Feminist Interview Project: Cassils in Conversation with Amelia Jones

The Feminist Interview Project, organized by Katherine Guinness and Jocelyn Marshall on behalf of CAA’s Committee for Women in the Arts, examines the practices of feminism by interviewing a range of scholars and artists, preserving oral histories while expanding the boundaries of what might be considered feminist. Throughout its interviews, this project reimagines the possibilities of feminist practice and feminist futures.

For our ongoing collaboration with Art Journal Open, the Feminist Interview Project is excited to present artist Cassils in conversation with Amelia Jones, the Robert A. Day Professor and Vice Dean of Faculty and Research at the Roski School of Art and Design. The two met for a conversation over Zoom on May 18, 2022, in Los Angeles.

Cassils, Self Portrait (image © Cassils; provided by the artist)

Amelia Jones: I’m happy to be here with the artist Cassils. We’re actually speaking to each other from across Los Angeles—the irony of being on Zoom when you’re in the same city! My first question is super basic, and I’m really curious to hear your answer. What is feminism to you?

Cassils: I grappled with that a little bit. Because as you know, feminism has mutated and changed so much. It means many different things in different contexts. But I think basically what it boiled down to—I did write this answer out—is that when I think of feminism, and specifically in relationship to art, I think of it as something that seeks to challenge the dominance of men in both art and society and to gain recognition and equality for artists that are not cisgendered men and to question assumptions about womanhood.

AJ: Maybe we’ll expand on that as we go along. I’ve been talking a lot to people in Europe about this issue because it’s very advanced in this country [the United States], these conversations around what we even mean by “woman,” which is crucial to any discussion around feminism based on “women’s rights.” What feminist artists have been inspirational to you and why? And here, because you’ve addressed historic feminist art so directly in your practice, you could certainly reference that, but I’d love to hear maybe a broader concept of feminist art as well, that goes beyond the kind of classic feminist artists.

C: Well, there is of course the classics that I have referenced in my work like Eleanor Antin, Lynda Benglis, Carolee Schneemann. I think part of my reason for finding performance in the first place was when I was in my early twenties, in the late ’90s, I had the honor of working under Martha Wilson, who ran Franklin Furnace. I was an intern there for four years and had a very unofficial mass exposure and education to a bevy of really incredible performance art from the 1970s onward. I’d say that sort of education led me into interests such as the founding of the Womanhouse [at CalArts near Los Angeles], which prompted my interest in wanting to come to CalArts actually—although that is a very varied history in CalArts—and I think only maybe now very recently will they tend to dip a toe into it, but it was certainly a point of curiosity for me. There of course, I was fortunate to have professors Kaucyila Brooke, Nancy Buchanan, and Millie Wilson. I’d say both of those women informed my work. Also, artists whose work I became more familiar with later in life simply because of institutional racism and what makes it into the canon or not is something like Howardena Pindell’s Free White and Twenty-One [1980]. Of course, the works of Ana Mendieta and Tania Bruguera are deeply important as Cuban artists. And then of course, classics like Yoko Ono. And I would like to qualify early Marina Abramović work. Rachel Rosenthal, you know, when artists who use the body worked with animals. All these artists think about not just what it means to be a “woman,” but also how these address issues of race and of class. Of course, there’s someone like Adrian Piper, who had a tremendous influence on me. And actually my mother [laughs] accidentally met Adrian Piper at a yoga retreat when I was in the midst of applying to CalArts, and my mother was very concerned about my future as an artist. She had no idea who Adrian Piper was and Adrian Piper told her that, you know, I was on a good path. So, I feel like I’ve had a blessing from on high and from Adrian Piper to pursue my path. And then artists like Genesis P-orridge—kind of problematic in many ways, but the works around plastic surgery certainly influenced me. Senga Nengudi, her work—not so much the pantyhose sculptures although I do love those—but the sort of community work and happenings that were these cross pollination with jazz musicians under freeways, reading the work of Audre Lorde. Discovering the [Lorde] book Zami: A New Spelling of My Name [1982] was really revelatory to me and very empowering, [as was recently discovering] Urvashi Vaid, an incredible Indian-born American LGBT rights activist, lawyer, and writer who was very active in the LGBT movement and held a series of roles at the National LGBTQ Task Force.

