In 2016, California-based transmasculine artist Cassils performed an intense, exhausting and painful piece titled Powers that Be. Set in the parking garage of the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, California Cassils stands naked and alone surrounded by car headlights. They are being pinned down by an invisible force while kicking and punching in a fight for their life. As viewers watch the performance they are encouraged to record the violent act being carried out in front of them while a mixture of radio sounds plays in the background which is highlighting violent acts imposed upon marginalized bodies. Cassils work can be identified by the use of physical exhaustion and the use of the body as the material. The performances and installations created ask the viewer to witness acts of violence, while calling to mind ideas of sensory pain. In Inextinguishable Fire (2007-2015) Cassils stands in front of an audience while setting themselves on fire. Although this stunt is calculated the onlooker cannot help but feel the sensory pain and terror of being burnt. Cassils uses this sensory tactic again in Tiresias (2011) where they place their naked body against an ice sculpture that appears to be the form of the perfect neoclassical torso of a man. As the body breathes it touches the ice and starts to form the sculpture to Cassils own body, creating their own image of the body; a transmasculine body. Watchers of the performance can imagine the pain of being so numb and cold. In Becoming an Image (2013) Cassils beats a 1200 pound block of clay in the dark, surrounded by onlookers. Everyone, including the artist, is in a pitch black room, the only way to see the performance is by the flash from the camera that is randomly being triggered. The bright light freezes Cassils in mid action and causes the image to be burned into the retina fading back into blackness until the next flash occurs. Performances and installations not only illuminate the violent acts done to trans bodies but also implicate the viewer, and their participation in the witnessing of these exhaustively violent performances. Challenges in cultural and social histories show up in Cassils work while pushing back against constructs surrounding gender and traditional concepts of what gender should look like. The intense approach Cassils uses in discussing violence, pain and death inflicted upon trans bodies asks the audience to sit within their own discomfort and begs the question: am I an active participant in the continuation of violent acts or by silent omission?
All images courtesy of the artist Cassils ©
Cover image: Inextinguishable Fire, No. 8, 2015. National Theater Studio, SPILL Festival, London. Photo: Cassils with Guido Mencari