Seeing in Triplicate: Meet the Casilio Sisters

Alicia, Sarah and Kelly Casilio are identical triplets.

Alicia, Sarah and Kelly Casillio are identical triplets.

By Robert Israel

The Casilio triplets — Alicia, Sara and Kelly — have been confounding and provoking viewers of their art shows and public displays for nearly a decade.

Flash back: I first met the identical triplets Alicia, Sara and Kelly Casilio some years back, when they were affable, lanky teenagers who seemed to speak their own language. When addressed, they replied as one. I could discern no difference in their looks, in the tone and substance of their speech, or in their gestures. There were no telltale birthmarks. They were one person, multiplied by three.

They took perverse delight – from barely restrained giggling to outright laughter – when, on subsequent meetings over the years, usually at the home of a relative of mine, they challenged me to correctly identify them by name. I failed. Flustered, I retorted that they reminded me of the Triplets of Belleville, those three identical sisters in the French surrealist animated film from 2003 who, among other grotesque behaviors, enjoyed licking and then devouring frogs (legs and all).

They’d heard that comparison before. They weren’t buying.

“Ewwww,” they grimaced in unison. “We’re nicer than that.”

Flash forward: The Casilio triplets are 30-plus now, and as mischievous as ever. They still take perverse delight in confounding others about their identities, and in so doing, forcing us to confront our own.

And while the Casilios don’t savor dining on frogs like that cartoon Belleville triplets, their creative work can be just as unsettling. They use the mediums of film/video, photography and live performances to make bold statements. Their guerrilla performances — appearing on Wall Street, for example, dressed as identical pin-striped panhandlers with wads of phony bailout cash bursting from briefcases, or in Lafayette Park in Washington, D.C., dressed soldiers, civilians, and Iraqi women to protest the Iraq war — have been witnessed by scores of onlookers and have garnered national headlines.

The Casilios are androgynous chameleons who transform themselves into men, or heavily cosmeticized women, or variations of both. They have dressed as nuns, as street punks, as male judges/lawyers, to name only a few. They are ever-evolving, which is why they call their new show a “work in progress.”

They defy typecasting. Their work closely resembles American artist Cindy Sherman, who often dons grotesque costumes, bends her gender according to whim, and then either photographs or films herself.

“We know Cindy Sherman’s work,” Sara said, “and she once said that she didn’t want to make art that people didn’t understand, and we agree with that. But we don’t follow other artists. We do our own thing, making public art that has grown from who we are.”

“Since we’ve been very young, we’ve been looked at in public in a certain way,” Alicia added, “and so we’ve grown used to that, and we use that in our art.”

The Casilios began their performances in Boston in 2001 when they dressed as identical business women, checking their watches in mechanized movements. They later moved on to perform at bars in Boston, where they donned wigs to play off the stereotypes of “radical blond chicks,” as Sara calls them, removing their wigs to show bar patrons that they were really brunettes. They took the streets of New York and performed at Ground Zero before the national elections, where they came close to being arrested by a New York City cop on duty. And they have performed their own version of an art installation at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Boston.

Their collaborator throughout many of these performances is Cary Wolinsky, a photographer whose work was associated for years with National Geographic magazine. Wolinsky photographed the triplets for a show earlier this year at Gallery Kayafas in Boston and has worked with them on their show at Boston University’s Commonwealth Avenue gallery.

“At the B.U. show, we created an installation that occupies the inside of a former Cadillac dealership on Commonwealth Avenue,” Sara said. “The theme is a search for Eden and we use different varieties of apples to weave a thread throughout the seven different sections, or ’truths’ about Eden. For instance, we use a giant Fuji apple to illustrate a vacation theme, illustrating the fantasies Americans have when they want to go on holiday. We use a Golden Delicious apple to show an androgynous serpent to illustrate Adam, Even and the serpent, and we alter the exterior of the building, too.”

Shortly after the show closed in Boston, the Casilio triplets were off to do a show in New York at the Dodge Gallery. While they each have separate lives, they collaborate often, and their new work can be found online at http://www.triiibe.com.

And that sums up the Casilio triplets: they are works in progress, like us all. They take advantage of their unique shared identities to confound and to awaken us to our own unpredictable natures, our own changing identities, those that we define by our jobs, our sex, and our dreams. They hold a mirror up to us and ask us to confront the truth that we are all constantly in flux, and living in an ever-changing world.

**
Robert Israel can be reached at risrael_97@yahoo.com. A previous version of this piece appeared in Edge Media Network (Boston).

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