So that’s just an incomplete list that had a real impression. And if anything, I really look to this lineage. I look to artists as way of thinking through the problems of today. You know, I didn’t really come from a family of artists—or, my grandmother was an artist, but it was not something that was really spoken about, [it was] something that she gave up to have children, that was kind of the extent of the discussion, and I knew that she was very talented, and I know that she was crestfallen and sad. But beyond that, I didn’t have a lot of people modeling what it could be like to be an artist and to think radically. And so often, when I’m in the crux of a kind of world moment, where I’m trying to figure out how to figure my own agency, I often look to the work of my artist-ancestors. I think of them as a sort of ancestral lineage and as guides, to kind of evoke how they addressed those issues as they were contextualized in their time, and that often allows me a framework in which to imagine the future.

So, as you mentioned in your question, looking at someone like Eleanor Antin for a work that I was invited to make for Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions in 2011, around the Pacific Standard Time Initiative, on looking at the history of performance in Southern California. I chose to work with Eleanor Antin’s CARVING: A Traditional Sculpture [1972] and Lynda Benglis’advertisement for Artforum [1974]. I was struck by how these two women had incredibly different sorts of tactics for grappling with this issue of exclusion from a larger art world, the sort of limits of the glass ceiling, and invoked very different sorts of tactics. Eleanor Antin crash dieted for seventy-two days as her body wasted to speak in a tongue in cheek way about traditional notions of sculpture, which show how a male artist gazes upon a block of marble and [supposedly] finds its beauty within its form. And thinking about how that sort of narrative could apply to the idea of the male gaze falling upon the female body and pressing upon it a sort of expectation to manifest. Her tactic was delivered in these very formal, very strict ways, and reminds me of a sort of male conceptual language of these anatomical figurations, these indexical images of her form for anatomical positions. And then Benglis, who at the time took out an advertisement in Artforum magazine and inserted this—to this day—very shocking and incredible image of her as a pinup, naked with tan lines, cat-eye glasses perched on the tip of her nose, with a giant double ended dildo inserted into her genitalia. It spoke to the sorts of lengths to which a woman at the time would have to go to get into a magazine as critically acclaimed as Artforum. So those are the two artists whose work I referenced in my piece CUTS: A Traditional Sculpture. Instead of enacting this kind of feminine act of wasting, I was curious as to how I could manipulate my body as both instrument and image and think about the material conditions of my body—much as Antin had done—to extrapolate and press back upon expectations of gender as related to trans identity in 2011—which was very different than what it is to talk about trans identity today in 2022. It’s only been, you know, ten years. A tremendous sort of vernacular and proliferation of language and bodies have come forth since then. So that’s just one example.

AJ: I love that example. It’s so concrete, and literally so, because you use your body to redo those classic pieces. It’s a great segue to my next question: How has your relationship to feminism changed as you have developed your practice and your relationship to normative gender has shifted? And I would be curious to hear more about how you perceive the last ten years in terms of your own practice in your relationship to trans identity.

C: I made Tiresias in 2010. It’s an artwork in which I invoke the mythological figure of the blind prophet Tiresiaswho was transformed from a man into a woman by Zeus as a form of punishment. At that time, in 2010, there were no words like nonbinary, gender-fluid, gender nonconforming; these were not common, even within the queer community. I’d never heard of them, even the word cisgender, you know, these things didn’t exist yet. I was trying to find a place for myself in the trans community . . . I would try to make these entries into these communities and I would be rejected time and again, because I hadn’t had surgical alterations or been committed to injecting big pharma into my body on the daily—not that there’s anything wrong with that—but it was not a decision that I wanted to make at that time for my body. And because of that, I felt I was being sort of excluded and punished by certain arms of the trans community, because I was not read in a binary position. Of course, now, this is incredibly different. I will do a lecture at a university and to my surprise find that 50 percent of the room uses they/them pronouns. Some of those students, to me, don’t really present as any different than, maybe, a cisgendered sort of representation. And so the ways in which we’ve been talking about these things, and the ways in which especially young people are activating these issues, is really inspiring and incredible. Someone who constantly blows my mind is the young poet-performer Alok Vaid-Menon. I feel like most of their performance is—not to undermine their literary contribution—their presence on social media and their articulation of their position in relation to politics, which is so well thought through. For me, reading their words and being in conversation with them as a friend, I find the vision they have in which gender can unfurl in relationship to everything from immigrant detention, to class, to race, to geopolitics is very important. So, I feel like the younger artists are really taking up the mantle and bringing it someplace that I don’t think I would have been able to find words for yet. We’re all finding the words—and in fact, I wasn’t finding words, I was finding imagery. I was creating imagery. And I did have, for example, a young trans man look at one of my works and say, “You know, if I’d seen this image ten years ago, I would have made different decisions with my body.”

