Casey Spooner: “Now I’m addicted to museum shows. I want one every year.”
When Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner founded their art, music, and performance project Fischerspooner nearly 20 years ago in New York, they had a mission – to make the dull and elitist art scene more open and accessible and to go beyond the boundaries of art and entertainment. On the heels of releasing their latest album SIR in February and performing at this year’s Melt Festival, Fischerspooner just recently exhibited in Aachen at NAK Neuer Aachener Kunstverein. The photographic exhibition called “SIR: character studies, promotional materials, self actualization and contemporary photography 2013-2018” assembled pictures of Casey Spooner, taken by various photographers from around the globe. Then in it’s last week, Spooner came by and did a performance piece titled “Deinstall/Dismantle/Destroy”, essentially destroying the imagery of the exhibition, but creating new works in form of paintings and collages at the same time. Oh, and shaving his now iconic hair and mustache in the process. Before all that happened, Spooner found the time to have a conversation with the curator of the exhibition, NAK director Maurice Funken, about the art world in general, Fischerspooner’s role in it, his image and why he’s good at catastrophes. Photos by Thomas Weidenhaupt.
Maurice Funken: Let’s talk about Fischerspooner starting out doing shows at galleries and museums. After the exhibitions in Vienna at mumok and the one at NAK Neuer Aachener Kunstverein, do you feel like this is now coming full circle? Did you finally arrive in the art world or were you always a part of that in the first place?
Casey Spooner: Yeah, this was always my original intention. I remember when we were working on music I always dreamed of having a CD and the CD having a record label and a gallery as the logo. So when we first soft-released, we had Gavin Brown Enterprises logo on the CD, which was exciting. There was always this intention to work between entertainment and art and to do that simultaneously. Our first gallery performance was with Jack Tilton in New York, in Soho. We performed kind of anywhere, we performed in dive bars, we did a performance in a fashion show called Style Slam. It’s all in “New Truth”, there is a list of the early shows, so you see kind of how flexible we were in terms of where we would perform. Which was interesting to me, because as a performer I was learning what each context meant and how it would impact the way people would interpret the same material. So whatever we did in a museum versus whatever we did in a nightclub it was essentially the same material, but kind of an examination.
It’s a little bit the way the Aachen show works, I’m the subject. The subject stays the same and then the context, the photographer, the location shifts. So that’s what perspective means and what the different perspectives of photographers mean on a single subject. So in a way the performance was a similar thing where I was trying to reflect on what a different context means. But I never actually intended to be as much a part of entertainment, the idea was to stay as a more kind of reflection of my idiosyncratic love of pop culture. Because a lot times the things I love are not the focus, it’s the debris. It’s promotional materials, it’s the stickers, it’s the cellophane. It’s these all peripheral materials. For instance, one of my favorite things I don’t watch, are the Kardashians. I don’t watch television. But I love the promos. I love the promos for the Karadshians from about two years ago, where it’s all shot on white, it’s shot low motion, they move into a single pose, there is a wind machine. I’d much rather watch that than the show. And I would love to watch that over and over again. Because it’s just the way they have these tensely focused, incredibly sculpted moments where it’s the perfect shoulder turn to the perfect burst of wind on the perfect ironed hair. It’s fascinating, that kind of production value.
And that’s what I think Warren and I share an interest in, we both respect and are fascinated with production values. That’s where we always connected in school. In art school we met in a video art class and we were all about production value. And a lot of people felt at that time that production value diminished the meaning or the core concept of a message. But production value is powerful. Great art has always been about production value. It’s like a Delacroix painting. That’s production value. The Sixtine Chapel. That’s production value. Now we’re living through Anish Kapoor and Jeff Koons where it’s like million of dollars of production values, so there’s a lot of power.
It’s funny that you are interested in this, because people always think of Fischerspooner as the music act…
You know I’m horrified when people think I’m a DJ. I’m like, wow, really!? I’m not projecting the right message. But I think that’s turned within the past year.
It turn with the mumok show and the one at NAK?
In the nine years since the last Fischerspooner album the people were wondering for sure what´s happening with Fischerspooner, but there was always something going on with you, right? You did a solo record…
I did a solo record. That happened kind of as an accident, because we were working with this producer Jeff Saltzman. And on the last day of tracking vocals on the Fischerspooner record, on the “Entertainment” album, Jeff was like „Oh, I’m tired of producing bands, I’m gonna just have different singers come in, write and perform songs for me and I’m gonna make my own an album.“ And he was like „I have this track, would you consider making a song for me?“ And I was like „Jeff, really? On the last day of recording? We’ve been working on this record for three years. You want me to start a new song. On the last day.“ I was like „I’m done. I’m late. There’s a party at the Chateau. I’m ready to go.“ And he was like „Just three hours.“ And I was like „Ok, I have some writing, I have an idea“ And I kinda knocked out the song “Cinnamon Toast”. That was about my third birthday party and he took that recording, went off and worked on it. And he said „You know, I want to keep working on more songs.“ And I said “ok”, so he booked a studio in New York, I came in and said „Look, I gonna write for you, but I don’t wanna do final vocal tracking, I got off a long tedious production process. You can use the material however you want, whoever you want can sing it, no big deal. I’m just giving you ideas, you can edit them, you can take them apart, I don’t care.“ He’d been very generous with us as a producer, he basically financed the recording of “Entertainment”, he had paid for studio time, he had fed me, he really kept me alive through that recording process. So I felt that the thing that I could give him back was my creative energy and let him have it however he wanted. So he booked a studio and we went in for like two weeks.
