Heather Cas­sils

HISKIND - - HEATHER CASSILS - Words Os­car King

Heather Cas­sils is a gen­der non-con­form­ing, trans-mas­cu­line vis­ual artist (they/them/ their pro­nouns) and has re­cently been named as one of ten trans­gen­der artists chang­ing the land­scape of con­tem­po­rary art. From their home in Mon­treal, Cas­sils ex­plores the hu­man body as ‘so­cial sculp­ture’. By push­ing the body to phys­i­cal ex­tremes, their art in­hab­its per­for­mance, pho­tog­ra­phy, sculp­ture and video, al­low­ing the au­di­ence to wit­ness themes of strug­gle and oc­ca­sion­ally graphic vi­o­lence through their work. Cas­sils em­braces the slip­per­i­ness of trans iden­tity in their work. Rather than squeez­ing their art into a frame­work of rigid het­ero­sex­ual bi­na­ries, Cas­sils wel­comes it in all its won­der­ful com­plex­ity. Gen­der is per­formed as a con­tin­ual process of ‘be­com­ing’. Con­cepts are stretched to break­ing point, with sweat, blood and sinew adding to the con­struc­tion of each per­for­mance, leav­ing the au­di­ence with a graphic but im­pact­ful de­pic­tion of both art and gen­der.

103 Shots

Upon the re­cent an­niver­sary of the tragic Pulse night­club shoot­ing in Or­lando, where dozens of in­no­cent LGBT+ men and women lost their lives, Cas­sils’ short film ‘103 Shots’ con­fronts the at­tack through art and per­for­mance with bod­ies and bal­loons be­ing used through­out. Hav­ing spo­ken to one of the sur­vivors of the event it­self, Cas­sils vis­ually con­structs one of the sur­vivors’ ini­tial thoughts that the gun­shots were just cel­e­bra­tory noises of pop­ping bal­loons:

“You’re sit­ting there hav­ing a great time at a club and you hear what sounds like fire­works pop­ping and you as­sume it’s part of the show.”

The video shows var­i­ous cou­ples locked in an em­brace, with noth­ing but a bal­loon be­tween their stom­achs sep­a­rat­ing them. As the em­brace be­comes stronger, the bal­loon fi­nally bursts un­der the pres­sure. 103 shots, 103 em­braces, one for each life lost. The watcher is left feel­ing shocked and bru­talised by the pop­ping – re­sem­bling a fusil­lade – as they en­ter the vac­uum that so many of the vic­tims of Or­lando must have felt in the af­ter­math of the shoot­ing.

Art like this be­comes even more im­por­tant in our present po­lit­i­cal and so­cial cli­mate. It rep­re­sents not only what hap­pened last year in Or­lando, but cap­tures the senses and anx­i­eties felt by those caught in the midst of ter­ror at­tacks across the globe. Though there’s no deny­ing that a sudden loud noise in a pub­lic space will cause peo­ple to panic, Cas­sils’ art re­minds us that, as ter­ror­ism seems to per­fo­rate more and more into ev­ery­day life, re­sist­ing fear be­comes the ul­ti­mate act of re­bel­lion.

“You’re sit­ting there hav­ing a great time at a club and you hear what sounds like fire­works pop­ping and you as­sume it’s part of the show.”

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