Three people in an art gallery, watching a film of a person in a fire-proof suit, engulfed in flames.
News, Perth Festival, Reviews, Visual arts

Flux and fluidity

Review: Cassils, “Alchemic” and Marco Fusinato, “Lower Power” ·
PICA, 16 February ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·

Curated by Anne Loxley and Eugenio Viola, “Alchemic” offers an overview of the powerful works by US-based artist and bodybuilder Cassils, who is known for moulding, challenging and manipulating their body as their artistic medium. One of two exhibitions presented by PICA in association with the 2019 Perth Festival, “Alchemic” investigates and interrogates cultural and gendered narratives surrounding the body; exploring themes of resilience, vulnerability and the documentation of violence and trauma. Referencing the four elements of Western occultism (earth, fire, air, and water), these selected works are both aesthetically stunning and vital in their political intent.

In Tiresias (2013), a 15 minute video work documenting a four-hour durational performance, the artist presses their body against the male torso of a classical Greek sculpture that has been carved from ice. The artist stares stoically out at the viewer as the ice slowly melts, their stillness belying the pain they must have felt during such an act of endurance. Referencing a Greek mythological figure who was transformed from man to woman, this work speaks to the fluidity of gender – with Cassils describing their own transgender identity as “a continual process of becoming”.

The installation Becoming an Image (2012 – current) presents the remnants of a live performance that took place during this year’s Perth Festival. During this event, Cassils physically attacked a 900kg lump of modelling clay whilst being documented by a white male photographer, whose camera flash provided the only source of light. The resulting mushed clay obelisk sits in the gallery as a misshapen monument to the artist’s force and energy, while the surrounding walls are papered with a huge composite photograph of the audience members looking disoriented, shocked, bemused and grim. Overlaid on this wallpaper is a series of glossy shots showing Cassils in action, their muscles taut and eyes wild as they strike the clay. Approaching these walls, the gallery-goer views the viewers and the viewed. It’s a reminder of the power of the gaze; the impact the audience has upon its subject, and of the accountability of being a witness.

One whole wall of the Central Galleries is taken up by the cinematic video Inextinguishable Fire (2007-2015), which offers a close-up view of the artist as they endure a full-body stunt burn in a fire-proof suit. Alluding to the use of fire in protests and as a punishment, the footage has been dramatically slowed – 14 seconds of action extended to 14 minutes – which makes the flickering flames seem otherworldly. At a casual glance the sheer spectacle of this work is enjoyable, but extended time spent with this agonisingly slow piece makes the viewer appreciate the high tensions felt by both Cassils and the audience during the original performance.

Two photographs on the wall of a gallery, showing a woman about to throw a rock, at a protest.
Provoking a sense of unease: Marco Fusinato’s “Lower Power”. Photo: Bo Wong.

Ideas surrounding evidence, spectacle and the depiction of violence are also explored in the works of Australian artist Marco Fusinato found upstairs in the Westend Gallery. In this space, however, the urgent and visceral vitality of Cassil’s works has been replaced with the cool remove of high-end, commercially printed images. Produced for this exhibition, each of the two huge prints in “Lower Power” depicts a protester with their face covered, in the moment before they throw the rock visible in their upraised hand. These works belong to Fusinato’s series “Infinitives” (2009 – ongoing), in which the artist sources images of rioting published by contemporary mass media and enlarges them to monumental scale, printed on massive sheets of aluminium.

By removing these photographs from their original contexts and presenting them without any identifying information about the protesters or their circumstances, Fusinato has ensured that the images become depoliticised – they seem to retain only a generalised sense of “revolution”. The viewer becomes a voyeur, free to appreciate or dismiss the images at their leisure, perhaps choosing to admire only the formal composition or the precise rendering of the prints.

There is a sense of unease provoked by this aestheticization of anonymous rioters, whose intentions and beliefs remain unknown, and who are depicted in dire and possibly deadly circumstances. These works raise questions that are worthy of consideration for citizens of the Information Age, where images depicting violence and suffering are always just a click away.

Cassils “Alchemic” and Marco Fusinato’s “Lower Power” both run at PICA until April 14.

Pictured top: Cassils, “Alchemic”, as part of Perth Festival, at Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, 2019. Photo: Christophe Canato. Image courtesy of Cassils and Ronald Feldman Gallery.

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Cassils
Calendar, Perth Festival, Visual arts

Visual Arts: Cassils – Alchemic

10 Feb – 14 Apr @ PICA ·
Presented by Cassils ·

Cassils has achieved international recognition for a rigorous engagement with the body as a form of social sculpture. Through a practice spanning more than 15 years Cassils has ‘tackled the complicated politics of transgender visibility and its intertwinement with the politics of form’ (Artforum).

Cassils’ first exhibition in Australia features video, photography and sculpture, as well as a presentation of their iconic performance, Becoming an Image.

Habitually using their own body as medium, Cassils changes it through rigorous training and nutrition schedules to create artworks that offer shared experiences for contemplating histories of violence, representation, struggle and survival. Keenly aware of art history, Cassils’ approach to art form and representation re-frames the gaze and subverts art’s historical canon.

Cassils’ body – defiant, strong and transgender – is the through line of their body of work. With breathtaking skill and finesse, the artist uses their body to question attitudes and society structures, revealing the damaging inadequacies of simplistic binaries and mainstream hegemonies of power.

Tuesday to Sunday 10am–5pm

Curated in association with Eugenio Viola, Senior Curator, PICA
Presented in association with Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts

More info:
www.perthfestival.com.au/event/cassils

Pictured: Cassils, credit: Cassils with Robin Black

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