I am an artist who uses the physical body as sculptural mass with which to rupture societal norms. Implementing rigorous physical training practices and queering my knowledge of kinesiology and sports science, I formally manipulate the body into shapes that deify expectations. Bashing through the binaries and the notion that in order to be officially transgendered you have to have surgery or take hormones, I performs trans not as something about a crossing from one sex to another, but rather as a continual becoming, a process oriented way of being that works in a space of indeterminacy, spasm and slipperiness. Forging a series powerfully trained bodies for different performantive and formal purposes, it is with sweat, blood and sinew that I construct a visual critique and discourse around physical and gender ideologies and histories. Drawing on conceptualism, feminism, body art, gay male aesthetics, and Hollywood cinema, I create a visual language that is at once emotionally striking and conceptually incisive.
My most recent piece, Becoming an Image, works at the interstice of performance, sculpture and photography. It was originally conceived as a site-specific work for the ONE Archives in Los Angeles (the oldest active LGBTQ archive in the United States). For the performance I unleash an attack on a 2000 pound clay block. I deliver a series of kicks and blows in total darkness. The spectacle is only illuminated by the flash of a photographer, which burns the image into the viewers retina, raising questions of witnessing, documentation, memory and evidence.
In my most recent solo show at Ronald Feldman Fine Arts I displayed 12 photographs, taken by blinded photographers, which document previous performances from prior exhibitions in London, Montreal and Los Angeles. These images capture me sweating, grimacing and flying through the air, a primal force, scarred flesh pummeling blocks of earth. Accompanying the photographs are two sculptures from 2013: After, a mound of clay from a Becoming An Image performance that took place the shows opening night (this work is accompanied by a multi channeled sound piece of sharp breathes and wet punches recorded from the event) and the Rellisiance of the 20%, a violently elegant funerary work of torqued black concrete. The title of the later underscores a sickening statistic: In 2012 murders of trans men and women increased by 20 percent around the world.
Cuts: a Traditional Sculpture is a reinterpretation of Eleanor Antin’s 1972 performance Carving: A Traditional Sculpture in which Antin crash dieted for 45 days and documented her body daily with photographs from four vantage points. I used her mastery of body building and nutrition to gain 23 pounds of muscle over 23 weeks. As opposed to the feminine act of weight loss in Antin’s performance, I perform a transformation into traditionally masculine muscular form.
I created the video Fast Twitch//Slow Twitch, featuring time lapse imagery and captivating yet revolting slow motion takes of me eating raw meat with animalistic fervor, swallowing raw eggs and choking on a face full of pills. What we are seeing is a profound act of consumption combined with the almost orgasmic exertion of “maxing out” in pursuit of a bodily image that is ultimately unsustainable, its moment of fruition fleetingly captured by my rosy watercolor renditions (Maxing Out in Opera Pink Versions 1,2 and 3). There are also four largescale grids of time lapse photographs of my transformation, sorted by vantage point, which offer a striking overview of the entire performance and draws out its conceptual clarity. This twist on “getting cut” queers the trans body by showcasing the cut of musculature as opposed to the cut of the surgeon’s knife.
These grids are accompanied by a series of “pin ups” made in collaboration with photographer Robin Black to stage a homage to the Linda Benglis’ Advertisement (1974). Rather than buying advertisement space in Artforum, we capitalized on our connections in the gay fashion/ art publications both on line and off to disseminate these self empowered images of trans representation. Substituting a ripped masculine physique for a double ended phallus, we leaked the images without disclosing anything about its subject but linked the image to a blog about the project: www.ladyfacemanbody.com. When circulating these trans positive, self determined images on the internet they were met with a litany of hatred, confusion and phobic comments. The defaced pinups which I carved into with razors, and burnt with fire (Disfigured Image: The Resilient 20% and Disfigured Image: Anatomically Correct ) reflect my desire to push representation forward and the hostility with which such acts are met. Placing these images within these contexts signals the shifts in our cultural landscape, and the role of artists like Benglis in bringing about those changes.
