REMNANTS - exploring conscious humanization with Cassie Lee Reeder
is this thing still on?: a prologue
okay, so, listen -
there are a number of critical things I experienced in the Year of Silence at Selfish, which we can totally talk about later if you want - I'm learning to become an open book - but the immediately relevant gist of it is this:
caterpillars become butterflies by becoming immersed in and digested by their own enzymatic fluid and intuitively rebuild themselves, using their skeletal blueprints, out of their own fundamental goo. a Saturn return in the twelfth house during a long conjunction of Neptune to my sun has felt something like this process. a retreat into a cocoon, a creeping dissolution in all ability to connect to purpose, voice, direction. every day distancing myself in small steps, letting everything I thought I knew just fall away. no explanation, but plenty of nausea, anxiety, guilt and grief. and then just...release. of expectations, of momentum, of progress, of fear. surrender. it took a trust fall, believing that I wasn't just throwing away years of hard work (and good credit and coveted closet space). I focused on projects within my immediate vicinity, including curating art shows for the cafe I manage in Brooklyn, where many of you saw the "Summer of Selfish" show last July. it felt safe in my hyper-queer, albeit hyper-gentrifying pocket of Brooklyn. irl conversations seemed to be the only ones I was able to have, and have been until - well, now, really.
enter Cassie. our communication about putting together a show began in person the old fashioned way, that right-place-right-time kind of magic, and evolved at the pace of snail mail, an unpressurized unfolding. the timing of our individual processes proved to be productive. I don't know where this butterfly is headed, but it remembers the important sensations - connecting with community, contributing to our collective narrative. Cassie's introduction felt like a tug from a faraway ether, one of those mystical signals from deep space, a postcard from some relevant and familiar town I'd never known about. and so, this show has been built out of real life elements of timing, synchronicity, common interests, and shared spaces - a good prescription for someone who has spent a long recent time questioning everything and withdrawing from the digital world. this show has stemmed from a mutual need to explore the human experience through intimacy, vulnerability, and trust firsthand.
making plans with Cassie is casual, and includes an acknowledgement near the end that we feel squirmily trapped by the formality of email, after which our true personalities emerge, in text, unshackled by punctuation and paragraph structure. the day of, we agree to head to friend's group show in Greenpoint; at Cassie's request, I excitedly suggest Milk & Roses, literally the only bar I know in Greenpoint, which happens to be a block from the show. I guess I got cocky, because four outfits and two domestic partners arriving home later, I am texting apologetically from the back of a car that I am fifteen minutes behind. Cassie asks what I'll be drinking - "not much is better than walking into a bar with a drink ready" - and I shake my damn head. "I'm supposed to be buying you a drink." it's done, and any cool point I possessed is blowing out the window of this northbound vehicle. I reassess my conversational strategies. I can totally talk good.
Cassie leans into the bar cupping a Negroni like a landlocked Han Solo, a posture developed through insatiable personal standards, endless hustling, and a constant questioning of the system. it is not skepticism - it is something like the jig is up and there exists still a dedication to untangling the mess of it all. I receive a forgiving smirk when I slide into my seat. I can imagine that this smirk is a welcome sight for someone about to be photographed naked - a signal of playful awareness that puts a subject at ease. this smirk is social photoshop. late for this meeting? this drink has your name on it. I sense that this is a person who is inherently capable of encouraging others to let their guard down. I feel the distinct prickle of an impending quiz, wanting to be my sharpest, but also sensing there might be no wrong answers, that the boundaries in Cassie's company are fluid, open to discussion and exploration, compassionate even.
an act of rebellion
I ask, of course, what this show - REMNANTS - is all about. we're so trapped in our phones, Cassie frets, attention spans limited to memes and the minute-max on IG videos, that we don't know how to have meaningful conversations any more. "my friends broke up with me a couple weeks ago because they were like 'we just can't do this. you show up in a bad mood and you don't wanna talk about it.' and I was like oh, well, okay, as a human being, I guess I could just talk about it and move on. but no one knows how to do that any more. they're just like oh, you're in a bad mood, you don't wanna talk about it, cause that's what you said, even though that's clearly not how you feel. so we're just gonna go back to talking about vapid things."
this is a common theme amongst a lot of people I encounter in my everyday environments. the idea that it's too impossible to discuss our emotions, however fleeting or circumstantial they may be, to the people around us. it's certainly something I have come to understand about myself, child of emotional abuse and abandonment (for starters). I can recall losing my middle school best friend because I didn't know how to tell her about the violence I was experiencing at home, because I knew it wasn't something she would have understood firsthand - one formative moment that shaped the way I viewed sharing experiences. intimacy is something that many of us are never taught, or are actively discouraged from, because it's complicated. and instead of being taught to appreciate our small but poignant specifications, we're taught that they are gross, that they need covering up, that flawlessness and compliance is beauty.
so intimacy is how we fight back against structures that thrive off of our silence. "and that's what my work is about. there's photos of my ex lying in bed brushing her teeth. what is innately beautiful about that, from an aesthetic point of view? perhaps nothing. what is innately beautiful about that as an intimate, organic moment? everything. being human is ...beautiful. everything about it. crying. being sad. just waking up, just going to bed, like, freshly fucked. making breakfast. all of that is beautiful. why? not because those people are beautiful, rather that those people are beautiful because, they are people. that's it. so that's why I make my work, but, it doesn't really fit...today."