I think the job of artists is to move—move beyond language or ahead of language in many ways. That’s what artists do. But I would also be remiss to not answer this question by noting something that is really important to think about in relation to my complicated relationship to feminism: which is that as a trans person, we can’t think about feminism without addressing the trans-exclusionary radical feminists (TERFs) who have really become much more prevalent, unfortunately, in today’s society.1 Although initially in the US, it has now become a global phenomenon. And there’s this very creepy way that refer to themselves: “gender critical.” That, to me, feels akin to white supremacists calling themselves race realists. The presence of TERFs and their position in relationship to feminism is unfortunate. The importance of making a distinction between feminist ideologies and TERF ideologies is essential. The presence of TERF’s and their co-opting of feminism must be called out. There is no place for transphobia. Scholar and activist Emi Koyama has articulated transfeminism as “a movement by and for trans women who view their liberation to be intrinsically linked to the liberation of all women and beyond.”2 Koyama notes that it “is also open to other queers, intersex people, trans men, non-trans women, non-trans men and others who are sympathetic toward needs of trans women and consider their alliance with trans women to be essential for their own liberation.”3 I also wanted to mention that because it’s part of the discourse and it feels conflictual, as do many sorts of histories of feminism where there were moments of exclusion around race and biology. This is nothing new. This is something that’s been going on since the very beginning.

AJ: The person who pops to mind for me is Sandy Stone, who has just done such a beautiful job of honoring the shifting terrain of identifying the body and oneself. It’s baffling why that would be threatening. But I think it’s a generational issue. It tends to be a generation slightly older than mine who are the most threatened by these kinds of challenges to the concept of woman.

C: I would say it’s actually very active right now in public discourse on Twitter. It’s not just older people.

AJ: No, it’s not only older people, but I think that’s how it first emerged with Janice Raymond.4 You can see why lots of people will take advantage of that discourse and feed it to younger groups of people who will develop it. Maybe this is a good point to talk about these questions in relation to you working solo versus working collaboratively. Is that part of your feminism, to work collaboratively? I know how hard you work when you work with other artists to not to put yourself forward, which has a complex history within feminist art. There’s this kind of—and I don’t want to caricaturize this, because I myself have historicized the complexity of this—but, there’s the Judy Chicago model, which is perceived as being a person working, always under the guise of her own authorship, which I respect, because she’s always been very clear about that. But then there are other models that come out of feminism and queer community and other forms of anti-racism and so on, that are very much about questioning those forms of authority. So maybe you could talk about that in relation to one or more of your projects. I mean In Plain Sight jumps to mind.

C: I’d say my first foray into collaboration was truly working with the Toxic Titties at CalArts. I pursued my MFA there from 2000 to 2002 and worked with Clover Leary and Julia Steinmetz [forming this collective]. I went to study at CalArts because I was interested in community, and I was interested in being around people that were going to invest in a creative dialogue. I was excited to have the opportunity to just soak in that 24/7 for two years. What I ended up finding—perhaps naively—was trust fund kids who kept their studios under lock and key, assessing their work to get it primed for sale. And this was just disgusting to me. I feel like Julia and Clover and I had this kind of stomp-footed reaction and started to embrace the history of feminist discourse around process over product. And, in fact, what we did was fight constantly for two years—but we would call it “productive disagreement.” And I feel like I learned more about how to be in a relationship . . . during that sort of artistic practice—how to listen, how to compromise. That was, in many ways, a monogamous art practice. We worked together for eight to ten years. We all had different exit dates.