From Montreal, Canada
Lives and works in Los Angeles
2002 MFA Art and Integrated Media, California Institute of the Arts, Los Angeles, CA, USA
1997 BFA Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Halifax, NS, Canada
1996 Ecole Nationale Superieur des Beaux Arts. Paris, France
GRANTS/ AWARDS/ FELLOWSHIPS:
2013 MOTHA Art Awards (Museum of Transgendered Art) for Best Solo Exhibition of 2013
Canada Council of the Arts, Long Term Assistance Grant to Visual Artists
(FOCA) Fellows of Contemporary Art. 2013 nominee.
2012 (CCF)California Community Foundation Visual Artist Fellowship
2010 Los Angles Contemporary Exhibitions Artist Research Grant
Travel grant, Canada Council of the Arts
2009 Intra Arts Creative Production Grant. Canada Council of the Arts
Franklin Furnace Performance Art Fund
BODY OF WORK, Solo Show. Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, NY, NY
Queer Objectivity, Stamp Gallery, University of Maryland, Maryland.
Within, Cypress Collage, CA
Becoming An Image, Fierce Festival, Birmingham, UK.
Performance Studies International, Stanford University, Stanford, CA
Solo Exhibition, Ronald Feldman Fine Art, NY, NY
SPILL International Festival of Performance, The National Theater Studio, London UK
Trans Technology: Circuits of Self, culture and Belonging. Rutgers University, New Jersey
Material Traces: Time and Gesture in Contemporary Art, curated by Amelia Jones. Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Montreal, Quebec
Becoming An Image, Edgy Woman Festival, Montreal, Quebec
Battleground States, Utah Museum of Contemporary Art, Salt Lake City, Utah
Performance of Teresias in Kuopio, Finland at the ANTI International Contemporary Art Festival.
Cruising the Archives, One National Gay and Lesbian Archives, LA, CA. Part of Pacific Standard Time
Have We Met Before? Ronald Feldman Fine Art, NY, NY
Teresias, Perforatorium Festival of Queer Performance, Regina, Canada
Commitment Issues, Curated by Jess Dobkin In conjunction with FADO Performance Art Center in Toronto, Canada
Los Angeles Goes Live: Exploring a Social History of Performance Art in Southern California (LAGA), Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, LA, CA. Part of Pacific Standard Time
City Of Women Festival in conjunction with The Kapelica Gallery in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Theater of Operations, Movement Research Festival ’10, NYC, NY
Gutted, Los Angles Contempory Exhibitions, Los Angeles, CA
Peaking , Chez Bushwick, Brooklyn, NYC
IT’S (A)LIVE: BRAVE LIVE ART FROM LOS ANGELES, Gallery 114, Los Angeles, CA
You Belong To Me, Sweeny Art Gallery and University of Riverside, Riverside , CA
Praxis Mohave, Desert Hot Springs, CA
The Way That We Rhyme: Women Art and Politics, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), San Francisco, CA
The House That Lust Built, Trinity Square Video, Toronto, Canada
FAST TWITCH//SLOW TWITCH, ICA, London, UK
FAST TWITCH//SLOW TWITCH Human Animal, Armory Center for the Arts, Pasadena, CA
FAST TWITCH//SLOW TWITCH Dirty Looks On Location Festival, NY, NY
10104 Angelo View Drive International Film Festival Cinema Le Melies, Art Center of the Maison, Paris, France
10104 Angelo View Drive, Palms Festival, Palm Springs, CA
Ameila Jones, Reading Contemporary Performance. For for Cheng and Cody, ed
Jovanovich, Alex. Heather Cassils. Artforum Magazine. Best of 2013. Dec, 2013
Albracht, Amy. Clay: Heather Cassils’ Becoming An Image. C File Magazine. Nov 2013
Friezzell, Nell. Heather Cassils: The Transgendered Body Builder Attacks Heaps of Clay. The Guardian, UK, Oct 3, 2013.
Artsy Editorial. Bodybuilder Artist Heather Cassils Channels Lynda Benglis and Eleanor Antin. Artsy. Oct 2013.
Gopnick, Blake. The Terminatrix. The Daily Beast. Oct, 2013.
Grey, Kris. Cassils: Body of Work. Original Plumbing Magazine. Sep, 2013.
