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CASSILS MONUMENT PUSH

APRIL 29, 2017 OMAHA, NEBRASKA


ABOUT THE PERFORMANCE Monument Push is the world premiere of a physically intensive four-hour performance by artist Cassils. Along with community members, advocates, and allies, Cassils will push a 1,300 pound bronze monument, titled Resilience Of The 20%, to sites of resistance and violence. The collective body/bodies present during the performance express the role of personal realities within larger cultural narratives and communal experiences— making space for unseen or obliterated histories of marginalized communities in downtown Omaha. Monument Push has six sites that seek to explore spaces of trauma, violence, celebration, resistance, and resilience. The following is a list of locations, reasons locations were chosen, and bios of community collaborators who chose them.


ABOUT THE MONUMENT This performance bookends Cassils solo exhibition, Cassils: Phantom Revenant, which opened with the internationally acclaimed performance Becoming An Image. The monument being pushed, Resilience of the 20%, is a sculpture formed by a series of kicks and punches during a 2013 performance of Becoming An Image. In this piece Cassils attacks a 2,000 pound clay block in total darkness. The bashed clay remnant explores the question: What is the formal shape of a violent attack? This sculpture, a faithful index of every blow, knee, and fist strike was then cast in bronze, rendering a body forged in violence into a thing of beauty and resilience. The once malleable object is monumentalized, reversing the terms of a traditional memorial or monument. bemiscenter.org/monumentpush


1. Douglas County Correctional Center 710 South 17th Street Douglas County Correctional Center, opened in 1979, is the largest jail in the Midwest and is operated by the Douglas County Department of Corrections. The jail is used to house inmates charged with criminal or migration-related offenses. It was designed with 12 housing units that held a total of 200 single bed cells. By 1983, the majority of the single cells were double bunked bringing the capacity to 363 beds. In April 1989, an annex was added to the Correctional Center. Eight dormitory style housing units were added with 354 beds and two isolation cells, bringing the capacity to 719 beds. In June 2005, construction of the Correctional Center was completed, adding nine housing units with 62 beds each and a medical housing unit that can accommodate a combination of 61 male and female inmates. This brings total capacity to 1,453 beds. dccorr.com WHY WAS THIS SITE CHOSEN? LGBTQIA+ youth are particularly at risk for arrest and detention. According to the Equity Project, a collaboration between Legal Services for Children, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the National Juvenile Defender Center, LGBTQIA+ youth are overrepresented in the populations of young people who are at risk of arrest and of those who are confined in juvenile justice facilities in the United States. The Center for American Progress found approximately 300,000 gay, trans, and gender nonconforming youth are arrested or detained each year, 60 percent of whom are Black or Hispanic. These queer youth make up 13–15 percent of the juvenile incarceration system, compared to their overall population of 5–7 percent. Similar to how transgender adults are often placed into solitary confinement, allegedly for their own protection, these youth are “protected” in the same way. Often, however, it is because they are seen as sexual predators rather than potential victims. Courts also commonly assign queer youth to sex offender treatment programs even when convicted of a non-sexual crime. Solitary confinement has also shown to affect the mental health of transgender prisoners. A report filed by Injustice at Every Turn showed 41% of respondents attempted suicide. Transgender people of color, 56% American Indian and 54% multiracial individuals reported attempted suicide. The report also links the over-use of solitary confinement as a factor in the high rate of suicide attempts among transgender people of color within the prison system.


