado and Muñoz recount the history of el Palacio de la Alegría, the Palace of Happiness, a popular Latin dance club in 1950s Brooklyn that later became the home of the Puerto Rican Voters Association. The Latin nightclub literally becomes the space of Rican political affiliation; political movement is staged on the dancefloor. What politics will emerge from the bloodied floors and punctured walls of Pulse, from the dreams and desires of Latin night at the gay bar? How will bodily endurance through intensity and duration, what scholar Sandra Ruiz posits as the core of Ricanness, give way to “apprehension, longing, love, and pleasure”? In the glow of utopian leanings, senses tilted toward the horizon of the not-yet-queer, another possible world is superimposed on the present. This attunement toward the potential of a better world has the power to create another reality, to become the scene of a passionate and complex politics.
An exhibition poster featuring trans artist Cassils was banned by Deutsche Bahn AG from German train stations whose ownership is intermingled with the German government. The railway company has now reversed its decision in response to allegations of homophobia. The real issue is transphobia.
Preceding the opening of the blockbuster travelling exhibition Homosexuality_ies at the LWL-Museum fur Kunst und Kultur in Münster, Germany on May 12, 2016, the Deutsche Bahn AG railway company banned the display of posters advertising the exhibition. These posters feature an artwork by artist Cassils entitled Advertisement: Hommage to Benglis, which had previously been displayed prominently throughout Berlin to promote the original run of the exhibition at the Deutsche Historische Museum (German Historical Museum) and the Schwules Museum*.
Hommage to Benglis features the artist’s muscular physique photographed in collaboration with Robin Black, at the peak of an 160 day durational performance, using flesh as sculptural material. Designed to break binary gender boundaries, Cassils presents a trans body that defies easy classification with respect to gender. Advertisement: Hommage to Benglis is a direct play on a famous moment in feminist art history, in which artist Lynda Benglis took out a full page advertisement in the fine art magazine Artforum featuring a photograph of herself wearing only sunglasses and a double-ended dildo, posed as a pinup. While Benglis’s original Advertisement acted as a commentary on sexist gender-based limitations in the art world, Cassils’s Hommage uses the same strategies to intervene in the gendered policing of trans and non-conforming bodies in the world at large.
The office Media & Buch, which is responsible for the approval of advertisement for the Deutsche Bahn AG, claimed that Cassils’s image is “sexualized”, “sexist” and “pornographic” and therefore does not conform with the guidelines of the German Council of Advertisement (Deutscher Werberat). This faux-feminist opposition to the display of the image is a glaring incident of transphobia, not just homophobia. The phobic response to Cassils’s image here calls to mind broader instances of transphobia which seek to prohibit the presence of trans and gender-nonconforming bodies from public spaces.
In the United States context, this is currently dramatized by recent legislation in the state of North Carolinarequiring people to use the public toilets that match the sex they were assigned at birth as opposed to their current gender identity. Contrary to popular hysteria which considers the presence of trans people to be a threat, gender-nonconforming people, especially those of color, are extremely vulnerable to becoming the victim of attacks. Artwork such as that presented by Cassils is vital to the project of working against transphobia, and the recent attempt to ban these images from the public sphere only underlines their necessity.
After facing criticism for the decision, the Deutsche Bahn reversed its decision regarding the display of the exhibition posters, but since the advertising space in the train stations has already been reallocated, this is an empty gesture. The artist invites you to download the banned image, print it and paste it over any image you find “sexist” currently displayed in the Deutsche Bahn.
APRIL 2, 2016, 8:30 PM
Cassils was awarded The International Prize for Live Art in 2014. As part of this prize The Powers That Be (210 Kilometers) was commissioned as a site specific work for the ANTI Contemporary Art Festival in Kuopio, Finland. Cassils is reworking this piece for a U.S. premiere, April 2, 2016 at the Broad Museum.
For the live Los Angeles performance Cassils collaborates with fight choreographer Mark Steger to stage a brutal two person fight. Lit by car headlights and performed in the depths of a parking garage, Cassils is the sole figure, left to spar with an invisible force. Amplified by surrounding car stereos is a score designed by Kadet Kuhne comprised of static noise and samples found on the radio. Broadcasting issues reflective today’s sociopolitical climate, both proximate and distant, The Powers That Be, explores the radical unrepresentability of certain forms of trauma and violence. Smashing the weight of accountability directly on everyone involved, this piece is designed to be viewed and recorded with a mobile phone. Cassils addresses mediated images of violence by calling into question the roles of the witness and the aggressor.
The installation from Canadian, Los Angeles-based artist Cassils uses techniques borrowed from Hollywood stunts to speak to the violence of war.
“Inextinguishable Fire put a match under our certainties and perceptions, making you confront what you might prefer to ignore.” – The Guardian
An installation of the film Inextinguishable Fire created by Cassils, will make its U.S. premiere at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival. The piece will be displayed as part of the New Frontier program in Park City, UT, from January 21-31 in Park City.
Inextinguishable Fire aims to make spectators engage with the media’s often constructed images of violence and war. Witnessing it’s impact in the form of a slow motion video displaying Cassils being set on fire, this performance for the camera features the artist engaged in a treacherous fire stunt. The final film makes the stunt’s theatrics as visible as the ostensible risk. Using techniques borrowed from Hollywood stunts, the 14-second live burn is extended to 14 minutes of slow motion flame, shot at 1000 frames per second. Slowing the burn down requires the viewer to spend time in a world reduced to fleeting headlines on our Twitter and Facebook feeds. At New Frontiers Inextinguishable Fire plays on a continual loop, first forward and then reverse, referencing the cycles of political uprising and apathy, life and death, ignition and extinguishment. The title of the piece references Harun Farocki’s eponymous 1969 film, which reflects on the impossibility of effectively representing the horror of napalm on film. Though the stunt is a simulation of violence, it still presents real danger. This possibly volatile situation is captured to create an image where immanent physical danger, empathy for those experiencing violence, and the privilege of distance from such circumstances operate simultaneously in one transparent performance.