Cassils, Heather. Bashing Binaries — Along With 2,000 Pounds of Clay. Huffington: Post Gay Voices. September 2013.
Crary, David. Jason Collins’ Coming Out Breaks New Ground For Gay Rights Trend. Huffington Post. April, 2013
Mortimer, Dora. Live Art Review: Becoming An Image. Diva Magazine, UK. April 2013
Jankovic, Bojana. Becoming an Image at National Theatre Studio. Exeunt Magazine, UK. April 2013.
Henry, Joseph. Material Traces: Time and the Gesture in Contemporary ArtEsse Magazine, May, 2013
Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery, Montreal, February 16 – April 13, 2013
Bojana Jankovic, Review of Becoming An Image at the National Theater Studio,Exeunt Magazine, April, 2013
LGBT Athletes: 27 Players Who Have Come Out Of The Closet, Huffington Post, April, 2013
Dora Mortimer, Live Art Review: Becoming An Image, Diva Magazine, Spring, 2013
Amelia Jones, Material Traces: Process, Matter, and Interrelationality in Contemporary Art Catalogue, Concordia University, Montreal, Spring, 2013
Megan Hoteger, Re-performance: History as and Experience to Be Had; Los Angeles Goes Live: Performance Art in Southern California 1970-1983; Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, Los Angeles, Falll 2012 / Volume 15, no. 1
Linda Yablonsky, California Dreamin’, Artfourm Magazine, October 7, 2011
Cuts A Traditional Sculpture, Heather Cassils,
Huffington Post, Gay Voices, October 4,2011
Catherine Wagley, Heather Cassils Gets Ripped for LACE Performance Art Show,, LA Weekley, September 29, 2011
Michael Anthony, Arron Drake, Leslet Goldberg, Stephan Horbelt, Karen Ocamb, Our Hot 25 List: Locals Who Influence and Inspire Us, Frontiers Magazine – Vol 26,Number 04, June 2010, pp.44
Louise Carolin, Inside Story, Diva Magazine, vol 169, June 2010, pp 43-47
Art and Queer Culture, Richard Meyer and Catherine Lord, Phaidon Press, London, UK
Behind Enemy Lines: Toxic Titties Infiltrate Vanassa Beecroft, Heather Cassils, Clover Leary, Julia Steinmetz. Luis Jacob, Commerce by Artists, Art Metropole, pp 318-335
Behind Enemy Lines: Toxic Titties Infiltrate Vanassa Beecroft, Signs: Journal of Women and Culture in Society, Heather Cassils, Clover Leary, Julia Steinmetz.. University of Chicago: Journal Division, Chicago, US, 2006
Discussion Live Art in 2113, Live Art UK, Birmingham, UK
SPILL Festival of Performance Think Tank: SPILL Congregation, Whitechapel Gallery, London, UK
Artist talk by Heather Cassils. Presented in collaboration with FEM.ME.S: Feminist Media Studio Leonard and Ellen Bina Art Gallery, Montreal, Quebec
Artist Talk: The Body as Social Sculpture, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta.
Nature-Body-Sex International Seminar, Kuopio Academy of Design, Finland
Part of a panel asked to give feed back to the Ph.D. candidates at Media Arts and Practice (iMAP) program at University of Southern California
Visiting Artist Lecture, University of Saskatchewan,
Artist Lecture MY BODY AS A STAGE with Zackary Drucker, Luis De Jesus Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
Visiting Artist Lecture, San Fransisco Art Institute, Graduate Seminar Class
Visiting Artist Lecture, Banff Center for the Arts, Future of Idea Art, Banff, CA
Visiting Artist Lecture, University of Manchester, Graduate Seminar Class,
2010-11 Artist Researcher in residence, Los Angeles Goes Live: Exploring a Social History of Performance Art in Southern California (LAGA), Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, LA, CA
2008 Praxis Mojave 08 with Ron Athey, Los Angeles, CA
2006 The Future of Idea Art, Banff Center for the Arts, Banff, Alberta, Canada
2004 IASPIS International Artist Studio in Sweden, Stockholm, Sweden