Cass Davis

Backyard, Monolith    2020

Cedar, soil, reclaimed wood platform, clamp light, dried flowers, remaining materials on request.
11.5ft x 2ft x 6in (Monolith), 4ft x 5ft x 5ft (platform)

Backyard, Monolith is an excavation of the connectedness of the trauma that lies in my own backyard, that in which I attempt to grow a garden. Excavated objects speak to a felt absence and embodied trauma. The structure is stacked vertically, an exhausting effort towards transcendence. This gesture implies a spiritual ecstasy is possible through the release of trauma by excavation of our own history. And when we look deep enough, as is in the case of my backyard, my trauma history includes the erasure of those who stood on this ground long before me. When I consider what rests beneath in the soil, the history in my town—that is every small town’s history, this feels like a memorial.

I imagine each panel arranged like the archaeological record, expanded so that as a viewer we struggle to see the top, which  barely clears the ceiling rafts. Excavated soil is hoisted to the sky. The top panel holds my own history, my family, our recent imprint in the topsoil. Unexcavated trauma. A portrait of a feminine, but white Jesus, who failed to protect me. Below lies the mark of lives lived, but also of deep violence. The silence, the stillness in the work, the absence is felt. Dried flowers are placed around objects as gesture of mourning. A haunting garden.

And the platform is an object of the institution. It is both 1920’s revival pulpit and historic landmarker. And its failure to bring the viewer really any closer to the out of reach—or its inaccessibility, for that matter—is a testament to the failure of our current systems to address the unresolved trauma that rots like a disease in the bones of whiteness. Collectively, we have repressed memories. Repressed histories. Retrieving those collective memories is an arduous process, but it must be done for communities to heal. For individuals to heal. For the earth to heal. And the dominant white patriarchal narrative does not want us to excavate. Because it knows what we will find.

I grew up in a town with a fraught racist history. Still disproportionately white, it was a sundown town until the 1970’s. Once a capital for the KKK in the 50’s and 60’s, in the Jim Crowe era the local newspaper was owned by the Klan. I have newspaper clippings from the 1920’s of white supremacist calls for violence run alongside coupons for purchasing a Bible, followed by the farming news. My childhood home was located in the historic section of town. Through archival research I learned that my house was possibly built in the late 1800’s as a “servant’s” quarters. I can only guess who initially lived there. It was also located one street over from where one of the very last documented Native American settlements was forcibly removed from the land to make way for white settlers. 

Ultimately, my backyard is stolen land. My only house key is buried at the very top. The object is haunted.

Backyard, Monolith represents the seemingly insurmountable history to be addressed and excavated. But as trauma theory states, it is only once trauma is acknowledged that we are able to fully begin the process of healing.

From Tracing Faults
Chicago Artist’s Coalition, January 2020

Backyard, Monolith offers an immediate access point into the exhibition and its framework. A column of framed soil traces a path from the ground up an into the space of the vaulted gallery ceiling. This monumental structure creates an implicit fault line, a rift that holds a series of unearthed artifacts that create a fragmented glimpse of the rural Midwestern landscape and culture from which they were collected. These objects and materials seem out of place in a contemporary art gallery, and magnify the dissonance between large urban cities like Chicago and the small communities that populate the rural landscape. The top frame contains a Westernized and feminine portrayal of a young Jesus Christ. This inclusion along with the supporting cast of materials points ot Davis’s Evangelical upbringing and underscores the soncervative and religiously driven temperament that steers Midwestern ideology.

In front of the monolith, a weathered platfrom provides a marginally closer view of the structure as it stretches out of reach. The design makes reference to landmark viewing platforms and also to 1920s era revival pulpits. The viewer is invited to step up unto the platform and gaze up wit htheir body at the soil and its contents as they extend into the sky. For the artist, the experience serves as metaphor for the excavation of our histories, of excavating what’s beneath our feet as a possible key to our transcendence.”

-Jeff Robinson, curator

Rapture, Apparition   2020

Hand-woven Jacquard cloth, aged wooden billboard frame. Approx. 8ft x 9ft x 4ft

Harvest, Transcendence   2019
Cast corn and soil, twine, hand screen-printed ink on textile.


Harvest, Rapture   2019

Hay bales, hand screen-printed ink on textile,  cotton rope, vintage lace altar cloth.


Memory, Fragment   2019

Hay bale, hand screen-printed textile.