AJ: I want to just point out for people [reading] this that the poster behind me was produced under the aegis of Toxic Titties when I was invited to speak. And that’s when I met all of you. So, it’s just kind of a fun detail.

Amelia Jones points to artwork by Toxic Titties during the interview, May 18, 2022 (image provided by Amelia Jones)

C: And we invited you because, as I was saying, there was a sort of erasure of the history of the feminist movement at CalArts. The F word symposium5 was right before we got there, but students had been looking through the archives—a bunch of archives had been thrown in the trash—and they found all this detritus that spoke to the history of Womanhouse and the students were like, “What is this?” And from that, came the F Word symposium, and certainly Julia [Steinmetz]—who of the three of us is the most engaged in theoretical and art historical discourse—was very familiar with your work and thought it was an imperative that we invite you. She was the head of the Visiting Artists Program. And so that’s where we got to make your acquaintance. I learned a lot from that because it was so much about coming to a place where we all sort of sacrificed our individual visions. I then went on to work very independently for maybe five or six years, starting in 2007 or 2008. I was feeling the expression of what it was like to work on my own and to make works without having to run things by other people. These things that I wanted to do were probably pretty extreme, and maybe not something that other people would want to do. I was giving myself a chance and sort of agency to just make solo projects. Of course, still working with people to manifest them, but thinking of them more as people who I would create fair labor agreements with and contract for skill sets that I would then curate. But then I started to work again collaboratively, and have done that for the last, maybe, six years. I’ve been really invested in making both small-scale and large-scale collaborations.

The work that you’re alluding to, In Plain Sight, was a piece made in 2020. The discussions commenced in 2019—before COVID, before uprisings. I had been part of an encrypted social thread between artists who were speaking to what was going on with the Trump administration in relationship to immigrant detention.6 And as an artist, who is yes, white, and yes, Canadian, I still struggled a lot with my own immigration experience, despite coming from [the Global North] and having a master’s degree. A lot of it is also having access to money and legal funds, to which I did not have access to when I was younger. Also being queer and being trans got me into all sorts of trouble at the border because there are there very, very transphobic and homophobic policies put in place by the TSA. I mean, I even hesitate to talk about my own experience, because it’s so much safer and more privileged than someone who is coming from Haiti or Uganda. Their life is at stake in their home country, they leave only to be met by a for-profit immigrant detention system that makes money off of locking them up, and not giving them their asylum cases. I do not represent that. But I only bring it up because it gave me a tiny slice of insight into how impossible that system is. And it’s something that US citizens know nothing about unless they’ve directly experienced immigrating to another country. And so yes, I absolutely felt compelled to make some kind of action and work with other artists around this issue. It was one of those things where I was harkening back to the work by Emory Douglas, who was a minister of propaganda for the Black Panther Party, who I saw speak at LACE. He said to us, the audience, who were there desperately, in the time of the Trump administration, waiting for words of wisdom to drop from his mouth, and he just said, “the purpose of art is to inspire a culture of change.” And I do believe that. I do believe in the power that art can do that, that art can become a monkey wrench into the subconscious and allow us to look at the world in a different way.

Cassils and rafa esparza, In Plain Sight: SHAME #DEFUNDHATE, July 3, 2020, sky type over the Los Angeles Geo Group Headquarters (photo by Robin Black; provided by the artist)

