Dawn Kasper is a young, LA-based artist working mostly in performance, and many of those performances are meticulous, disturbing and dryly funny stagings of “her” own death—or at least the death of a character she has carefully created and then only left traces of for the performance visitor to reconstruct as if Kasper’s performance installations were art-decorated crime scenes.
They’re much more than that, though, and this is evident walking into Circus Gallery, which is for the first time presenting a kind of mini-retrospective of the last half-dozen years of Kasper’s various deaths, along with documentation of some other work. The vivid, windowpane-sized photos of various (almost always grisly) death scenes installed casually up the walls of the high gallery serve to emphasize the fact that these aren’t simply gestures that begin and end with death as their subject. They also show the workings out of whole systems of thought that are illustrated elsewhere in the gallery by diagram drawings about the characters Love andEvil. We can see how Kasper is thinking beyond death as an "act" and is instead focusing on what is lost and gained in being alive or dead.
In this way, Kasper’s characters take on lot more meaning than simply being somewhat confrontational stagings of cadavers—a great example of this and my personal favorite “death” in the exhibit is Woman Thrown Out with the Garbage, in which a glassy-eyed Kasper lays wedged half-underneath a dumpster and a pile of trash in a huge pile of Karo Syrup blood. (That may sound gruesome, and it is, but it’s also weirdly visually stunning). This and other works point toward the brutality of death as an extended moment, not stopping after the actual moment of death. The picture begs the questions of who the woman was, how she died, and why it was that she was simply tossed out. These are questions that politicize death and move the performances away from the earlier identity performances of Paul McCarthy or the self-stagings of Cindy Sherman into a critique that works more on a sociological level than a personal level.
And even when dealing with “death,” Kasper complicates things by introducing a performance she did standing-in for a both alive and dead Kaspar Hauser. Using the similarity of the name, she jumps into the world of the true story of a mute, seemingly “wild” boy found in 19th century Europe in order to explore the loss and confusion that death invokes. In a small video loop, Kasper dressed as “Kaspar” stands lost, in an unidentified public square, ignored by passersby. Just below the small video there’s a large photo of the dead "Kasper/Kaspar" propped up in what looks like a gallery, elegantly touching on issues of cultural visibility and invisibility in various kinds of publics and how those are tied to a more permanent kind of death.
Needless to say, there’s a lot more to see and to talk about with this exhibition, and while you don’t get the strange privilege of seeing Kasper herself dead-alive in person, you should not only check out the show but leave a lot of time for yourself to explore the intricate world Kasper has built.
(*Images, from top to bottom: Dawn Kasper, Dawn Kasper, life and death; October 20 - November 21, 2007; Circus Gallery, Missing Kasper Hauser, Courtesy of Circus Gallery. Dawn Kasper, Dawn Kasper, life and death; October 20 - November 21, 2007; Circus Gallery, Installation view, Courtesy of Circus Gallery. Dawn Kasper, Dawn Kasper, life and death; October 20 - November 21, 2007; Circus Gallery, Woman Thrown Out with the Garbage, Courtesy of Circus Gallery.)