Statistics show that 59 percent of transgender women in male prisons had been sexually assaulted while incarcerated compared to four percent of the male-identified population. Transgender women in male prisons also deal with the risk of forced prostitution by both prison staff and other prisoners. Forced prostitution can occur when a correction officer brings a transgender woman to the cell of a male inmate and locks them in so that the male inmate can rape her. The male inmate will then pay the correction officer in some way and sometimes the correction officer will give the woman a portion of the payment. “Mass incarceration is not a solution to unemployment, nor is it a solution to the vast array of social problems that are hidden away in a rapidly growing network of prisons and jails. However, the great majority of people have been tricked into believing in the efficacy of imprisonment, even though the historical record clearly demonstrates that prisons do not work.” —Angela Davis, author of Masked Racism: Reflections on the Prison Industrial Complex #BlackLivesMatter #BlackTransLivesMatter #PrisonAbolishionNow DOMINIQUE MORGAN Lyrics, life, and love are the foundations of the artist known as Dominique Morgan. Since age seven, this storyteller narrates tales of the heart; recalling personal trials, tribulations and chronicles of passion. Morgan eloquently translates life’s pain into musical memoirs of strength and courage. Morgan is deeply entrenched in advocacy for community and youth. From his professional work with Charles Drew Health Center and administrative endeavors with the Social Justice Education Network, Morgan has been recognized for his dedication to educating his community on justice and equality. In 2016, Morgan was awarded the coveted NAACP Freedom Fighter Award. He’s also been honored with the esteemed Change Maker Award by The Greater Omaha Young Professionals and was awarded entrance into the Individual Artist Fellowship with the Nebraska Arts Council in 2017. dominiquemorgan.com “If you can’t change the people around you, CHANGE the people around you.” —unknown


2. First Pride Parade 18th–16th + Howard Street Omaha’s first Pride Parade was held on June 29, 1985, on Howard Street from 20th Street to 16th Street The marchers, an estimated 60-100 people, were led by two men, one carrying a United States flag and one carrying a rainbow flag and a candle. The rest of the marchers held hands and candles as they quietly walked. Ten police officers in cars and motorcycles were assigned to escort the parade. The crowd lining Howard Street was approximately 400 people, with some in the crowd applauding as the marchers passed by. At 16th Street the marchers cheered loudly while lights from local television stations shined on them. The parade lasted about ten minutes. WHY WAS THIS SITE CHOSEN? The purpose of archives is not only to document historical moments or “firsts,” but to gather the stories of people who have diverse and individual experiences to share. After the news coverage of Omaha’s first Pride Parade, letters began appearing in the Public Pulse section of the Omaha WorldHerald with Omahans sharing their own stories. These recollections are pertinent to archives and public memory. Jerry Peck wrote for LGBT magazine, The New Voice of Nebraska, about the experiences of marchers, who through their participation outed themselves. One participant, JoJo, worked as a local factory supervisor and outed herself to her coworkers after her photograph at the parade appeared in the newspaper. She shared that she was met with support and admiration. Marcher Dan was interviewed by the local media and the following day he came out to his parents. His father was supportive while his mother believed he was just going through a phase. An unnamed young man marching next to Peck was hostilely confronted by his family after they saw him in the parade on the news. Peck also came out to his own parents after 30 years as a result of the news coverage of the parade. queeromahaarchives.omeka.net AMY SCHINDLER Amy Schindler is the Director of Archives & Special Collections at the University of Nebraska at Omaha Libraries. She is the lead archivist for the Queer Omaha Archives, which was established by UNO in 2016. The Queer Omaha Archives preserves Omaha’s LGBTQIA+ history as part of the UNO Libraries’ Archives & Special Collections. Cassils lectured at the Queer Omaha Archives on April 27, 2017, co-sponsored by the Department of Art & Art History, the Department of Sociology & Anthropology, UNO Libraries, and Queer and Trans Services Student Agency.


3. Old Market 13th–11th + Howard Street and 11th Street The Old Market is a neighborhood located in downtown Omaha bordered by South 10th Street to the east, 13th Street to the west, Farnam Street to the north, and Jackson Street to the south. The Old Market is Omaha’s oldest neighborhood—historically a warehouse and wholesale market district with buildings dating back to the late 1800s. The cobblestone streets are home to a diverse mix of shopping, galleries, restaurants, taverns, and peoplewatching. In some areas the Old Market retains its turn-of-the-century brick paved streets, horse-drawn carriages, and covered sidewalks. This historic neighborhood has been transformed into a lively shopping, dining, and nightlife destination. oldmarket.com WHY WAS THIS SITE CHOSEN? Consistently described as both “safe” and “unsafe”; “welcoming” and “unwelcoming” the extremes of realities mixed with historic events of trauma, violence, resistance, celebration, and resilience mark the Old Market as a space of multiplicity. Some community members list incidents like a documented hate crime in 2013 as a justification of feeling unsafe. The events that led to the assault involved Ryan Langenegger, Joshua Foo, and Jacob Gellinger who were eating at Pepperjax Grill in the Old Market after they spent the evening at a drag show. Others listed establishments including The Tavern, Curb Appeal Salon and Spa, La Buvette, and Urban Abbey as inclusive welcoming spaces within the Old Market. TROY DAVIS Troy Davis has been the owner of Curb Appeal Salon and Spa (formerly Fringes Salon and Spa) for 18 years and is the current President of the Old Market Business Association (OMBA). He has served on the board of the OMBA for seven years. Davis grew up in Blair, Nebraska and spent a lot of his youth in downtown Omaha, especially after graduating high school. He states, “the Old Market was always my home away from home, my safe space, where I could comfortably express my creative self.”