Working with rafa [esparza] on this idea, we used the nation’s largest fleet of sky typing airplanes to sky type messages written by eighty artists across different sites—everything from detention facilities to federal courts to borders, and sites of other historic relevance like former Japanese American internment camps. And to demarcate in the sky, what is so often unseen and upwardly upheld on the ground, these hidden sites of immigrant detention and incarceration that are paid for often by our tax dollars. It was really an artwork that was not about making an artwork about immigrant detention, which I think delineates it from a practice like a social practice, because this wasn’t about making art, it was about how can we as artists serve the immigrant justice organizations that have been doing this work for so very long? With their boots on the ground? How can we uplift their message—and not only how can we pierce through the white noise and the rhetoric of this incredibly polarized moment, to actually use the poetry of artistic language to make people curious? And also make them enraged? Or make them inspired? The work was very much about direct action upon seeing a sky-typed message. You could search it on Instagram, or search on the web, it would take you to our website. We had constructed a map and you could enter your zip code and it would tell you where the closest immigrant detention center was. This map was vetted and created in coalition with Freedom for Immigrants. There was a tremendous amount of vetting with each site; making sure that everything was—because these sites, kind of like our shadow sites, would fall in the night and resurrect—so making sure that we had the inroads with the people that really knew what was going on, so that we could keep current. And then from that, we also gave people ways in which they could leverage their position, whether it be writing certain politicians, if you had no money. But if you had money to contribute, we raised thousands and thousands of dollars in immigrant bond funds. We also had a massive campaign around voting.

It was an incredible, tremendous team effort. There was an incredible impact coordinator, Set Hernandez Rongkilyo, who is an organizer and undocumented filmmaker from the Philippines. They have deep roots in social justice movements in Los Angeles, and they really helped create this very robust network of seventeen immigrant justice organizations. And due to COVID, we were all able to get on Zoom, which is not something that you could have done before. We were able to hold these brain trusts where we would bring our artists in to listen to the concerns of the immigrant justice organizations and then the artists would go back to the drawing board and come up with ideas that would be in service to what was discussed. It was a very different model. I think the thing that really differentiated it was the notion of impact campaign, which is something that I heard about only in documentary filmmaking. It’s a crude analogy, but kind of like PR for political change. How can art—literally the stories, the media—be brought towards the change makers, who have their fingers on the buttons to affect policy. So PJ Raval, the filmmaker that we’re working with currently to create the In Plain Sight documentary series, had made a film called Call Her Ganda, which was about Jennifer Laude, a trans sex worker in the Philippines who had been murdered with impunity by Marines. And PJ himself is both American and Filipino and occupies this kind of fraught, dual identity of nationhood and having a passport of the colonizer and the colonized. He made this film that traced the trajectory of Laude’s mother, who came from very humble origins and despite her limited means hired two excellent civil rights lawyers. And this woman despite being a sex worker, and despite being trans became a symbol of anti-imperialism for the Filipino people. PJ captured this entire story. That story was brought before the Senate and changed the ways in which the Marines are now allowed to operate in the Philippines. So, when I heard about that, I was like, “Why aren’t artists working with an impact campaign?” That really became an inspiring moment to seek out PJ and seek out Set. Set had worked with PJ on this impact campaign. It was an urgent issue; this was not the time for symbolism and metaphor. And that’s perfect for art in certain moments. I’m not saying that art shouldn’t just be that because it can be, but for this particular issue, we needed it to be a tool.

AJ: I hope that we have equally inspiring work being done around voting in 2024. It’s equally important. That work has an interesting audience, right? A global audience. What about the work that you’ve done, even recently, where you’re activating your body, which is a very clearly powerful and gendered body, but gendered in a way that many people would find confusing if they’re not used to the trans community? How do you relate to that audience? And, more specifically, art audience of some of the works that I’ve seen—like at the Broad, or at Performance Studies international? I feel like your work is really in dialogue with the people in the room. In a powerful way that’s quite different from those group projects, which have a different valence.

C: For sure. I think—I don’t necessarily have a strong position on it—different artworks in different moments call for different strategies and different sort of modes of employment or deployment. I think I’d say my earlier works were very much about literally hijacking the physiology of the audience; really bringing them into this notion of questioning what it is to witness. You don’t get to passively experience; you’re plunged into darkness. The only way in which you’re able to see the work is through this sort of retinal burn, which functions differently in everybody’s eyeball, depending on the physiology of their eye. So, thinking about mediation, thinking about technology and its role in creating empathy or apathy, and really building the document, and the audience and their role as audience into the work itself. I’d say that in 2015 maybe, my work took a bit of a turn, where instead of trying to confront the audience, I started to think about ways in which I could make work more for the trans and queer community. And if the audience was there to witness it, that was fine. But it was no longer about shaking the cis/het audience. It was more about “this is a moment for us.” Monument Push, for example, where I took this two-thousand-pound bronze sculpture to Omaha, Nebraska. Sites were picked by local community members to speak to—these hidden sites of violence like the Douglas County Correctional Services facility, which is the largest prison in the Midwest. That was where one artist and activist we worked with, Dominique Morgan, had been put into solitary confinement because she was at that point an out queer man who turned tricks to survive. She is now a trans woman and one of the key leaders behind the Black and Pink movement, which is an incredible organization involved in letter writing campaigns to incarcerated LGBT youth. Dominique had chosen Douglas County Correctional Facility because of the disproportionate amount of LGBT youth of color that are incarcerated there.

