The Cage is a Stage Emily Mast

June 22 - September 18, 2016

Curated by Julia Paoli and Christine Shaw


The Cage is a Stage is a multi-compositional project composed of two gallery exhibitions, a billboard, and a short performance at the Blackwood Gallery, an evening-length performance that premieres onstage at The Power Plant's Harbourfront Centre Theatre, and a publication.

Click here to download the micropublication, The Cage is a Stage: Field Notes, featuring research, texts, and source material corresponding to each of the twenty performance vignettes that comprise The Cage is a Stage, with an introduction by Emily Mast and full colour illustrations throughout.

Emily Mast, The Cage is a Stage (redacted), 2016.
Photo: Betsy Lin Seder.
Special Events

Opening Reception and Performance
Saturday, June 25, 2–5pm
A FREE shuttle bus will depart from Mercer Union (1286 Bloor St West) at 2:00pm and return for 5:00pm in time for the opening of Width of a Witch, a solo exhibition by Jason Dodge, and reading by CAConrad.

Performance at the Harbourfront Centre Theatre
Wednesday, June 29, 8pm
Thursday, June 30, 8pm
Admission: FREE for members of The Power Plant, $12 non-members
Tickets will be made available for purchase later in Spring 2016 online or via the Harbourfront Centre Box Office at 416.973.4000.

Forum: Why Look at Cages?
Friday, July 22, 10–5pm
Jackman Humanities Institute & University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM)
Presented by the Blackwood Gallery & Animals in the Law and Humanities

Drawing from John Berger’s 1977 essay, Why Look at Animals?, this one-day event examines the juxtapositions and intersections of human and animal, with speakers from across disciplines including sociology, law, music, and filmmaking.

With Abbas Akhavan (artist, Toronto), Mitchell Akiyama (composer and scholar, York University), Stefan Dolgert (Social Sciences, Brock University), Columba Gonzalez (Anthropology, University of Toronto), Liz Marshall (filmmaker, Toronto), Tracy McDonald (History, McMaster University), MH Tse (Law, Harvard University), Judith Nicholson (Communication Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University), and Erika Ritter (writer, Toronto), former participants of the Inside-Out program (which brings together incarcerated students and campus-enrolled UTM students as classmates), and performers Kumari Giles, Benjamin Kamino, and Andrea Spaziani.

For more information on the forum, Why Look at Cages?, please click here.

FREE Contemporary Art Bus Tour
Sunday, August 14, 12–5pm
The tour starts at Mercer Union (1286 Bloor Street West) at 12pm and then departs for Blackwood Gallery, Oakville Galleries, and the Art Gallery of Hamilton, returning to 1286 Bloor Street West at 5pm. Seating is limited. Please RSVP by Friday, August 12 to or 905.828.3789.

Running with Concepts: The Choreographic Edition
September 16–18, University of Toronto Mississauga
Emily Mast will speak about her practice at Running with Concepts: The Choreographic Edition. This three-day hybrid event is part colloquium, part workshop, part performance, and part experiment. For more information on the conference, please click here.


The Blackwood Gallery and The Power Plant are pleased to present The Cage is a Stage, a co-commissioned project by Los Angeles-based artist Emily Mast. In her choreographed performances and installations, Mast incorporates bodies, movement, sound, and light as live sculptural material. Her work emerges from collaborative practices that celebrate their ambiguous position between art, theater, poetry and dance. Mast often allows her work to unfold in chapters, presenting iterations and offshoots of the same piece in various contexts. This strategy comes from her longstanding interest in the imprecision of language, the unreliability of memory, and the value of inaccuracy as they relate to systems of belief in contemporary society.

Exhibition Statement

The Cage is a Stage is a multi-compositional project composed of two gallery exhibitions, a billboard, a short performance at the Blackwood Gallery, an evening-length performance that premieres onstage at The Power Plant’s Harbourfront Centre Theatre, and a publication. By scrutinizing animality, the project examines some of the deep-seated compulsions of the human species, such as the need to control, tame, punish, and play. Mast constructs a landscape of stylized vignettes in order to expand on ideas that John Berger puts forth in his essay “Why Look at Animals,” in which he compares zoos to art galleries. Stating that each cage acts as a frame around the animal inside, he proposes that visitors stroll from cage to cage in the zoo much like they stroll from artwork to artwork in an exhibition. Like a theatre set, zoo décor is pure illusion, and what is outside of these delusory environments therefore holds the promise of being “real.” As a result, what’s inside becomes a fictionalized account of the “natural,” revealing more about who we are as storytellers than the subject of the story itself.

