by Vatsala SethiNov 30, 2022
Over the years we have seen excreta converted to innovative art masterpieces. Visual artists have left a legacy behind incorporating this extremely non-traditional medium of art. This year we will witness the extraordinary work of Cassils, a performance artist, personal trainer, and a bodybuilder from Montreal, Quebec in Canada, who is currently based in Los Angeles, California, being showcased at a museum. They have approached their work called PISSED in a non-conventional, conceptual way by creating a minimalist glass cube. The cube contains 200 gallons of glowing urine and is installed high on a pedestal. PISSED is now a part of the permanent collection of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in the United States.
Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art was formerly known as Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art. The museum is based in SoHo, Lower Manhattan, New York City. The transgender artist states that the tank of glowing urine on the pedestal manifests what may seem abstract in discussion: the physical burden placed on an individual body when bathroom access is restricted by discriminatory policy. PISSED is a collection of all the liquid excreted by the artist in the 200 days following the then US President Donald Trump’s administration’s 2017 rollback of an Obama-era executive order allowing transgender students to use the bathroom matching their chosen gender identities. “It seems insane that I have to make a cube of piss for people to get this idea. I shouldn’t have to make this. I shouldn’t have to hold my urine. It’s crazy that we have to go to these extremes but this is the culture that we are living in,” says the contemporary artist.
Cassils began collecting every drop of their urine over 200 days, after which they invited the audience to witness the final acts that would complete the durational sculpture PISSED. The conceptual artist stood on a platform above the audience in front of a grid of 255 orange medical bottles. The orange medical bottles displayed were marked with the date of urine capture. The artist shared the deeply human acts of standing, drinking, and urinating. Fountain marked the final two hours of a 4,800-hour performance. The glowing urine tank, PISSED, is contextualised by a four-channel audio installation that features the oral arguments from the case of Gavin Grimm, the transgender male teen who became the face of transgender rights in his fight to use the boys' bathroom in a school in Virginia. According to the artist, in the fall of 2017, Grimm’s case was accepted, and shortly thereafter rejected, by the Supreme Court— thus staying a decision by the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals which prevents Gavin from using the boys' bathroom to this day. Over the two hours of the audio composition, the audience hears the ignorance of Bible-quoting adults juxtaposed with the crisp, simple clarity of Gavin’s plea to pee against a sonic landscape of water flowing and flushing. The artist worked with a sound artist to slowly submerge the arguments underwater.
Collecting, preserving and exhibiting works made by LGBTQ artists or art regarding LGBTQ+ topics, problems, and people, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art is dedicated to LGBTQ+ art and fostering the artists who create it. Cassils' work may represent and speak in violence, confinement and condemnation, but eventually, their art is about recasting those experiences into something useful - like converting urine to sculptural art. Cassils believes that “as much as we need rituals for anger, we need rituals for healing and rituals for witnessing each other’s pain.”
Contemplating the history(s) of LGBTQI+ violence, representation, struggle and survival, the trans artist makes their own body the material and protagonist of their performances. Performance being a form of social sculpture for the visual artist, and drawing from the idea that bodies are formed concerning forces of power and social expectations, Cassils' work investigates historical contexts to examine the present moment.
(Text by Vatsala Sethi, Assistant Editorial Coordinator (Arts))