Multidisciplinary art is hard to find as most artists have one main focus they dedicate their careers to such as painting or sculpture. Unlike most artists, Cassils is a visual artist working in live performance, film, sound, sculpture and photography. This metaphorical octopus–having grasps on many art forms–defines the undefinable worldly experiences of LGBTQ+ identities through their works, promoting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of Gender Equality and Reduced Inequalities through every stigma-breaking film, performance, sculpture, etc. with deeper meanings than the eye can tell.
LGBTQ+ issues have been unfortunately occurring for centuries, and Cassils is one of the many artists that use their art to counter these issues. As a trans-masc artist, their work centres around their usage of body, movement and sculpture as a form of art and capturing the beauty of transgenderism through their work. Known for their performance art that contemplates the history(s) of LGBTQ+ violence, representation, struggle and empowerment Cassils also pushes activism for the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of Gender Equality and Reduced Inequalities. A perfect example of this is an unconventional performance they did that began in 2012 and still exists to the present: Becoming an Image.
Becoming an Image is a performance piece where the artist attacks a 2000-pound block of clay in complete darkness. The only time the viewers are able to witness the performance is the occasional illumination of a photographer's flash from a camera, burning the image into the viewers’ retinas. This artwork “draws on a legacy of body, conceptual and installation art to render new complex art experiences, …” as stated by Amelia Jones, the Vice Dean of Critical Studies at the Roski School of Art and Design, in The Drama Review. The power behind this piece, as Jones mentioned, is the uniqueness of it and its further advocation for the unknown. It is human nature that we fear the unknown, and Cassils uses this idea to drive change and create the unknown.
Another performance that caught everyone's attention was Inextinguishable Fire, where the artist appear to temporarily have hypothermia and then lit themself on fire. This full-body burn for film and a live audience pushed boundaries, showing empathy for those experiencing violence and the privilege of removal from such circumstances. The title of the piece references Harun Farocki’s 1969 film of the same name, which approaches the impossible task of effectively depicting the horror of napalm on film. Cassils’ gesture of self-immolation speaks to both the desire for–and the impossibility of–knowing such horror, even while decisively aiming to approach it.
Other monumental pieces of theirs include Human Measure, Cassils’ debut contemporary dance work featuring a team of five trans and non-binary performers, Up To and Including Their Limits, which pays homage to the late feminist icon Carolee Schneemann. Using clay to reimagine her historic performance piece Up To and Including Her Limits from a trans-non-binary perspective, and Cuts: A Traditional Sculpture, which is by far one of their most iconic; Cassils reinterprets Eleanor Antin’s 1972 Carving: A Traditional Sculpture, in which Antin crash diets for 45 days and documents her body daily through stark full-body photography. Cassils inverts Antin’s process, using their mastery of bodybuilding and nutrition to gain 23 pounds of muscle over 23 weeks. In contrast to the feminine act of weight loss in Antin’s Carving, Cassils’s CUTS involves transformation into a traditionally masculine muscular form as an act of defiance to binary ideals, reinforcing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals of Gender Equality and Reduced Inequalities.
“Why do I have to (take) a binaristic approach that is based in patriarchy and oppression? Why is my body the problem?” said Cassils in an interview with CNN.
Born in Montreal, Quebec and now based in Los Angeles, California, Cassils performs transgender not as a crossing from one sex to another but rather as a continual process of becoming, a form of embodiment that works in a space of indeterminacy, spasm and slipperiness.
To learn more about their work and exhibitions, please visit their website www.cassils.net.