By Nicole Wroten-Craw
Antioch College alumnus, media coordinator, and visiting instructor in the media arts Michael Casselli ‘87 was recently named the recipient of an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. Casselli is one of three artists from Yellow Springs, and 47 statewide, to receive the award, which recognizes work that advances or exemplifies the discipline and the larger artistic community, and are meant to support the growth and development of talented artists.
While at Antioch, Casselli majored in visual and performance theory and created large-scale, outdoor, mixed-media performances. Following his graduation, Casselli attended the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and began to develop his signature style that required the physical involvement of the the viewer with his work. He received his MFA from RISD in 1990.
Following his time at RISD, Casselli moved to New York, where he was an active member of the “downtown” arts and performance community for twenty years. His work there, a range from large-scale installations, set design, to the use of contemporary media, also received a Bessie, the New York Performance and Dance Award.
Casselli returned to Yellow Springs to establish his Manic Design Studio, where he continues to work on hybrid experimentation in media, and teaches the future generation of Antiochians.
Tell us about your award from the Ohio Arts Council.
It’s given to Ohio artists in recognition for the work that they’ve done. It’s about the body of work that they do. The category I won in, interdisciplinary, is every two years. In my specific area, there are three awards given out in the state. Luckily, in Yellow Springs, we took two out of the three awards…out of 47 in the whole state.
I submitted images of work, but I wasn’t pushing any specific piece. I submitted some work I’ve done in the past couple of years. One’s a photographic series I did—photographs on handmade paper that are video stills of youth I worked with in a program called the Blue Sky Residency where five artists are chosen from across the country and they work with eight youth in Montgomery Country … for two months in the summer creating a piece. These were all stills of them that I took from video they shot. I reprojected the video onto wax paper. I use wax paper a lot. Then I photographed them and printed those on handmade paper.
The second piece I submitted was called Slackwire which was a high-voltage electricity piece. [It] was basically two wires hooked up to a transformer with wires hanging down … it conducts 15,000 volts. I installed that in an abandoned bank in downtown Dayton. And then another piece [I submitted] with a branch I got from someone’s backyard with a really beautiful curve. [They were] three very different pieces…
I tend to be more installation based in my work, so it’s more than just about one kind of object…and the experience of something.
Your most recent project, Appetite: An American Pastime, closed at the Herndon Gallery this past Friday. Tell us about it.
This is the second time I’ve done a show of this title. I did one in 1993 in New York, where there were five separate houses built out of wood. It had an AstroTurf gallery, but also smell generators so when you walked into certain areas, it triggered a smell in the room. That added a certain layer.
This version was different because with the gallery, I was sitting there, trying to figure out how to do individual houses again and … I came up with the idea of that big house. Instead of doing four separate houses, I did four separate rooms. The structure of the house was very fragile (made from wax paper) and the idea of Americanism being a fragile construct enriched everything.
Also, inviting 4 artists in … not picking the work, but picking the people. They all come from very different backgrounds. I knew all of their work; I worked with all of them before. It was really nice because I’m used to working alone a lot, doing these huge projects where I’m just buried in work, so it was nice to have them not only for the work that they did, but also for the, “What do you need done?” [aspect]. It was a really great exchange. They came up with these four individual pieces that, for me, worked really well around the concept of and consumption of “Appetite.” And also in this idea of the house and how the house is constructed.
What type of planning went into building this exhibition?
I tend to work on the computer—in three-dimensional architectural software. So I drew everything myself. It is built in 3D on the computer, so the beauty of that is that I take those parts that I need to make … I have a large format printer, I can print them as templates and make them directly from the templates … all the measuring is done. The structure of the house went together amazingly fast; I was working with two students, Adam Abraham ’15 and Sarah Jayne Froehlich ’16. Adam helped with the construction and the assembly of the house. Sarah helped with the wax paper— it was about two miles of wax paper total. In a number of days, we were done with all the wax paper.
What kind of classes are you teaching at Antioch?
I teach everything from basic media production, which is an introduction to Photoshop, to photography to audio recording, and video. It’s an immersion in the different technologies that the students will use later if they become media arts majors.
I teach Sound Art, which I am teaching right now, which is an intro to the idea of sound art, starting with early 20th century Italian Futurists who did a lot of interesting work related to sound. Then we get into people who call themselves sounds artists, those who use sound as their medium. It’s a class where you discuss the artist one day and then the second day is a lab where we work with technologies and learn to make sound. I teach a couple of different pieces of software and hardware.
[Currently] we have started working on final projects. Adam (Abraham ’15) is doing a discovery piece that uses sound to direct you to different locations—kind of like a scavenger hunt. Then you have a pay off at the end. He’s working with moving people around to direct them via sound sources. Seth (Kaplan ’15) is doing a game—finding creative sounds. It’s an installation/performance idea. He’ll move through a series of rules for the game and playing the game.
What’s it like to be an alumnus teaching a new generation of Antiochians?
I always wanted to teach here. I value the education I got here a lot. It’s kind of made me who I am today. It’s had a huge effect on my life. Teaching here is something I cherish and that I’ve always wanted to do. It’s important because if I can even offer a fraction of the education that I received from my professors here, it’s a huge thing.
Do you share an “Antiochian wisdom” with them?
I do. Oh yes, I do. I kind of stress with them that the classroom is a place for exchange. They really need to be aware of the value that they’re getting. It’s really dependent on their desire to get that. My classroom is a very informal space, but I expect you to do work, talk, come to class…and to really make use of what you have available to you right now. Because Antioch is not like any other school.
What are you working on now?
Well, I just took the piece (Appetite) down. I have the AstroTurf in my studio. It’s 50 feet long…and I’m thinking of doing another wax paper piece, but I’ve been playing with this bamboo. I want to chip that and make it into shreds of bamboo, cover the floor around the turf with that, so that fills the studio and then surround the perimeter, floor to ceiling, with wax paper. Then I’ll light that internally so it’s just a glowing form when you enter the space—it’s just empty walls, empty space except for the floors covered with bamboo and this huge white, luminescent object over you.