4. Urban Abbey 1026 Jackson Street The Abbey is a nonprofit coffee shop and church in Omaha’s Old Market with a dedication to making a difference. Their mission is making space to serve the community through donations at the shop, as well as through the interest generated by sharing stories and taking action to serve and connect. The Abbey’s mission is to invite everyone in, whether they want to support through buying a latte or active service. It is a space for modern worship, a home for conversation, and a place to get really good coffee for a really good cause! Urban Abbey believes the world should be different and so we are a space of radical hospitality connecting people to God and one another in everyday life. urbanabbeyomaha.com WHY WAS THIS SITE CHOSEN? The Urban Abbey is a hub for community that pushes the ‘normal’ boundaries of church. It is a space of reliance and resistance and renewal. The Abbey opened its doors in November of 2011, pushing the shape of church into a community space; pushing the old boundaries of secular and sacred into one living sanctuary. Our work of pushing boundaries began long before. Soul Desires laid a foundation of inclusion, as a ‘Christian bookstore’ unlike any other. Under the direction of the first woman ordained in Nebraska, they posted a pink triangle in the late 1990’s and offered resources affirming every religion. In 2008, Soul Desires made a space for Wesley Pub, an adventure in church founded by Rev. Debra McKnight. It was church with beer and conversations in place of 40 minute sermons; peppered with poetry, Colbert Report clips, and “mad-litneys.” We left no topic unexplored, but our “Sex in the City of God” pubs were always the most popular and pushed the conversation of Christian Sexual Ethics. In 2011, we made a new leap forward, opening our coffee shop church. Most new churches are founded by male pastors–usually, young white guys with a piercing or a tattoo who play guitar and meet in a Gym-A-CafaTorium. Our founding pastor, Rev. Debra McKnight had a different vision for church. This new vision was nurtured by First United Methodist Church (FUMC) Omaha, with it’s history of pushing for human rights. We live that legacy. Our preachers on Good Fridays have been Muslim women. On Maundy Thursday we push ritual into action by bring toiletries for homeless youth at Youth Emergency Services. We make space for the difficult


conversations; at any given time you can hear the stories of survivors of human trafficking or listen to an immigration lawyer weeping at the realities he witnessed in a detention center. Our work matters enough that we have been trolled on websites like “Rapture Ready” and occasionally when guests don’t care for our monthly partner, such as PFLAG or Queer Nebraska Youth Network, they hand their hot coffee back to the barista and ask for a refund. Our work matters enough that guests have asked questions about if we “really allow women to speak in church” and “why we don’t try to help gay people repent of their sins.” This has been a great opportunity to have a conversation beyond our differences. In 2015, we launched out from our mother church and into a new campus ministry. We are a different kind of ministry, honoring questions and including everyone, not in-spite of who they are but in celebration. In the fall of 2016 we began Queer Faith of Campus. We stand in the tension of a church that is in disagreement and we intend to stay a part of the conversation. We push the church to end spiritual violence. Salvation is a frequently used church word, and at its historic heart it is about healing, like a ‘salve’ one might put on a wound. Healing means we have to name the violence and care for the wounds, like broken families, higher suicide rates and discrimination given ‘divine authority.’ We believe in naming theses broken spaces; pushing the church to the fullness of Love’s radical expression. REV. DEBRA MCKNIGHT Rev. Debra McKnight is the founding pastor of Urban Abbey. She is a graduate of Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, which invited her to love liturgy, explore diverse theological perspectives, and experiment with preaching in a rigorous academic community. While Dallas, Texas boasts fine winter weather and she loved living four hours from Paris, in Germany for a few years; she is glad to be home in the great state of Nebraska and grateful to be serving at First United Methodist Church Omaha. McKnight owns a clergy collar for parades and protests because her work focuses on social justice, liturgics, and building community. While in Omaha, she has lead her faith community in starting a Pub church, called Wesley Pub, though she doesn’t drink beer and now a coffee shop, Urban Abbey, though she prefers tea. Most of all, she is grateful.