Another site we chose was the site of the first ever Pride parade in Omaha, which was held back in the early 1980s. People were so ashamed to march in parades that they wore paper shopping bags over their heads. The founder of the Pride parade—this is an older man who had come to see me lecture—said, “You know, I really don’t understand this relationship to transness and how it rolls on from the LGBT movement.” I said, “Come to this performance,” and I did not know that he was the founder of the parade. He just seemed like an older gay man to me, and I didn’t know his role in the community. But then he understood Dominique’s site and the reason why she had chosen that site, and Dominique was able to then witness the site of the first Pride parade. We pushed the sculpture down the route of the parade—and understand that this elder was confused initially about the trans issues—but then when all these young gender nonconforming kids came to help him push the sculpture down the route that he had paved, and for him to learn about the incarceration rates of youth, specifically youth of color, it was about creating and weaving this performance for the, supposedly, umbrella of LGBT community—which is actually very striated and separated. So, I’m really starting to think more about how we can make works about bringing ourselves together. I’m inspired by someone like Patrisse Cullors and noé olivas [and Alexandre Dorriz] with the Crenshaw Dairy Mart. Artists who are doing things that are about creating the culture that we want to see, and I’m making these spaces for healing in these moments that are just so politically devastating that we continue to live through.

AJ: That’s a beautiful example of a very specific case of creating community where you’re connecting generations. You’re creating a way for them to see what the other side is doing and be part of the same community, at least for that moment. That’s so powerful. I’ve heard you say some very inspiring things, so I know you have a lot to say to students, or younger generation artists who are emerging. And speaking of generations, now that you’re a mid-career artist how do you think about what to bring to younger generations and what advice would you give? And what would you learn from younger generations? I know I’ve learned a lot from the students in my classroom. And that’s one of the great privileges of teaching, which you will be doing soon.7

C: I remember I had an amazing teacher when I was at Nova Scotia College of Art Design during my undergrad [1994–97], Jan Peacock, who’s also an amazing feminist media artist. She warned me in class one day: “You know, when you graduate, most people are going to actually be happy if you wake up in the morning, and don’t make art.” We live in a culture that does not appreciate art, that does not care for art, and in the US, does not fund art. Artists are pushed into these sorts of systems and worlds where they have to function within a commercial context in order to survive economically. Around the world, artists—and art education—are being trimmed back. Art is a necessity. I think art saved my life; if I had not been able to have access to my creative side, or my ability to create, I don’t know if I would be alive today. I think that one of the most important things we can do for each other is to create community for each other as artists. When I teach, one of the very first things I do is circulate a mutual aid document8 and really impress upon young people that this is the network of expansion. And that as a young artist the way that I was able to get going and to keep my overhead low was to be generous and to share skill sets. We would crew for each other, we would trade, we would just really uplift each other’s creative visions. And there’s such a beautiful strong community of artists here in LA that do that for each other. It is absolutely imperative to have those kinds of external networks of support that don’t rely on funds alone. Of course, we need funds, right? That’s a reality, but what are the ways that we can use our creative enterprises and brains to outthink capitalism? To create the structures that exist outside of the anointed spaces of large museums?

