The Inspiration that Is Cassils



Last December, performance artist Cassils came to Philadelphia to perform their solo live performance piece, “Melt/Carve/Forge,” at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. The one-performance-only event was in conjunction with a multi-media exhibit of photography, video and sculpture by Cassils that PAFA is featuring until March 5.

One of the unpredictable consequences of creating effective groundbreaking art is how — and if — it will inspire other artists to create work of their own in a sort of cause-and-effect synergy of creativity. PAFA is going to be giving us a chance to see such synergy in action by hosting a performance of improvisational dance inspired by the work of Cassils.

The program is being presented by Graffito Works, which defines itself as “a platform for dancers and performing artists to create site-specific work” founded by Steven Weisz. According to Weisz, Graffito (which translates as “little scribbles”) is “an international concern. We’ve performed around the world, and we’re very happy to be working with PAFA. They contacted us for this and have been the perfect partner.”

Cassils’ self-definition is that of a gender-nonconforming artist, and the themes of identity and construction of oneself, with the body serving as raw sculptural material.

Weisz sees this as a perfect context for Graffito’s non-traditional approach to creating dance.

“Particularly in today’s political climate, the whole issue of gender-nonconformity, molding oneself to face the world, takes on an added significance, an added urgency.”

Weisz hopes that this presentation will continue and expand the social conversation on gender identity inspired by Cassils’ work.

The program will be divided into three segments performed in the midst of different sections of the Cassils exhibit, both downstairs in the main exhibit hall and upstairs in the rotunda. The dancers will take as their inspiration Cassils’ work, photography, sculpture and video, and improvise their response both to the artist’s work and the physical space in which the work appears.

Weisz seems delighted with the progress of the work so far, but even he doesn’t know what form the final product will take. But that’s what improvisation is all about; there’s only so much preparation you can do — the rest is all in-the-moment. But he doesn’t seem to be worried.

“We’ve put together some of the best improvisational artists in Philly,” he asserted proudly.

Weisz is confident that, with Cassils as the muse, inspiration will not fail them.

Graffito Works will appear at 6 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 118 N. Broad St. The Cassils exhibit Melt/Carve/Forge: Embodied Sculptures by Cassils continues through March 5. For more information, visit For more information on Graffito Works, visit