During the development of her project Mast researched both animal captivity and human confinement. She conducted interviews with animal experts, including a zoo curator, an anthrozoologist (who studies the interaction between humans and animals) and a telepathic interspecies communicator. At the same time, she examined emotional expression in animals, the affective bonds between humans and animals, and the intersections of speciesism, racism, and sexism. To highlight her findings, she cast a core group of performers to physically interpret and embody her integrative points of interest. Her cast is comprised of a method actor who specializes in emulating ape movement, a Butoh dancer who explores animal and human social psychology, a ballerina turned cirque performer, an artist who works with the animal/human gaze, and a child actor and horse fanatic. In her collaborative work with them, Mast has generated scores that serve as “frames” in which to explore and examine both the political implications of marginalization and the behaviour of humans through a cultural understanding of animal nature.

The Cage is a Stage was developed in collaboration with and performed by Heyward Bracey, Kiara Gamboa, Garrett Hallman, Angelina Prendergast, and Joe Seely.


Video interviews with Emily Mast and performers Heyward Bracey, Kiara Gamboa, Angelina Prendergast, and Joe Seely.

Videographer: Mike Dopsa

Video documentation of performance at Blackwood Gallery on June 25, 2016. Choreographed by Emily Mast and performed by Heyward Bracey, Kiara Gamboa, Angelina Prendergast, and Joe Seely.

Videographer: Mike Dopsa

Artist Biography

Emily Mast (born in Akron, Ohio, 1976) recently staged a solo “choreographed exhibition” called Missing Missing at La Ferme du Buisson in Noisiel, France, and an 18-part roving procession of performances based on the poetry of Joan Brossa at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). In addition, her video, installation, and performance work was part of the Hammer Museum’s Made in L.A. Biennial (2014). Mast’s performances have been exhibited at venues including: China Art Objects Galleries, Los Angeles (2015); Mona Bismarck American Center, Paris (2015); Silencio, Paris (2015); Night Gallery, Los Angeles (2014); Robert Rauschenberg Foundation Project Space, New York (2013); Public Fiction, Los Angeles (2012); REDCAT, Los Angeles (2012); MUHKA, Antwerp (2011); Human Resources, Los Angeles (2010) and Performa, New York (2009). Mast has received numerous awards including a Harpo Foundation Grant (2013); Center for Cultural Innovation Investing in Artists Grant (2013); Franklin Furnace Fund Grant (2013); and a California Community Foundation Fellowship (2012). In 2009 Mast graduated with a Masters in Fine Arts from the University of Southern California and has been an artist-in-residence at the Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture; the Headlands Center for the Arts in Sausalito; and Yaddo in Saratoga Springs. 

Exhibition Photos
Performance at Blackwood Gallery
Performance at The Power Plant

Heyward Bracey, Kiara Gamboa, Garrett Hallman, Angelina Prendergast, Joe Seely

Ted Byrnes, percussion
Michael Day, composition & turntables

Oz Weaver

Associate Lighting Designer & Production Stage Manager
Noah Feaver

Ape suits
Joe Seely

Nicolette Henry, Emily Mast, Joe Seely

Set and Props
Emily Mast, Joe Seely

Alison Cooley, Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, Emily Mast, Julia Paoli, Christine Shaw

Betsy Lin Seder, Soyoung Shin

Video assistance
Christopher Richmond

Gallery Installation Technicians
Petrina Ng, Ryan Park, Matthew Tegel

Performance Technicians
Brian Aitken, Paul Zingrone

Henry Chan, Toni Hafkenscheid, John Verhaeven

Program Design
Matthew Hoffman

Program Printing
Colour Code

Program Publisher
Blackwood Gallery


The Cage is a Stage is presented in partnership with The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery and is co-curated by Julia Paoli, Associate Curator at The Power Plant and Christine Shaw, Director/Curator at the Blackwood Gallery.



Why Look at Cages? is presented in partnership with the Jackman Humanities Institute.


The Blackwood Gallery is supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, the Ontario Arts Council, and the Department of Visual Studies, University of Toronto Mississauga. Funding for additional staff support made possible through the Young Canada Works in Heritage Organizations program, Department of Canadian Heritage. The Canadian Museums Association administers the museum component of the YCW program on behalf of the Department of Canadian Heritage.






Special thanks to
Peter Urbanek, MiST Theatre (UTM), Jim Smagata, Joe Taylor, Rob Sandolowich, Gillian Gamboa, Simone Forti, Mikaal Sulaiman, Sylvain Oswald, Tim Reid, Kim Schoen, Marty Schnapf, Cammie Staros, Olivia Mole, Marcella Faustini, Rick Hager, Davie Blue, Alisa Ratner, Hannah Chodos, Katie Oscar, Zuty Lorz, Lulu, Sean Den Bok, The Los Angeles Zoo, Deborah Erickson, Mary Getten, Shoshana Avree, Rachel Mayeri, Roberto Martin, Gustine Fudicker, Carol Katz, Kestrel Leah, Paloma Street Studio, Jmy James, Pieter, Shelby Brage, Lucas Littlejohn, Susanna Weingarten, Hugh McCormick, Mark Borman, Ingrid Evans, Martha Mast, Eric Mast, E*Rock, Zadie Haendel, Karl Haendel, Hazel