All bodies should be represented in stone – new series of body sculptures inspired by top surgery

Multidisciplinary artist Holly Silius presents a new series of stone body sculptures ‘Phantom Feel’, inspired by writer and actor Lio Mehiel’s top surgery. The new series reimagines traditional figurative sculpture with a gender-queer and transmasculine body. All profits will be donated to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, which works to guarantee that all people are free to self-determine gender identity and expression regardless of income and race without facing violence.

Holly Silius is a fast emerging contemporary artist, based between the UK and LA. Silius’ body of work explores the human form, both raw and adorned, from body cast stone sculptures to masks and wearable body jewellery. The duality of raw and adorned mirrors Silius’ background in fine art and SFX.

The title “Phantom Feel” refers to a question Holly Silius posed to Lio Mehiel, whether they still have phantom feelings of their breasts. The question inspired Mehiel to respond with a poem, including the verse “She asks if I have phantom feelings. Whispers from breasts no longer there. I assume yes. Why wouldn’t it be the same as a soldier who lost his limb? That is, if I lost something.”

About Holly Silius:

British-born artist, Holly Silius, was raised in the northwest of England before moving to London to study SFX makeup at the London College of Fashion. Silius’s interest in makeup was borne from her extensive background in fine-art. Early on, she utilized her training in SFX by working in TV & film as well as the Royal Opera House of London. In 2016, she was invited to exhibit at Tate Britain in a group exhibit for “Late at Tate,” a series of interactive workshops and exhibited work. Private and commercial commissions of her work have led to collaborations with Apple, Yves Tumor, KKW Beauty, and Katie Grand’s The Perfect Magazine. Holly is currently based between the UK and LA.

Holly Silius on Phantom Feel: “I was interested in understanding the way bodies are represented in a sculptural way. Figurative sculptures are historically gender normative, and I believe all bodies should be represented in stone. I wanted to share this as I think it’s beautiful and bold. I wondered how it felt, and knew about the phantom limb feelings. I wanted to share a tangible piece for the viewer’s mind to wander and feel something..”

What is the art project Phantom Feel about?

Phantom Feel for me was about showing the beauty in changing the body and to own and validate those changes and showing this as permanent in such an unchangeable material as stone.

For me personally to understand what this must feel like as a female and to try and give the onlooker some tangible feelings of how to interpret these feelings of how trans gender might feel. Art can create emotions and give meaning to sometimes what documentaries and books cannot. I wanted to convey what it felt like to lose body parts through something that wasn’t malicious but intentional.

What is the story behind the name Phantom Feel?

The feelings I had heard soldiers might get after losing a limb after war had always intrigued me and it triggered me to sensitively ask Lio if they got these feelings. I was so nervous to ask Lio as I didnt want to be misinterpreted and pri too much on such an intimate experience but Lio was so incredibly open and I was fascinated. The story was evolving in my mind and I was getting urges to dig deeper into something I wanted to understand and share. The significance of the before and after was troubling me and I wanted to see a story within this somehow even though we only met after Lio had had the surgery. So then came the sculpture of the breasts as the phantom part using pictures of Lio before. The casting and hand sculptures were an intuitive feeling I wanted to make which leant themselves very well into the story.

What was the inspiration behind this project?

Kobe Wagstaff and lio. Kobe is the photographer who brought us together. He is a queer photographer and wanted to explore the beauty and bring light to Lio’s top surgery. His foundation of work is built upon fluidity and he always wants to create learning from his photos.

What do the new series explore and how is gender identity portrayed?

This series explores the importance of fluidity and recognizing that gender isn’t fixed.

Is there enough trans visibility and awareness in the art industry?

I dont believe so, from actors to models to tangible art pieces and celebrated trans people I don’t see the balance of their exposure. And from myself I believe you can create this exposure in support of this community even if you are not from that community. We all need to bring more light on these incredible people. I just watched a documentary on Gloria Allred and she was literally a beacon, paving the way for so many under represented communities… we need more of this across all area if that be in life, media or art.

Holly how do you like to represent bodies through your work?

I love the human form it simply captivates me, the shapes, the beauty, the wabi sabi, textures, light and shade..my mind is a kaleidoscope of surreal and reality which is how I represent bodies…i think in a fantastical stylized way with truth.

Holly, you have been invited to exhibit at Tate Britain and you also have collaborated with Apple, Yves Tumor, KKW Beauty, and Katie Grand’s The Perfect Magazine. How do you feel by these achievements and how do you imagine your career in the future?

I am a multidisciplinary artist and this has always been thankfully nurtured. I have been given the chance to expand and not be constricted in any manner. Let the imagination be realized was always drummed into me at London College of Fashion and at home. I am super grateful to the people I get to collaborate with and who trust me with creating their visions. I have the confidence and patience to actualize my own fluid artworks which is an ever evolving door of excitement and nervousness, constantly being out of the box can be difficult but then recognized by such incredible creators also which is so gratifying.

