Becoming An Image by Heather Cassils

“It calls into question the roles of the witness, the aggressor and the documentor”

Heather Cassils is a performer/artist from Montreal, Canada who currently resides in Los Angeles, California. The goal of zir work is to challenge societal norms in terms of gender and its current perceived binary. Ze does this with multiple exhibits and projects but more uniquely, with zir own body and the bodies of other individuals. Through strict physical training and artistic brilliance, ze challenges bodily gender expectations with zir own body structure and the body structure of other gender non-conforming people.

In zir work, ze attempts to reinvent what it means to be transgender. Ze likes to express trans (and gender in general) as a continual state of being, not necessarily the transitioning from one sex to another through surgery and hormones. Although transition is one way to look at gender and trans identity, Cassils’ portrayal of gender and trans identity is extremely unique and thought provoking.

Zir projects reflect deep rooted themes of gender in our society. Zir work is captivating and challenges gender conformity and stereotypes of gender. Ze focuses greatly on body image and bodily expectations throughout zir exhibits. In all projects, ze uses physical bodies as canvas’, tools and other forms of art. Zir work is metaphorically genius, with interesting messages in every performance and work of art that get the audience thinking about gender and its current portrayal in society.

Of Cassils’ many projects, the one that is most relevant to this class and this unit is zir performance entitled “Becoming an Image” which came about in 2013. This is a show that takes Cassils, a photographer, a 1,500 pound block of clay and an audience and turns them into an extremely valuable lesson on gender in today’s world. The performance goes as follows – The audience is seated in a blacked out room facing, unbeknownst to them, Cassils and the 1,500 pound block of clay. Cassils begins the show and starts pounding and molding the block of clay solely with zir body. The audience hears zir grunts and pounding. As this continues, a blinded photographer intermittently take photos at which point Cassils and the clay are revealed to the audience, but only for the second that the flash illuminates the room.

This a wonderful archive that uniquely represents queer culture. It is an interesting way to think about gender. Often times, we analyze gender as male, female, unisex or in transition. All of these gender identities reinforce the gender binary. Even though transgender individuals challenge the concept of cisgender, it reinforces the notion that you can only be one gender or the other.  But, Cassils challenges this binary and the concept of gender which really makes zir audience think. Why is gender so salient in our society? Why can’t humans beings be just that? Cassils’ work makes zir audience evaluate the relevancy of gender in a beautiful and artistic way.

In class, we discussed how Trans* Identity may in fact reiterate the gender binary by saying “I don’t feel like I am X, I feel like I am Y.” Because of this, Cassils provides a unique view to trans* identity in a way that does not emphasis the dichotomy of gender. Similarly, while I analyzed my archive, our reading by Leslie Feinberg came to mind. Ze talks about how “unnerving” ze is to people because of zirs mix of masculine and feminine traits. Ze talks about how the root of this issue is that the norm is a gender binary. If the binary is eliminated and gender is reared irrelevant people would not have to rely so heavily on gender cues and a lack of gender cues would not trigger such confusion.

Quoted above, this archive calls into question many relevant roles that contribute to our perceptions of gender. Those who witness gender are a part of it, those who physically mold gender are a part of it and those who document gender are a part of it. These are all things to keep in mind for how we can eliminate such rigid definitions of gender and enforce a continuity of being human rather than being gendered.

“Gender” By Thiago Antonucci

Thiago Antonucci is a relatively unknown artist who recently became a powerful hit to those who tumbl (Tumblr blog users). A photo series on Behance.net was released called “Gender” by the artist. The series was then picked up by tumblr user irakalan. The cartoon picture of the user irakalan bears an uncanny resemblance to Thiago Antonucci. I suspect that the two could be the same person but Antonucci seems to be keeping a low profile. Maybe in an attempt to make his work more powerful by letting it take the center stage instead of him as an artist.

I dived into the depths of the internet (something I would not recommend) to find Antonucci but only surfaced with an old facebook and barely used twitter account. The tumblr account that I suspect could be Antonucci, is fairly filled with other art and beautiful things, but nothing biographical that would help me in my search. I came to the conclusion that I would have to let the art shine through and be the main topic of this post instead of the mysterious Antonucci.

Before I go on posting these beautiful and powerful works of art, I will warn you, there is nudity and in some cases could be a trigger for trans individuals who suffer from this bodily disconnect.

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In these photos, individuals are depicted naked and holding up photoed genital of another to their body. Some are shown as couples and others are shown as individuals who are struggling alone. Only one photo features an individual whose genitalia is not replaced. Instead, the person is holding up the face of another. These eight photos are not just beautiful but they also create a powerful thought process in the audience. it shows the feeling of disconnect that many trans individuals may feel. I myself find this feeling so hard to relate to because it is something that I have never struggled with but these photos give a visual representation of that feeling. Many of the authors that we have read and discussed have felt these feelings or discusses them in their work. I think it helps not only the class, but any audience member, to see this work and imagine the feelings that go along with it.

I chose this as my archival project because of the lack of information on Antonucci. I think this series is important and I would hate the lack of the artists face to make this series forgotten. I also think that it helps redefine gender as a nonbinary idea. What I really like is that not all the person’s genitals are covered. by allowing breasts and a penis to live on the same body, this series is gender fluid and tries its best to include all the genders in the spectrum.

As this archive is constructed, I believe that powerful and thought provoking posts will be added and a wonderful collection will be established.