Illustrating the limits of endurance and empathy, interdisciplinary artist Cassils produces potent evidence of unseen violence while questioning the act of witnessing in contemporary media culture. The exhibition and its title, Phantom Revenant, speaks to the double invisibility of LGBTQI+ people across the world and the ways this violence is archived in public consciousness. Cassils exposes this timely concern through three works that aggressively bring cyclical forms of oppression, disregarded histories, and haunting realities to the forefront.
Challenging the audience's ability to see while bringing an invisible history into focus, the performance Becoming An Image (2013–present) is a body-intensive attack on a 2,000 pound clay block. Performed in total darkness, Cassils is visible only through the flash of a camera that momentarily illuminates the scene and sears the assault into the viewer’s retinas as an afterimage. The corresponding sounds of physical exertion and exhaustion break through the darkness as abrupt reminders of Cassils presence. The camera’s flash not only illuminates Cassils’s confrontation, but the audience surrounding their assault as well. Cassils’s performance implicates each viewer as participant and turns the act of viewing into an ethical dilemma. This visceral exchange between the artist, audience, and clay monolith archives—through the act of collective witnessing and accumulated strikes upon the clay—an insistence of being seen.
Each blow upon the clay mass makes visible the physical and emotional violence directed toward LGTBQI+ people. After a previous iteration of the performance Becoming An Image, Cassils cast the clay block, first in concrete, to ultimately make a bronze cast. Cassils deploys the history and function of monuments, which traditionally memorialize significant people and acts, to instead memorialize the undocumented, overlooked, and often purposefully ignored histories. When cast in bronze, the clay block became The Resilience of the 20% (2016), a title that points to an appalling statistic from 2012 when murders of trans individuals increased by 20%. In late April, the Bemis Center will premiere a new processional performance where Cassils will push the 1,200 pound bronze from the Bemis Center to locations in downtown Omaha where acts of violence against LGTBQI+ people have occurred.
The six-channel video installation Powers that Be further extends the theme of witness-as-participant in violence. In 2015, Cassils staged a brutal two-person fight with an invisible opponent in a parking garage, lit by car headlights. Viewers of this performance were encouraged to document the event with their cells phones; their video footage provided the source material for the resulting six-channel video installation Powers That Be, (2015–2017). As an installation, Powers That Be reverses the terms of the original performance as well as Becoming An Image by putting the audience at the center of the attack. The amount and intensity of information offered during Powers That Be is overwhelming, calling attention to the trend to document violence while failing to intervene.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website