For example, when we tried to make In Plain Sight no one would fund us. I would have curators from large museums tell me, “There’s a million reasons why I can’t write you a check.” And then we would get funding from surprising spaces, like the Center for Cultural Power. There are like-minded people out there, there is funding out there, there are ways to manifest, but we have to use our creative brains and strategies to invent new ways. That’s part of being an artist; there’s the act of making art, and then there’s thinking artistically—and by that, I mean creatively—about a way to usurp these larger systems. I would suggest that people embrace that. And if they feel like they’re being saddled with rejections and they’re coming up against roadblock against roadblock? That is part of it, and it’s not easy. But that just means that rather than take No for an answer, you have to reinvent the Yes. And you have to reinvent the Why, and you have to dig your own door. That’s been my experience.

And then, in terms of what I learned from younger people—I think growing up as sort of Gen Xers, where my elders, my queer elders died, there was such a long shadow cast by AIDS, and all the lives it took, and all the young creatives it took. I grew up before the internet, so, I grew up before there was instant community online—there wasn’t room for being sensitive and vulnerable. You had to kind of “Buck up,” and you know, your elders died, so you’re not going to complain, you’re not going to be sensitive. There’s a kind of harshness, and a sort of armature that I had to create myself to get through the world to a certain point. And I think that the sort of scrutiny around patriarchy and around these larger systems of racism that no longer serve us, these are also giving way to these ideas of joy, of tenderness, the value of care—and I don’t mean self-care, I mean it as self-care being care for each other. And I really feel like younger generations really expect and demand more: moresensitivity, less armature. And that has been a gift to me.

AJ: Wow, it’s very powerful. I feel some of that same thing. And I’m kind of surprised. I think partly because of social media, they’re so good at just being present with their reactions and their feelings. And it’s something we have to learn to relate to in a positive way, rather than through our own armature.

C: Well, I think we came up in a time where patriarchy was the only option. You kind of had to find a way to exist within it. And what’s exciting now is that there’s—and it’s not fully undone by any stretch of the imagination—but there is a refusal. There’s more at stake. And there’s more refusal, and there’s a dismantling at hand. And equally—obviously—the threat of that dismantling is making the current political situation that we’re living through around Roe v. Wade, and the incredible number of horrific, racially motivated white supremacist shootings that are occurring. We have this moment where there is going to be a purging there is like that last death gasp, you know, and so I feel like we’re in this moment right now, where we’re coming up against the catalyst of that cleansing—the purging of that toxicity, and I’m really excited for that moment.

AJ: Thank you so much. Every time I talk to you, I learn more.

C: Thank you, Amelia. I appreciate your work and the support that you bring to artists and the voice and the space you’ve carved out for us. All the work that you’ve done to uplift artists that would otherwise not be seen.

CASSILS is a Canadian transgender artist who makes their body the material and protagonist of their performances. Cassils’s art contemplates the history(s) of LGBTQI+ violence, representation, struggle, and empowerment. For Cassils, performance is a form of social sculpture. Drawing from the idea that bodies are formed in relation to forces of power and social expectations, Cassils’s work investigates historical contexts to examine the present moment.

An associate professor in Sculpture and Integrated Practices at Pratt Institute, Cassils is the recipient of, among other recognitions, the USA Artist Fellowship, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the 2020 Fleck Residency from the Banff Center for the Arts, a Villa Bellagio Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship, a Princeton Lewis Artist Fellowship finalist, Museum of Transgender Hirstory award, and the inaugural ANTI Festival International Prize for Live Art. Their work has been featured in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Wired, The Guardian, Artforum, Transgender Studies Quarterly, QED: A Journal in GLBTQ Worldmaking, Places Journal, and October, and has presented and performed at, among other venues, Walter Phillips Gallery Banff Center for Arts and Creativity; California Museum of Photography; SITE Santa Fe; MASS MoCA; Oakland Museum of California; Kunstpalais, Erlangen, Germany;  MUCEM, Marseille; the Broad, Los Angeles; the National Theatre, London; MONA, Hobart, Tasmania; Sundance International Film Festival, Park City, Utah; and the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Upcoming solo exhibition venues include the Walter Phillips Gallery, Banff Center for Arts and Creativity, California Museum of Photography, and SITE Santa Fe.

