Human Measure, Cassils’s first piece of contemporary dance, is rooted in their knowledge of kinesiology, martial arts, sports science, and photography to reinterpret Yves Klein’s Anthropometries paintings.
Relevant to the moment, against an unprecedented backdrop of anti-trans legislation, Cassils collaborates with internationally renowned choreographer Jasmine Albuquerque and five transgender, gender non-conforming / non-binary movers. Rather than appropriate Judo, as Klein did, Cassils draws inspiration from self-defence and personal safety movements, where intersectional representations press back against narratives surrounding trans bodies and athleticism.
Differing from the passive, cisgendered female models used in Klein’s work, the marks made by performers in Human Measure reflect a process of empowered labour. Beyond the artwork itself, Cassils intentionally builds care into their process gifting the dancers with somatic workshops and release techniques to be better equipped for a society that does not value trans embodiment.
The work dovetails with Cassils’ continued investigations of deconstructing the language of photography, with the theatre transformed into a dark room, lit only by red “safety lights”. This ambiance connotes sirens, blood, red light districts and the history of photography. The stage is set with a large piece of cloth treated with cyanotype solution, and as bodies slam against the floor during the performance, blasts of light expose the traces of the performing bodies, making live photograms. The work concludes when the fabric is detached from the floor, dunked into troughs of water and then hung for the audience to view. Dripping in liquid mixed with perspiration, a cyanotype develops live in real time before the audiences’ eyes: a brilliant hue of blue marked with the outline of fallen bodies.
Cassils is a transgender artist who makes their own body the material and protagonist of their performances. Cassils's art contemplates the history(s) of LGBTQI+ violence, representation, struggle, survival and empowerment. For Cassils, performance is a form of social sculpture: Drawing from the idea that bodies are formed in relation to forces of power and social expectations, Cassils’s work investigates historical contexts to examine the present moment.
Cassils has had recent solo exhibitions at HOME, Manchester; Station Museum of Contemporary Art, TX; Perth Institute for Contemporary Arts, AU; Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, NY; Philadelphia Academy of Fine Arts, PA; Bemis Center, Omaha; MU Eindhoven, Netherlands. They are the recipient of a 2020 Fleck Residency from the Banff Center for the Arts, a Princeton Lewis Artist Fellowship finalist, a Villa Bellagio Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, a United States Artist Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, several Canada Council for the Arts awards and a Creative Capital Award.
They are a founding member if the In Plain Sight, a collective of over 80 artists and 17 immigrant justice organizations focused on the abolition of immigrant detention and the US culture of incarceration. They are also Associate Professor of Sculpture and Integrated Practices in the Department of Fine Arts at PRATT University, Brooklyn, NY
The National Creation Fund’s investment of $120,000 supports two additional residencies with the creative team and company of dancers to continue to adapt the work artistically and technically for a theatrical setting. It also provides additional time for the experimentation and introduction of live vocals to the performance, enhancements to the work’s lighting design, and the creation of six new cyanotypes.
We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts.
Human Measure was first commissioned on the occasion of the solo exhibition, Cassils: Human Measure, 2021, HOME Manchester, UK, curated by Bren O’Callaghan.
Human Measure was developed with the support of the Paul D. Fleck Fellowship residency at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, with support from Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff Centre, initiated by Carol A. Stakenas and Jacqueline Bell.
With additional thanks to the Villa Bellagio Residency through the Rockefeller Foundation, INMATT Foundation, Canadian Stage and the Roy and Edna Disney CalArts Theater (REDCAT) for their continued support.
October 27 to 29, 2022: Berkeley Street Theatre (Toronto), presented by Canadian Stage