What are your future plans?

My future plans are to keep designing and producing artworks that convey important statements aswel as creating beautiful things…if that be about gender, environmental and animal awareness then I want to use my art to communicate, support and start up dialogues.

About Lio Mehiel:

Lio Mehiel is a gender-queer, transmasculine, Puerto Rican and Greek actor, filmmaker, and conceptual artist based in LA. As a gender-queer artist, Lio’s work explores how we confront the fractured existence of our day, and proposes a queer understanding of time and space as a way to embrace the full range our aliveness. They employ techniques of surreal cinema and movement-based performance to create immersive, celebratory, and unflinchingly intimate works.

What is the art project Phantom Feel about?

Phantom Feel, for me as a trans artist, is about the intersection of fluidity and permanence. It is about the nameless desire I held for many years before I gave myself permission to transition. It is about the hazy dissatisfaction with my body I once felt, in contrast with the absolute euphoria that comes through self-determination. It is about the unexpected fondness I developed for my feminine breasts once I knew they were leaving. It is about the radical celebration of rendering a trans body in stone.

What was the inspiration behind this project?

Phantom Feel came out of a desire that the three of us (myself-model, Kobe-photographer, and Holly-sculptor) all had to make something together. I was approaching the six month anniversary of my gender affirming top surgery, and so it felt like a perfect intersection of all of our crafts to create a photo series in which I posed alongside a cast of my new chest that Holly would create.

How does Mehiel interact with casts of their body pre and post-transition?

When I finally got to see Holly’s work on the day we shot the photos, I was quite literally brought to my knees with a sense of awe and gratitude. I fell in love with the piece she made out of cement in particular — I couldn’t believe how beautiful it is, how solid, how strong. I had never seen a trans body represented in stone. And the clarity of my scars in the cast captures this gorgeous juxtaposition of a fluid body rendered in this seemingly unchanging material. It was so affirming to see a sculpture of a trans body that I imagine could be next to a sculpture of Adonis in from Ancient Greece. The sculptures and their accompanying images make me feel a deep validation I hope other trans people can feel when encountering the work we created. It was like suddenly I was made permanent.

Is there enough trans visibility and awareness in the art industry?

Absolutely not. We are still in a moment in which there is limited visibility of trans work and trans artists across all the art and entertainment industries. As a result, much of the work produced by trans people is often assumed to be solely about the trans or queer experience. I am excited for the day when there is such diversity and equity in the art world that there are no expectations around the work trans people make — they can make a piece about a tree and that’s enough.

Lio, how has your origin and your Greek descent shaped yourself?

I grew up in New York exposed to a vibrant Greek Orthodox community through my dad’s family. As I have gotten older and come into my queerness, I have felt a bit alienated from that culture, which feels very heteronormative and centered around patriarchy. However, the confidence, generosity, and sense of pride that permeates Greek identity is definitely in my blood. It has taken me time to become comfortable in my skin as a trans person, but now that I am further along in my transition, and have a more robust queer support system, I feel a renewed calling to celebrate my Greek heritage.

Once we got going, the piece began to reveal itself. In sculpting the cast of my new chest, Holly had the idea to create a complimentary piece in which she free-hand sculpted my chest pre-surgery based on old photos I shared with her. During this exchange, she asked me if I experience anything like “phantom limb,” or the feeling of having feminine breasts even after they’re gone. Her question clarified the intention of our work together, inspired me to write an accompanying poem, and gave us the beautiful title Phantom Feel.

Lio, what are the areas you like to explore through your work and how does queer identity influence art?

I am a writer, actor and multimedia artist. Across my work, I employ techniques of surrealist cinema and movement based performance to explore the inherent contradiction of the trans experience — equally rooted in our socialized flesh as it is transcendent in its imaginative embodiment. Because I am still in the early stages of my transition, everything I make is about queerness. I use my work, especially in film and performance, as a way to pilot out aspects of my identity in order to understand who I am and how I might fit within the world.

What are your future plans?

As a interdisciplinary artist, I always have multiple projects going at once. As a filmmaker, I am working on my first feature script, Disforia, which is an adaptation of a short I made in 2018 by the same name. The short was quite successful, playing at festivals across the US, so I have been lucky enough to receive support to expand the project. On the art side, I have fallen in love with collaborating with queer photographers and visual artists to create photo series like Phantom Feel, in which I can offer my body and my vulnerability towards creating more queer visibility and representations of queer euphoria within the visual art canon. As a writer, I am working on a prose poetry book that imagines trans people as messengers and angels, ushering in a more expansive future where we all have the space and freedom to selfdetermine.

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