5. Leavenworth Street 11th–12th + Leavenworth Street In the late 19th century, Omaha was a bustling town where gambling and prostitution were legal. There were more than 100 established brothels in the city of Omaha, from east Leavenworth to just north of Cass Street. This expansive “red light district” was called the Burnt District. The infamous sex workers Josie Washburn and Anna Wilson are household names now; even a hip Old Market watering hole is named in their honor. The legends of Wilson and Washburn precedes them both–prostitution at the turn of the century was, as it is now, a physically demanding and, in some cases, an emotionally trying form of labor. Local Nebraskans’ thirst for legend over nuance is perhaps why Leavenworth is so meaningful. While we tend to glorify our town’s seedy past, using Leavenworth as a space in which to embellish the lore of the long antiquated District, we are less enthusiastic about supporting the labor rights of contemporary sex workers in Omaha. Leavenworth is somewhat notorious as a drag for folx pedaling erotic wares. Street-based sex work in Nebraska, as it is elsewhere, is fraught with social stigma, police brutality, and harmful misconceptions about the work and the people who provide it. As a culture, we seem to forget that the real culprit of gendered, low-wage labor is indeed capitalism, not sex. We must keep in mind, as well, that 40 percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQIA+ and, in some circumstances, engage in survival sex. As progressive people, we cannot talk about a resistance to the insurrection of white supremacist politics and violence against trans and queer bodies without including the voices of sex workers. The next time you admire the blossoming condos on Leavenworth, I invite you to interrogate gentrification itself and, more specifically, the displacement of all of those “unsavory” characters who will, of course, come to inherit the Earth. WHY WAS THIS SITE CHOSEN? In contemporary Omaha history, Leavenworth Street is a known drag for street-based sex workers. The former leg of the Burnt District is also important because you can see the displacement of sex workers in relation to gentrification. Leavenworth was the money maker street, then St Mary’s, and now many sex workers are heading out to truck stops and other places off the interstate where they are removed from community and resources. Many street-based sex workers identify as LGBTQIA+. Nebraska is a state where LGBTQIA+ people can legally be fired for being queer or trans, and


as such, sex work is a way of survival under a violent system which deems queer and trans folx subhuman. LGBTQIA+ people who engage in street based sex work are at greater risk for arrest and harassment at the hands of cops and are, as such, more likely to have a criminal record for solicitation than indoor workers. The Burnt District is also a space of resistance. Anna Wilson donated her land to the city of Omaha and a hospital was named in her honor after death. Josie Washburn was a published writer and spoke eloquently on the harms of the Christian temperance movement, which sought to, and eventually succeeded in, outlawing prostitution. The street has also been home to some of the most formative underground punk and indie clubs in Omaha. There was a time, before the street became so gentrified, when punks, freaks, queers, and sex workers sat together smoking cigarettes on the curbs along Leavenworth. There was community where there are now condos. For all these reasons and more, almost every kid who grew up in Omaha in the 80s and 90s will tell you that their parents spoke of Leavenworth as if it were the devil himself. It is a notorious drag of vice, made into condos. DR. JENNY HEINEMAN Dr. Jenny Heineman is a mother, writer, intellectual, and former sex worker in the Midwest. Her work has appeared in Tits and Sass, Mutha Magazine, Pacific Standard, Seafoam Magazine, and Jezebel.


6. Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts 724 South 12th Street Founded in 1981, by artists for artists, the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts supports today’s artists through an international artist-in-residence program, temporary exhibitions and commissions, and innovative public programs. Located in the historic Old Market district, the Bemis Center serves a critical role in the presentation and understanding of contemporary art, bridging the community of Omaha to a global discourse surrounding cultural production today. Cassils’s solo exhibition titled Phantom Revenant is on view at Bemis Center February 2–April 29, 2017. This exhibition explores the radical unrepresentability of certain forms of trauma and violence. Cassils exposes this timely concern through three works that aggressively bring cyclical forms of oppression, disregarded histories, and haunting realities to the forefront. As viewers we are challenged to examine our various modes of participation in these repeated scenes of violence, as victims or instigators, as bystanders, as witnesses, as consumers of mass media.


About the artist Cassils is from Montreal, Canada and is now based in Los Angeles. Their work uses the body in a sculptural fashion, integrating feminism, body art, and gay male aesthetics. Listed by the Huffington Post as “one of ten transgender artists who are changing the landscape of contemporary art,” Cassils has achieved international recognition for a rigorous engagement with the body as a form of social sculpture. Featuring a series of bodies transformed by strict physical training regimes, Cassils’ artworks offer shared experiences for contemplating histories of violence, representation, struggle, and survival. Cassils juxtaposes the immediacy, urgency and ephemerality of live performance against constructed acts for camera in order to challenge the “documentarian truth factor” of images. Bashing through gendered binaries, Cassils performs transgender not as a crossing from one sex to another but rather as a continual process of becoming, a form of embodiment that works in a space of indeterminacy, spasm and slipperiness. Drawing on conceptualism, feminism, body art, gay male aesthetics, Cassils forges a series of powerfully trained bodies for different performative purposes. It is with sweat, blood, and sinew that Cassils constructs a visual critique around ideologies and histories. Cassils is a 2017 Guggenheim Visual Arts Fellow. cassils.net


PARTNERS Holly Barrett, Downtown Improvement District Troy Davis, Curb Appeal Salon Dr. Andjela Drincic, University of Nebraska Medical Center Mike Gaughen, City of Omaha Dr. Jenny Heineman Audio Helkuik Cameron Helkuik Jessi Hitchins, University of Nebraska at Omaha Megan Hunt Dr. Jay Irwin, University of Nebraska at Omaha Eris Koleszar Michael Latta Reverend Debra McKnight, Urban Abbey Dominique Morgan Lynn Mytty, PFLAG Deputy Chief Mary Newman, Omaha Police Department Kate Parrish, River City Gender Alliance Tanner Reckling Julie Reilly, Omaha by Design Eli Rigatuso Ryan Sallans Amy Schindler, UNO Criss Library Queer Omaha Archives Old Market Business Association Omaha Public Art Commission


ARTWORK DETAILS Resilience of the 20%, 2016 Cast based clay remnant from the Becoming An Image performance 1,300 pounds of bronze 40 x 36 x 54 inches Courtesy the artist and Ronald Feldman Fine Art, NY This bronze cast was made possible by the School of Art, College of Visual and Performing Arts at Syracuse University and the Alpert Fellowship. The sculpture was made in a class called Atelier, where a contemporary artist is invited to realize a sculpture with students as a pedagogical exercise. This work would not have been made possible without the generous help, talent, and guidance of Associate Professor Tom Hall, Associate Professor Jessica Posner, and the following students: Mirra Goldfrad, Kathleen Greulich, Taylor Rogers, Selma Selman, Zoe Stern, Alanne Story, Amanda Struver, Joseph Turek. Also, this project would have not happened without the talent, skills, and support of friend, colleague, and fellow Creative Capital artist, Sam Van Aken.


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LOCATIONS 1. Douglas County Correctional Center 710 South 17th Street Dominique Morgan 2. First Pride Parade 18th–16th + Howard Street Amy Schindler 3. Old Market 13th–11th + Howard Street and 11th Street 4. Urban Abbey 1026 Jackson Street Rev. Debra McKnight 5. Leavenworth Street 11th–12th + Leavenworth Street Dr. Jenny Heineman 6. Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts 724 South 12th Street

Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts 724 South 12th Street Omaha, Nebraska 402.341.7130 bemiscenter.org

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Profile for Alex  Priest

CASSILS: Monument Push Catalogue  

Monument Push was the world premiere of a physically intensive four-hour performance by artist Cassils. Along with community members, advoca...

CASSILS: Monument Push Catalogue  

Monument Push was the world premiere of a physically intensive four-hour performance by artist Cassils. Along with community members, advoca...

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