Michael (Stipe) always says write a song a day, what’s impossible, but I like to work fast. I started kind of ploughing through ideas, wrote a ton of songs. Then he came back and booked more studio time, we recorded I think another two weeks and at one point in that recording session he’d always says „Oh, for my record I wanna do this, my record, my record, may record.“ And then at some point he said „your record.“ And I was like „What are you talking about?“ And he said „I think you’re making a record.“ And I was like „Really!? Oh man, come on. I’m not ready for this. I wasn’t thinking about that. I don’t wanna think about what that means in terms of like a solo artist. I’m part of the group. We haven’t even released the Fischerspooner record yet. So now I’ve got another record I’m gonna deal with?“
The releasing of records, the music is not the difficult part, it’s the marketing, it’s the promotion, it’s the bureaucracy, it’s the business, the building of a tour, the building of an aesthetic world to support the music. It’s as much work as the music for me. So I really was reluctant. We ended up mixing my solo record as we were finishing the mixing on the Fischerspooner record. The Fischerspooner record took three years to record and the record I made with Jeff took about six months. So it was much faster and they both basically finished at the same time. And our music manager at the time was like: „You can’t release this album at the same time, because it’s gonna undercut everything.“ So it got shelved. The solo record Adult Contemporary sat on the shelf for about a year.
And then as we were releasing “Entertainment” there was the financial crisis, the collapse of Wall Street. We had a terrible tour that summer, ended up in Cologne performing at Luxor. I saw a poster for Luxor the other day and I was like „Wow, the last time I performed in Cologne it was one of the worst experiences.“ That tour was a challenge. But I was able to kind of turn it because William Forsythe came to our performance in Frankfurt and we had a conversation. We were moving towards performing in MoMA, in the atrium in November of 2009. It was the first performance that they had in the new MoMA atrium. Klaus Biesenbach was getting ready for the Marina (Abramovic) exhibition and they were hosting this seminars and inviting lots of performers doing these kind of field study research, like asking top performance art people how to deal with archive, how to deal with exhibition, how to build a museum show. So this seminars led into the big Marina exhibition. Anyway, in my conversation with William Forsythe I realized that shitty, shitty night club shows I was doing, they were actually research for my MoMA show. So that was a change of perspective and I was „Oh, right, I’m not like a failing pop star doing a shitty night club tour. I’m actually an artist pretending to be a singer doing a shitty night club tour.“ What other artist gets that kind of experience and then take that into a cultural space and be able to share that knowledge?
So you wouldn’t see Fischerspooner and yourself basically just as a music act?
Absolutely not. I ended up writing an incredible speech that I would do every night before the encore. It was this amazing, beautiful monologue that went on for like fifteen minutes about entertainment. It made sense because the whole record was about entertainment. And it was about death and destruction, how the machine of entertainment was built to devour and destroy people. Meanwhile, it was devouring and destroying me. I felt like I was living all these showbiz cliches. Part of touring is I like to watch the same movies. On that tour I liked to watch the same movies over and over again. So I watched “Sunset Boulevard”, I would watch “The Rose”. On the tour of the first album we watched a lot of “Showgirls”. Like every night we’d watch “Showgirls”. That kind of set the mood. We’d do the show, get on the bus, order a bunch of pizzas, smoke weed and watch “Showgirls”, pass out, get up, do the show again, eat pizzas, smoke weed, watch “Showgirls”, be showgirls. So even when I’m working in kind of traditional show venues I think of it as research and inspiration and an opportunity that I later take and place in a museum. So it’s a kind of field research, experience and writing, it’s a way for me to understand the subject, to be able to take that experience and reframe and share it in a historical and intellectual perspective.
As I’ve come to know you a little bit the past few weeks, you are rooted in the art world, in the media, in entertainment, always working on projects. But there was this period of nine years, when Fischerspooner didn’t do any music, let’s get back to that. What were you up to in-between?
I did a lot of things. I released that solo record. I burned out actually, because I did a Dj tour leading into “Entertainment”. Then I toured “Entertainment” and also was performing with the Wooster Group. Then I was touring Adult Contemporary. At one point I was touring five different projects and I traveled for almost three years non-stop. It was so unhealthy and so exhausting, so fatiguing, that I crashed around 2011. It was right around the time I ended touring with Scissor Sisters.
