Becoming an Image: In the Ring with Cassils

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Last night I got to see Heather Cassils perform Becoming an Image. In this performance, Cassils boxes a plinth-like column of clay to the ground. This is done in the dark: the audience enters the room, stands in a ring around the clay sculpture which is lit from above. The room goes black and the artist and photographer are led into the circle. Cassils then attacks the clay – at first you can’t imagine that Cassils will be able to beat it down before “gassing out.”

The photographer (last night it was Manuel Vason) circles Cassils, taking photographs every now and again. The flash illuminates the action – but you of course don’t see action. You only see a flash image, frozen for a second into the retina. It took me a while to conceptually separate my experience of those images from the images captured by Vason’s camera – the image the audience member sees feel distinctly photographic.

For the duration of the approximately 20 minute performance, you hear Cassils breath and grunt like a fighter in the ring. Or a fighter working the bag. It’s gym noise.

I am sure this performance feels very different for people who have boxing or a martial arts practice. Your body knows what is happening to the artist’s body – people train and fight in three-minute rounds for a reason. Punching and kicking is exhausting; these are a technically and physically demanding actions. The more you tire, the harder it is to keep your concentration and hold your form – and if you don’t do the latter, not only will you tire even faster, you’ll hurt yourself. Even if you are fighting a lump of clay. Especially if you are fighting a lump of clay.

Training on a bag is very very hard – and a bag gives to impact. So, if you have some familiarity with the sport this work cites, you know that it is intensely durational. You can hear it in the artist’s breathing – weezing, gasping. A solid block of clay not only doesn’t give – after the performance the artist told me that it seems to push back. It has its own resilience.

Becoming an Image is an engagement with the idea of the object, but it is also a very intense workout with the idea of the athlete, and with the image of the artist. What this performance does to gender – that’s not only another blog post, that’s a whole book.



Gym Music

One of the artists I’m hoping to write about in my next book helped choreograph this ad for Gillette.

That artist is Heather Cassils. Cassils is performing this weekend in Birmingham, UK.

Artist Beatifies a Football Thug

Art historian Przemysław Strożek gave one of the most memorable lectures at the Football 150 Conference, surveying the place of football in Polish contemporary art. He shared sophisticated work exploring the world of ultras – the hooligans, the fights between fans that seem to make the game a theater for social conflict in which all the action happens in the stands. As is the case in a lot of countries, in Poland the stands function like wounds – a place of intense emotion, pain, violence. I’m haunted by this painting by Marcin Maciejowski. Misiek (FC Wisła Kraków supporter) (2004) appears to memorialize an infamous hooligan who threw a knife at Italian footballer Dino Baggio during a championship match. Misiek (nickname for Pawel Michalski) was sent to prison for that and other offenses. Maciejowski’s painting is a record of, a comment on how Misiek is revered by fans.

Lyle Ashton Harris’s Blow Up

Yesterday I spent the day listening to excellent talks on soccer and art. Daniel Haxall, a professor at Kutztown University in Pennsylvania drew our attention to Blow Up, a series of installations by Lyle Ashton Harris. At the center of Blow Up is this shoe advertisement featuring Zindane in a pose that looks an awful lot like that of Manet’s Olympia (scroll down), as she’s being attended to by a black servant.

Lyle Ashton Harris Ready Made

Lyle Ashton Harris, Ready Made, 2001.

Ashton Harris Blow Up Sevilla

Lyle Ashton Harris, Blow Up (Sevilla), 2001


Lyle Ashton Harris, installation view of Blow Up at Scottsdale Museum of Art, 2008

Manet, Olympia, 1863

Manet, Olympia, 1863

Diana Nyad by Catherine Opie (2012)

Diana Nyad by Catherine Opie (2012)

Catherine Opie has taken a range of startling portraits of Diana Nyad. Today, Nyad is closing in on realizing her dream of swimming the distance between Cuba and the United States (without a shark cage). This is her third try in three years. Follow her progress here.

Update: She did it!! 

%d bloggers like this: