Out of Time
clockwise from front door:
Oil painting on wood, resined studio-grown Zinnias, garden trellis, and clamp light
84 x 36 in. 213.4 x 91.4 cm.
Cast soil, wood panel, photo album, teeth, resined lilacs, and sunflowers
21 x 12 in. 53.3 x 30.5 cm.
Cast soil, wood panel, gold cross necklace, and resined lilacs
11.5 x 12 in. 29.2 x 30.5 cm.
Cast soil, wood panel, photographs, resined lilacs, and sunflowers
13 x 12 in. 33 x 30.5 cm.
A house with many gardens
6 archival inkjet prints
7.5 x 5 in. 19.05 x 13 cm. each (unframed)
Ed. 3/3 from an edition of 3 & 1 AP
Woven Jacquard cloth, and aged wooden billboard frame
96 x 108 x 48 in. 244 x 274.3 x 122 cm.
clockwise from rear:
(behind Rapture, Apparition)
Hand screen-printed dye on textile
24 x 18.5 in. 60.1 x 47 cm.
Hand screen-printed dye on textile
19 x 16.5 in. 48.3 x 42 cm.
Woven jacquard cloth
28 x 16 in. 71.1 x 41 cm.
Sundown Town, Reprise
Single channel video
10:20 min. TRT
Ed 2/5 from an edition of 5 & 1 AP
Out of Time Cass Davis October 3 - November 14, 2020
"Memory and history, far from being synonymous, appear now to be in fundamental opposition. Memory is life, borne by living societies founded in its name. It remains in permanent evolution, open to the dialectic of remembering and forgetting, unconscious of its successive deformation, vulnerable to manipulation and appropriation, susceptible to being long dormant and periodically revived. History, on the other hand, is the reconstruction, always problematic and incomplete, of what is no longer. Memory is a perpetually actual phenomenon, a bond tying us to the eternal present; history is a representation of the past"
- Pierre Nora
Nora distinguishes between the potency of ‘that which has happened’ vis-a-vis ‘that which is said to have happened’, providing us with a two fold view of what one considers to be ‘memory’ and what one designates to the field of ‘history’. Out of Time is a culmination of Cass Davis’s quest through record, trace, truth, and time in relation to their experience of queerness, death, rebirth, and belonging in the context of the great American Midwest. Over the last five years, Davis has been navigating through their personal and political history, in their hometown of Pekin, IL. Looking back at their upbringing against the stark white background of evangelical Christianity, Davis challenges the dogmatic, gendered practice of religion, pointing to its role in the formation of gender and identity.
2017. The video editing suite on the 14th floor of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Davis sits in the light of two editing screens - one with an image of a white clad marching band, the other bearing an uncomfortably tight close up of a laminated, toothy smile of the Mayflower queen of a parade. The baton of a drum major keeps time, yet, there is no sound, while a banner with stars and stripes falls aimlessly in space, in slow motion. The weight of disappointment pushes one image after the next. Outside the window, the light is changing from afternoon to evening and Davis’s eyes are lit from the unbending light emanating from their screens. The actions on the two screens do not move in tandem. They are held together by Davis’s cinematography, lighting, and rhythmic editing style that allow a conjuring of memories to surface from the depths of an ocean of trauma. They simultaneously recall while exercising their memories of pain.
‘Sundown Town, Reprise’ (2020) captures the exhaustion and collapse of the great ‘American dream’. The 10 minute video intertwines near perfect compositional framing, foregrounding and backgrounding, the use of light and shadow, to present the viewer with a recollection of personal and collective trauma. What happens to the viewer when they perceive a simulation of trauma? How do we reconcile our place as immigrants, queers, and ‘others’ in the legacy of America and its history? The film questions the Nationalist nostalgia for the "good old days”, seeking to survey what needs to be resurrected and what needs to be dismantled, by using the language of the 20th century celebration of heartland lifeways. The harvest, labor, the hand, prayer, the menu, the parade - collectively embody a darker side of ‘Sundown Town’s’ in the North, as there is a misconception that these communities do not have the responsibility of confronting their history in relation to racism in the West. The parade transforms into a funeral cortège.
Davis recreates their experience of queerness in relation to a U.S.-centered, post-colonial, rural, evangelical politic. Carefully woven silk jacquard photographs glitch with threads coming apart the edges, the weave partially obscures the sharpness of religious indoctrination. In ‘Revival II’, ‘Bible’ and ‘Presence’ people speaking in tongues, shaking, and whispering to one another collapse to the ground, the textile. While Davis’s practice may be found in the auspices of contemporary art; their materials take you on a journey to meet in a field, a parade, a church, a barn or under a ritual tent; building a space for us to question the relationship with cinematic representation and historical record. Working with the archives of their hometown and other parts of the rural Midwest, the subjective way Davis accesses memories reveals itself in glimpses and double takes, surfacing in unexpected ways to create a specter of personal and collective trauma that forces one to look into its cloudy eye.
Referencing sociologist Avery Gordon, Davis is interested in the past haunting the present in more complicated ways that we immediately understand. They are curious and introspective about the intersection of class, gender and race in relation to how ‘power’ is perceived in America. The sharpness of time and place meet the shadowy specters of the unknown as their textile weavings, expose themselves as unresolved images from the front and as negatives on the reverse. The doubling of images, screens and prints persist, like the reappearance of a ghostly apparition, seen-unseen-seen again, until it becomes vivid enough to become what Gordon describes as ‘alive’.
Davis uses time in both a visceral and mediated sense. In a series titled ‘A house with many gardens’ (2020), they carefully document flowers that they have been growing in the confines of their home during the early months of the Covid-19 pandemic. Tending to local Prairie florals, Davis spent a large part of their time being present as witness to the transformation of each flower; tending to the soil and the seed with the help of natural sunshine and man made light. Seeing this process as a metaphor for how trauma is processed by the body, Davis’s hand follows the rhythmic patterns of natural life. In the flowers, death becomes an incomplete gesture, as it comes with no warning and is perceived solely through the experience of an other person - outside itself. The zinnias grow, bloom and disintegrate - at times partially reviving themselves momentarily- continuing to follow the linear processes of time. The flowers in Out of Time become an embodiment of the past, present and future (disintegrating to the earth, in order to give life again). Gordon also speaks of the sequencing of time in relation to how trauma is accessed, ‘haunting’ the body and the mind :
"Haunting raises specters, and it alters the experience of being in linear time, alters the way we normally separate and sequence the past, the present and the future. These specters or ghosts appear when the trouble they represent and symptomize is no longer being contained or repressed or blocked from view. As I understand it, the ghost is not the invisible or the unknown or the constitutively unknowable. To my mind, the whole essence, if you can use that word, of a ghost is that it has a real presence and demands its due, demands your attention."
Trauma demands attention. The pandemic has been a moment of individual and collective reckoning where we are 'haunted' by versions of our past selves, in the long view of history. As the geo-political landscape shifts beneath our feet, we witness the collapse of known societal structures. Capitalist systems of coercion are failing to control the individual as some slowly break free of the constructs of social order. Work from home, indefinite lay off's and economic uncertainty have led to days leading into weeks, rolling into months. A peculiar temporality emerges in a state of emergency. Order is lost. The fragility of dried flowers embedded in cast soil works indicate the turmoil experienced by Davis (and some of us) as repressed memories surface and crystallize through cracks in time. A perfect offering to a past becomes a haunting in the present.
A series of sculptures titled ‘Deadname’, ‘Hidden Cross’, and ‘Lilacs’ (2020) crystalize Davis’s memories of growing up. Here, dried flowers, cast soil and resin sculptures meet Davis’ work in photography, presenting us with a series of found images from the artist's childhood. Halfemptied photo albums, childhood milk teeth, and retakes of Davis posing for their father in a museum exhibit, speak of the disappearance of their inner child. In claiming their own unique gender identity, everything was not permitted across, in the transition. The dimensions of the individual, social, and the political changed, leaving parts of their former self behind, haunting Davis and hidden from public view.
A large site specific sculpture, ‘Rapture, Apparition’ (2020), presents Davis’s woven photographic Jacquard textile in the form of a rural wooden billboard. The billboard performs as a dog whistle, a marker of communal identity across the American countryside. As a vital mode of communication across the rural Midwest, the billboard performs as an unavoidable reminder of parts of history that must be confronted in order to carry on. The systematic dismantling of conditions that have led to the misery of our current political moment hang heavy overhead, waiting to be addressed as ongoing global movements to abolish the prison system, end right wing nationalism, colonialism, militarism, and debt bondage continue to find a way forward.
Each piece presented in Out of Time urges the viewer to scratch beneath the surface of what is in view and what is not, revealing what lies beneath the surface of film, fabric, the earth and other substrate… bringing to question what needs to be excavated and what needs to be buried in the process of addressing and healing collective trauma. Out of Time creates a space for holding on while letting go, for mourning and the promise of rebirth, and for releasing inherited identity to make space for hybridity and fluidity.
- Pia Singh, October 2020