Critics’ Picks

Cass Davis, Revival II, 2016, Jacquard woven cloth, 13 x 28 ".

Cass Davis, Revival II, 2016, Jacquard woven cloth, 13 x 28 ".


Cass Davis

ENGAGE Projects
864 N Ashland
October 3–November 14, 2020

Perhaps it’s just a reflection of my teen-goth impulses and the season we’re in, but I’m convinced that Cass Davis’s newest show, “Out of Time,” is plagued by dark spirits. As in any truly terrifying story, trauma is the real apparition here. The ghosts of Davis’s sordid evangelical childhood suffuse the gallery, as do the failures of the American dream. As curator Pia Singh notes in her essay accompanying the exhibition, the artist examines the “complex specters of patriarchal oppression,” showing how these demons “hold a different yet intertwined capacity to haunt entire lifetimes.”

Davis vivifies this inquiry through a range of media, most guttingly in their moving-image and textile work. Sundown Town, Reprise, 2020, is a ten-minute split-screen video employing the staged imagery of an eerie patriotic celebration–cum–funeral gathering. Set against a vast ebony background, the piece aims to warn against those who, by any means necessary, want to make this country “great” again. A deeper sense of dread takes over as the parade quietly transfigures into a march toward the graveyard, silently asking the viewer, What’s the difference between jingoism and death?

Revival II, 2016, is a black-and-white Jacquard weaving that depicts a feral scene of holy-rolling, speaking-in-tongues Christianity, featuring a group of white fundamentalists possessed by “The Spirit” in a moment of disturbing, manic salvation. In the rural Midwest, this stripe of extremist faith has long been connected to white-supremacist groups, such as the Ku Klux Klan. Unlike the media-savvy, pro-Trump religious figures of today’s headlines, the subjects of this piece aren’t aware of the camera—they’re swept up by their almighty God, a figure of pain and deception that abandoned any trace of benevolence long ago.