"well, intimacy is messy."
"right. and people don't want to talk about it. they don't want to talk about the moments. some people look at this and say 'wow, that's intense,' and I'm like, it's brushing your teeth. like you wake up and do this every day. Posture actually published a series of mine about that - just people doing their daily routine. people were like, 'oh my god it's so raw, I don't know how I feel.' what do you mean you don't know how you feel? he's making tea. motherfucker is making tea. she is smoking a cigarette. there is nothing unique about these moments. the sun rises every day in my apartment and she looks like that every single time."
but these are the moments we've learned to gloss over, to leave unspoken. in movies, these moments are lumped together into montages romanticized by palatable pensive soundtracks. some mornings in the mirror brushing my teeth I literally wish for the ability to fast forward. we might typically describe these moments as boring, tedious, unremarkable. but the ways in which we execute these tasks reveals a lot about us. the way we learned to tie our shoes, whether we wet our bristles before, or after, or not at all during the toothpaste application process - these intricacies make up our personalities at large. seeing these details is an opportunity few are ever afforded and likely fewer ever appreciate.
"intimacy is exhausting."
"and also it's not very quantifiable and it's also very fluid. the thing about intimacy - this has been my problem...project / muse now for almost a decade - is that, as soon as you talk about it, it's tainted. so like, it has its own tangible weight and value, and it also exists as it's own form and being, and I think it's more elusive than terms like love and hate, because those are feelings and not experiences, and intimacy is an experience, and it's also not reciprocal. like, something that I find intimate, in the same exact moment, you can find to be entirely different. it's experiential and nontransferable. and it's not necessarily definable because it's amorphous. which is really cool. but it's also vital. if you don't have intimacy, nothing lives. no creatures - I don't understand how people are living their lives without this."
but we are. we're a society that is slowly eliminating the human experience from, well, the human experience. more specifically, we're developing and pursuing technology that eliminates the need to interact with other humans while engaging in capitalism. take, for example, Amazon's first and creepily entirely self-service brick-and-mortar in Seattle, or the ex-Google employees behind the bizarrely out-of-touch app, Bodega, a five-foot-wide deluxe vending machine that aims to fulfill your daily / nightly corner store needs without having to leave your building to interact with a human operating an actual bodega. did ask Jeeves actually fail because we couldn't deal with the idea of consulting a human-help-presenting search engine for actual help? capitalistic American culture seems driven to eradicate the uncertainties and inconsistencies we experience in trusting other people to be able to handle the subtleties of our shifting day to day needs, at a time when burgeoning queer and POC communities are focusing on acknowledging and respecting the subtleties of our day to day habitual needs. we are learning to hold space for each other out of a need to heal the disparities in our misguided and traumatizing adolescent programming, the mistrusts planted in us that encourage us to withdraw.
this detachment is something that permeates many aspects of our development - we fear, on many levels, that the honest expression of our selves will lead to abandonment. big brands are dedicated to preying upon our physical, genetic, and emotional differences, to shaming us into conditioning ourselves to fit an average or norm, to encouraging us to adhere as closely to that norm as possible and shun those who don't participate in our loyalty. #metoo exists because we are taught that speaking up about our abuses and traumas will lead to isolation and blacklisting, and Mariah Carey joins the long list of women celebrities who have long covered up mental health conditions while repeatedly being accused of and harangued for "erratic behavior." there are so many possible and subtle expressions of unexamined fear. for me, it manifests as a perpetual but deeply subconscious doubt in my partners and relationships, leading me to make destructive choices under the guise of self-exploration. this discovery, made possible in the deconstruction of my previous public persona, has led me to deeply examine my makings, my markings, and my maps. I've learned a lot about being encouraged to hide my negative feelings from family circumstances, something that set me up to build gaps into my relationships, out of fear that my partners won't want or be able to accept my negative truths and traits. it's not been the most pleasant reality to face - the mind is a very powerful, twisted place - but it's opened my eyes to my seemingly benign surreptitious tendencies, ways I've erased my intimate habits and warped them to mirror those of my partners, small truths I've denied others from experiencing, out of a desire to be desired. but within the current millennial / generation z exploration of highly individualized identity, of Queerness as a conceptual and biological and psychological spectrum, I and those around me have been able to hold space for and conversations about our hard truths, the neglect we experienced in childhood, and the ways in which it shapes our habits and reactions today, now, in our everyday.
localize this through the lens of of gentrification, which in Bushwick, with the impending shutdown of the L train, is happening rapidly, and you have an implosion of intimacy versus impartiality, community versus commercialism, classism versus commodification. a process my industry indirectly promotes. for someone whose livelihood depends on customer interaction, the concept of commercially encouraged emotional detachment is a daunting one.
so here I am, sitting in a bar, telling this new acquaintance about my childhood abuses and subsequent infidelities.
