Cassils’ “Resilience of the 20%” World Premier Set for Omaha


April 25th, 2017

Photo Courtesy of the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts

Omaha, NE—The Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts will host LA based artist, Cassils, as part of an ongoing performance series, Phantom Revenant. Cassils, a recent recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship, is transforming modern art with high stakes performances using the body as part of the spectacle.

The artist’s recent exhibition considers violence, particularly that against the LGBTQI community. Cassils’ work, blending performance art and sculpture, is physically and emotionally demanding, and sometimes dangerous.

“I think of my body as both an instrument and an image,” Cassils said. “So just as a painter would refine their formal ability to apply or glazing technique, I change my body for every performance I do depending on what is at stake in the work. So for example, for Becoming an Image, for over two years now—actually since 2012—and on I’ve been training with martial arts and Western style boxing to finesse my ability to keep my heart rate up at one hundred seventy beats per minute, to hit targets blind in the dark.”

Last February, Cassils performed Becoming an Image at the Bemis Center, a piece in which the artist mercilessly struck a 2000 pound block of clay to sculpt it, simulating the most brutal attack. The room was completely dark, and the performance was only illuminated by the flashes from a camera.

The resulting sculpture has remained at the Bemis Center, and since the performance, Cassils has cast a bronze statue from Becoming an Image, called Resilience of the 20%. On Saturday, April 29th, the artist will push the 1300 pound monument to locations where acts of violence have occurred in Omaha. This will be the world premiere of the performance.

“Modeling clay is perfect for the performance, but in essence it’s an unfireable modeling clay, which means it can’t be put in an oven and fixed, which is very useful when we’re thinking about unforeclosed identity, how we’re all always shifting and changing,” Cassils said. “And specifically when I’m thinking about trans identity, I’m thinking about not a fixed binary, but something that is constantly evolving, and so for that purpose of modeling clay is great but if you want to make a monument as I did which speaks to these sorts of unmarked sites of violence or violences that are part of histories that we forget, then on some level modeling clay, which would effectively dry out and blow into the dust, is on some level poetic. But if I wanted to have it stick around then I need to change the medium from this modeling clay to more durable sculptural material, and so I’ve made a concrete cast, and I’ve made a bronze cast, and I plan to make a porcelain cast as well.”

The title, Resilience of the 20% responds to a 2012 Amnesty International statistic.

“That statistic indicates that in 2012 attacks violent hate crimes against the LGBTQI community rose twenty percent in one year,” Cassils said. “And so this idea of resilience around that, this idea being a shape that forged through violence and yet is beautiful regardless—in spite of—this kind of precious material, the bronze, very expensive and very difficult to work with, taking the sort of lives that are considered disposable and using a precious metal as a bronze to speak to the importance of those lives that would otherwise be considered peripheral and not part of a larger conversation.”

Cassils’ work challenges communities to rethink history and, but overall, the message is optimistic.

“In working with these different districts there was moments where people would say, well you know what when we don’t want you to push your monument outside, for example an ice cream shop and state that an act of murder has taken place here—that’s bad for business,” Cassils said. “But the way that I reframed that was, well look, we’re in this particular climate right now where if you support a project like that, it’s not about saying something negative happened here. It’s about supporting an effort to speak to the importance of pushing—literally pushing—back against that kind of erasure and hate, and so to allow this project to take place to participate and give you permission, you’re actually supporting something that puts you on the right side of history in my mind, and people were very open and receptive to that idea. And for me that was really feeling an importance, and I think it speaks a lot to your community, and I appreciate that.”

Cassils’ Monument Push will start at the Bemis Center on Saturday, April 29 at 4:00pm. To learn more, visit


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