Critics’ Picks

Cassils, Becoming an Image, 2013–. Performance view, Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, 2017. Cassils.



Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts
724 South 12th Street
February 2–April 29, 2017

In this solo exhibition comprising primarily live performances and installations, the Los Angeles–based and gender-nonconforming artist Cassils uses their naked body to explore the often pervasive violence against LGBTQI subjects. Their performance Becoming an Image, 2013–, pivots around the artist pummeling a 2,000-pound mass of clay in a pitch-black room. What the audience experiences, positioned around this main action, is chiefly aural: They hear Cassils breathing or the moments when their fists hit the clay. However, the artist has strategically positioned a photographer, whose camera’s flash illuminates the scene for brief moments of time. The resulting, spectral afterimage is a metaphor for the fugitive yet irrepressible histories of trauma hinted at by the exhibition’s title, “Phantom Revenant.”

When the light intrudes, the passive viewer becomes visible, too. The six-channel video installation Powers That Be, 2015–17, further meditates on those who bear witness to trauma yet fail to act. Each channel plays a recording of a performance in which Cassils has a brutal fight with an invisible opponent. The video is composed entirely of an amalgamation of cell-phone recordings of this scene by an audience, who become implicated as voyeurs.

Also on view are selections of ephemera from the Queer Omaha Archives. They ground the exhibition within the queer culture of Nebraska, as will a performance on April 29 involving the artist pushing a 1,300-pound bronze piece—cast from the clay of a previous iteration of Becoming an Image—around locations in downtown Omaha where violence against LGBTQI people has taken place.