"it's something I bring into my relationships. 'I can't tell you what I'm feeling because I'm afraid you're gonna reject it.'"
"right, because 'you don't care about what I'm feeling, you're just going to tell me what you think I'm feeling.' it's interesting, because perhaps, by the way that you've explained things, your childhood and my childhood run very parallel to one another, but instead of me running away from intimacy, I just like, ran straight for it. and it went in a totally different direction, where I was like I need to be part of this all the fucking time. it's addicting. it's like why am I in need of this so much?"
"it's interesting that things can manifest so differently. I guess, ultimately, intimacy requires empathy -"
"no? that was new, I was just trying that out for the first time."
"I don't think I agree with that. I think one may beget the other, but I think they both require an understanding but not an experience. I don't think you necessarily need one in order to have the other."
"I'm gonna think about this. perhaps I want to say more specifically that I can see where a fear of intimacy can stem from a fear of a lack of an offering of empathy."
"I also think that it gets tethered down with commitment, and I don't think those two things are necessarily the same. I've had an intimate moment with a stranger where no words were spoken that I will never forget for the rest of my life. does that mean I'm good at commitment? no. but I also think a lot of commitment lacks intimacy, which is interesting! I can't be intimate unless I'm tied down, yet when I'm tied down I'm not intimate. and then there's the idea that it accompanies passion. passion and intimacy can play very well together but also can be super combative, like oil and water. a hug. a hug is one of the most intimate moments you can share with someone. you're literally sharing your heartbeat with another person."
getting to sit with this work is like that - a series of hugs, sharing a multitude of heartbeats with people who walk the same streets as you, who do the same shit you do. moving, feeling remorse, exploring an unknown space, caressing a lover's face in bed. it's like being a fly on the wall, or perhaps sitting in a neighborhood cafe, during one of the very conversations we've been talking about: the kind where you happened to have run into each other on the street, or one of you catches the other at work, a friend is nearby just as you've freed up, and you happen to have a moment or two, to share your actual feelings, put down your ego for a moment. where you meet up with someone who is having a hard time. the unexpected opportunity to vent just to be listened to, just to be heard. where you make a stupid joke to lighten the mood. where you strike a pose that reclaims lost power. give a gaze that establishes trust. these are moments where bodies witness each other in their current states, no promises or demands. many of the images in this show were captured by a camera Cassie carries around every day. I feel at peace, in a place of comfort and gentleness amongst this work. I have been in need of conversations like these, conversations that admit certainty or lack thereof, need and desire and fault and failure, bad wiring. I have been discovering appreciation for the closeness that openness can bring, appreciation for the recognition of humanity in revelations large and small. and as I wear these revelations on my sleeve, offer them readily, I discover the many similarities and overlaps with those around me. strangers just as much as friends. small moments can be shared by anyone, so long as you are open to them. it's a concept I'm still becoming comfortable with, but finding incredibly rewarding. getting to experience these moments lived by others through an exploratory lens fills me with a desire to dig deeper into my own environment, gives me hope that our changing spaces can evolve to include empathy, lets me imagine that our small moments of openness can create bigger shifts in cultural and social acceptance.
Cassie is onto something in exploring the forms of close friends through the vulnerability of nudity; a series of recent studies suggests viewing the desexualized bodies of others helps us see them as being "more sensitive to emotion and pain." so perhaps our theory regarding intimacy lending itself to empathy is something after all. we seem to both understand that witnessing humanity is important to us in these times of great change, of the influx of bodies into spaces, into territories, into communities. engaging in intimacy, in vulnerability, in the intricacies, feeds our sense of self in our worlds. gives us tether and claim to our environments. our origins similar, our journeys far and wide, our quests aligned - our individual selves reveling in what we can share, and where it can take us. wanting to witness, wanting to recognize that the people we may not know around us can possess sensitivity to our emotions, to our pain. that humanity can save us, perhaps.
Cassie's show "Remnants: Intimate Moments" is up at Little Skips in Bushwick now through summer 2018.
Cassie Lee Reeder is a Bushwick-based artist whose oeuvre begs of the viewer a state of presence. The work predominately showcases humans in their rawest form: nude. Works capture direct eye contact and candid moments in a manner that may be considered intense or jarring to some viewers. Cassie's goal is to create a space in which human forms may be viewed and studied as living beings caught in a fraction of existence without a preceding notion of sexualization of the body.
you can also catch Cassie hosting a weekly drink and draw Wednesday nights at The Woods.