Now based in Los Angeles, Cassils is a performance artist with an impressive body of work that consistently confronts its audiences, making them think deeply and critically, usually about gender or identity, in a provocative way. They view their body as a raw material to be used, sculpted, or exhibited to make major statements or discoveries about identity, particularly transgender identities that they connect with. As a transgender person myself, I find that their pieces have a profound ability to embody the feelings I face amid various obstacles and stages of transition. However, their work is not just for us. I think a lot of their work is meant to universalize the experiences of marginalized people. Much of their work explores transgender issues and frustrations, but using their body as their main medium and keeping their performances from becoming incredibly straightforward makes their work incredibly accessible and all up for interpretation.
Outside of the pandemic, my personal favorite pieces by Cassils include Pissed. and Up to and Including Their Limits because they are incredibly provocative and make me feel seen. Both also required a massive amount of physical discipline, making their work that much more visceral. Just so you have an understanding of the work they are known for, Pissed was a performance done in response to the Trump Administrations’ reluctance to honor legislation allowing transgender children to use public restrooms, specifically at school, that align with their gender identity. Cassils preserved 200 gallons of their urine to display in a plexiglass box, showing the physical toll that trans children undergo when they are not allowed to use their preferred restroom at school. The cube was accompanied by a display of all the bottles it took to preserve the urine, as well as a performance of Cassils standing on a pedestal, drinking water and relieving themselves into another one of the orange bottles before the audience.
Up to and Including Their Limits was a performance piece that features them hanging in the middle of a big plexiglass box lined with wet clay. As they swung from side to side, pulling the clay away from the walls and throwing it into a pile in the middle, they worked towards exploring the idea of transgender visibility. The piece culminated in them standing on the pile of clay that had accumulated throughout the course of the performance.
Since the declaration of the Stay-at-Home orders, they have gone beyond their body to work on a piece entitled In Plain Sight. This piece was a series of roughly 80 short, curated messages from a diverse group of artists, written in the skies above significant places relating to immigration detention in this country. The idea was to index these places, ranging from detention facilities to for-profit prison company headquarters to historic Japanese internment sites, through messages written in the sky. On July 4th, the provocative statements lingered in the sky acting as a sort of “national intervention” as Cassils described in an instagram video encouraging community engagement with the piece. Though physically temporary, the words written in the sky have been immortalized, now, on a website where they are written alongside the biographies of the artists involved and the meanings behind the locations and the phrases that they contributed to the piece.
As an immigrant from Canada, the issue is especially close to Cassils’ heart, and the piece proved to be incredibly timely as this year played out. Their contribution to the project, aside from organizing it, was the statement “SHAME #DEFUNDHATE” above the Geo Group west coast headquarters to shed light on for-profit immigrant detention facilities and Canadain companies’ complacency in the terrible treatment of immigrants in the US to address their background and confront a problem that resonates the most with their personal experiences. Even within a pandemic, Cassils fights to explore and provide a vehicle through which marginalized communities can be heard and watching them adapt their work to the time is pretty remarkable. The world needs strong transgender people to look up to and I am honored to be able to say that Cassils is representative of some of me and some of my life experiences, and I am glad that not even a measly little plague can keep them from forcing their voice to be heard.
If you would like to read more about In Plain Sight and its contributors, check out this website: https://xmap.us