Featured photo: Detail from “Permeable Facades and Internal Alterations,” as installed at the Tempe Center for the Arts in 2015. Photo courtesy of Christine Cassano.
As proof that biology and technology, the organic and the industrial, can dialogue with each other in the name of art, Phoenix need look no further than the mixed-media wall pieces, sculptures and installations of Christine Cassano, a mainstay in the Arizona art scene for more than a decade.
Luckily, there is no shortage of places to see Cassano’s work this year and next. Cassano currently has two pieces in the juried group exhibition, “Infinite Possibility of Tomorrow” at Tilt Gallery in Scottsdale (through August 25). An invitational group exhibition at 515 Gallery on Roosevelt Row in Phoenix features Cassano’s work through August 30. Come fall, she will be part of the juried exhibition “Biennial: Clay” at the Tempe Center for the Arts, as well as the mixed-media half of a duo exhibition with photographer Bill Timmerman at RoRo’s Modified Arts.
Perhaps the big kahuna is Cassano’s upcoming solo exhibition in the North Gallery of the Mesa Contemporary Arts Museum (April 21 – August 6, 2017), which rotates in shows celebrating Arizona artists. Oh wait, there’s more: for spring 2017, she is included in the esteemed annual exhibition of Contemporary Forum grant recipients, at the Phoenix Art Museum.
Early 2016 marked the publication of her first catalog – Christine Cassano: Bring All to Front – 50 handsome pages of photos and detailed descriptions capturing her practice, and featuring an essay by Marilyn Zeitlin, former director of the ASU Art Museum. The catalog was produced in collaboration with Phoenix Institute of Contemporary Art (phICA).
Without going into too much detail about how Cassano battled serious health problems through part of the 2000s and early 2010s, suffice it to say that pain, fatigue, frustration and uncertainty could have cut her career short. Instead, they sparked an intellectual, science-driven examination of bodily parts and processes and how they are mirrored in the manmade world. And she healed, going on to a banner year in 2014 in which she participated in a half-dozen group shows around Arizona. These days, she’s furiously busy as she takes her work in new directions for the upcoming shows and settles into a cozy studio within a big warehouse near Sky Harbor. On top of all that, this past spring she participated in a monthlong artist’s residency with the University of West Georgia. In fact, the university commissioned her to create an installation for the Newnan Campus permanent collection.
Among the memorable pieces of Cassano’s that I’ve had the chance to see in the past few years are:
— “Permeable Facades & Internal Alterations,” a 9-foot-high walk-in, curtain-like installation of red plexiglas, mirrored circuit boards, porcelain “bones” and inscribed saguaro ribs, part of the “Green and Gray” group show at the Tempe Center for the Arts in late 2015.
— “Threading Conjecture,” in one of the Roosevelt Row phICA hotboxes. It explores the connections between biological cellular memory (our cells have memories, you know) and mental memory, offering the idea that both kinds of memories “thread conjecture” as we think about the present and future. Composed of porcelain bone, copper and small mirror discs, the installation remarkably also incorporates several long, braided strands of Cassano’s own wavy dark brown hair — 330 feet of it. She lost hair by the strandfuls during her illness, and with a semi-ghoulish precognition, stored it away. It should be mentioned, though, that it’s her habit to collect all sorts of items, from auto parts to hardware to plant detritus to computer components.
After visiting her studio earlier this summer — and jealously eyeing her highly organized drawers of collected raw materials and artist supplies — I conducted a Q & A with the artist over email.