When I came back to New York I told everyone to cancel everything. The first thing that did afterwards was I started working on a web series for a website called Imagine Fashion. My husband and I, Adam Dugas, did a year long project where we shot and interviewed different creatives. In hindsight it was kind of therapeutic for me because I was so exhausted and burned out. My career was not going well. It was weirdly a process for me to talk to other creative people and find out their approach, how they worked, how they survived, what they considered success. So that was almost a year where I did that recovery of interviewing people. And out of that Adam and I wrote, produced and directed this feature called Dust. Then I went back to the Wooster Group. I would perform with them in their production of Hamlet, did some consulting for them, too. I also ended up in their production of Cry, Trojans!. I made two books; I worked on New Truth, which was a huge, huge task. Again my husband produced that and worked with me. I worked on that book for seven months almost full-time. While I was doing all those projects I was still writing and recording music. I started writing on the music for this record in January of 2013. I did several photo shoots as well. I was always moving between film, photography, performance, writing.
When we met you told me you were stranded in Paris last year. But you decided to stay there. So missing your flight, this would be a small catastrophe for normal people, but you turned this into a creative impulse, right?
Yeah, I guess I’m good at catastrophe. You can choose to make a bad situation a step or an opportunity. I don’t know where it comes from. I’ve learned to deal with failure and to not let failure stop me. I mean sure, I had terrible times. I wonder how the fuck did I do all this work and come all this way and why don’t I have my shit together at this point? But life doesn’t have that kind of a shape, you kind of imagine that it’s gonna be like a clear trajectory, but it’s not. Even making this exhibition. We did it quickly. I didn’t have time to edit the photos, you edited the photos. That press picture came out and I was like „Holy shit, I just fucking let someone make an entire museum exhibition with pictures of me and I didn’t even look at them. I picked the one lead image and didn’t look at anything else.“ Which was fun for me, because it was like really letting go. In the past I would be very controlling of my image. But I didn’t have time. We were in the middle of the release. I was touring, I had to make a show. So then I said ok. I like to take risks. And out of it now has come this new idea of destroying the image. Because I was honest with you, I was like „Holy shit, we just played a game and now I’m realizing this might go wrong.“ In the past I would have panicked, but now I was like too late. I take responsibility, that I didn’t ask to see the images, I didn’t ask to do the edit, I didn’t ask to do the layout. So I recognize my responsibility in that and that puts me into a frame of mind where I am „Ok, next step. Ok, destroy the image and make it a performance.” When I got to the opening, there were some images that I’d like to have destroyed, but you guys worked so hard, I watched you work so hard, that I just did not have the heart to tear it apart. Then I was like it’s fine, it doesn’t matter, it is what it is.
I would have been fine with you destroying the images you didn’t like…
But now it’s happening as a bigger idea. It’s not just me at the opening scrapping off one image. The deinstall has to happen anyway. So why not make that part of the process? Now I can have a conversation with your work, a dialog…
For the past five years you’ve become this character, physically shaping your body as well. When we first met you said you might get rid of it after the show. Is this still going to happen?
I don’t know. It’s nice being this new person. But I mean I always evolve and change. I think I have to remain consistent to this image because of all the photos. I didn’t change my hair or my mustache. It’s like pictures that where shot three years ago, they look like I shot them today. It makes my job so much easier. It seems like it’s all the same time, but it’s not. It’s a broad period of time. So to honor in a way this period, it’s time to lose the mustache and lose the hair. I dream of doing that by having a hundred people in a wig and with a mustache that looks exactly the same on stage and then I can peel it all off and there is nothing there…
It’s kind of a classic look you have there.
It’s easy to grow your hair, it’s all temporary. If I cut my mustache, it will come back. If I shave my head, the hair will come back. I can have a wig made. It’s been unusual, a lot has changed in the past five years.
Looking back at these five years, do you like how everything turned out?
Yes, I made all the right choices. It’s crazy. I feel like when I started this project I was in a similar kind of flow and everything worked and connected. Then things went into so many different directions, life has it’s way with you and now somehow I’m in a new golden age. Also I feel like the world caught up to me. All the ideas I was trying to talk about, like combining music and art and performance and fashion. Worlds were so segregated. When we started to have success in the music industry, the art world shut down. The art world had been into it when it was more exclusive and their secret guilty pleasure. But the minute it became more populist, it lost it’s appeal. The elitism of the art world couldn’t appreciate the conceptual dynamism of making something that could go between the populist and the elite. I had always dreamed that I would do a photo shot, one image would be the record cover, and I knew I would make a series of images that didn’t have a purpose and they could all end up as kind of an exhibition. But none of that worked. And now it seems to be gaining only more and more momentum. Now I’m addicted to museum shows. I want one every year.
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