Amelia Jones is Robert A. Day Professor and Vice Dean at Roski School of Art and Design, USC. Her books include, In Between Subjects: A Critical Genealogy of Queer Performance (Routledge, 2021); the exhibition catalogue Queer Communion: Ron Athey (Intellect, 2020), coedited with Andy Campbell; Otherwise: Imagining Queer Feminist Art Histories, coedited with Erin Silver (Manchester University Press, 2016); and Seeing Differently: A History and Theory of Identification and the Visual Arts (Routledge, 2012).  

  1. TERF was first used to define feminists who refused to recognize trans women as women, it is now more broadly used to describe those with transphobic and trans-exclusionary views who are not necessarily feminist. In fact, it is the opinion of this editor, and many feminists, that trans-exclusionary viewpoints are inherently un-feminist and non-intersectional. The term has been attributed as first used by blogger Viv Smyth. See also, “Introduction Trans/Feminisms,” Susan Stryker, Talia M. Bettcher, Transgender Studies Quarterly, 3, 1–2: 5–14.
  2. Emi Koyama, “The Transfeminist Manifesto,” in Catching a Wave: Reclaiming Feminism for the Twenty-First Century (Northeastern University Press, 2003), ed. Rory Dicker and Alison Piepmeier (Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2003).
  3. Ibid.
  4. Janice Raymond (b. 1943) is professor emerita of women’s studies and medical ethics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. While much of her research and advocacy worked against the medical abuse, sexual exploitation, and human trafficking of women, she also published the book The Transsexual Empire: The Making of the She-Male. This book, among other problematic and inflammatory sentiments, maintained that transgender people, through nothing other than their own identity, colonized and invaded female-identifying bodies and subject positions. Transexual Empire directly discussed and attempted to out media theorist and performance artist Sandy Stone (b. 1936), specifically through her involvement in the Olivia Records Collective. When Raymond reached out to the collective, they defended Stone. However, by 1979 dissension over Stone’s identity had grown to the point that she left the collective and, in 1987, wrote “The Empire Strikes Back: A Posttranssexual Manifesto.” This text is considered the founding text of academic transgender studies and, in part, a rebuttal of Raymond’s work.
  5. “The F-Word: Contemporary Feminisms and the Legacy of the Los Angeles Feminist Art Movement,” was a symposium held in September and October of 1998 at CalArts. Organized by the Feminist Art Workshops (FAWS), a group of CalArts students and faculty, the symposium emerged from the discovery that CalArts previously had a Feminist Art Program, then forgotten, only discovered, to use the words of Mira Schor, “when a librarian found evidence of what one might argue was one of the school’s most important contributions to late twentieth-century art history being consigned to the dumpster. Also, a trove of archival video material, both documentary and fictional, from the 1970s had just recently been put out on the street for garbage collection by the woman who had stored it in her home for twenty years. Providentially, at the last minute, an archive took in this material. Thus, in less than thirty years, large chunks of the accomplishments of the feminist art movement in the United States had fallen out of history and very nearly out of existence.” “Contemporary Feminism: Art Practice, Theory, and Activism—An Intergenerational Perspective,” Mira Schor, Emma Amos, Susan Bee, Johanna Drucker, María Fernández, Amelia Jones, Shirley Kaneda, Helen Molesworth, Howardena Pindell, Collier Schorr and Faith Wilding, Art Journal, vol. 58, 4 (Winter 1999) 23–24.
  6. An encrypted social thread (or platform) is simply a method of secure communication which prevents third parties from accessing data while it is transferred between parties (one end system or device to another). Only the intended receiver can access, or decrypt the information sent. This technology makes it more difficult for social media platforms to share information with authorities, and for hackers to gain access to it.
  7. Cassils has recently taken a position as an associate professor of sculpture and integrated practices at the Pratt Institute. As they announced on April 28, 2002: “I’m moving from the meat of the gym and bringing my visceral work to the learned tower.”
  8. A mutual aid document is a document, most often a Google document or other electronic form, used by a mutual aid group. In mutual aid systems, groups work collectively to meet the needs of everyone in a community. It’s not an act of charity but of solidarity and collectivity that breaks out beyond governmental institutions and services. See also, “So You Want to Get Involved in Mutual Aid,” by Amanda Arnold, The Cut, Sept. 30, 2020.