Cally Spooner

Susy Culinski & friends @ Fanta Spazio, Nov 28 – Jan 31

25 November 2015

Beatrice Marchi launches a new project titled Susy Culinski & friends for the opening of Milan’s Fanta Spazio, running from November 28 to January 31.

The project brings in a stack of contributing artists, including Megan Rooney, Alison Yip, Cally Spooner, and Chiara Fumai.

Little else is known about the show, but the almost forty participating artists will definitely be bringing in a lot of material of Marchi to work with.

See the Fanta Spazio website for (minimal) details. **

Cally Spooner, On False Tears and Outsourcing (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist and Vleeshal, Middelburg.
Cally Spooner, On False Tears and Outsourcing (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist and Vleeshal, Middelburg.
  share news item

Cally Spooner and the conflicted self

18 August 2015

“You haven’t actually ever seen any of my work”, says Cally Spooner, less as an accusation and more matter-of-fact over breakfast at a Middelburg hotel in the Netherlands. The artist would be correct. I’d made the three connecting trains and six-hour trip from London to the picturesque capital of the Zeeland region’s central peninsula only to miss the ‘On False Tears And Outsourcing – Singers deliver timesensitive instructions’ (2015) live presentation, having confused Vleeshal Markt in the city centre with the Vleeshal Zusterstraat gallery around the corner. I’d spent the eight o’clock August 1 event –which is, ironically, listed as “just-in-time, daily” in Spooner’s On False Tears and Outsourcing exhibition program –staring at a sign written with Dutch directions, while five minutes walk away the flash performance of singers was going on without me.

By all accounts, the four-minute event held in the cavernous late gothic city hall is a great success. I arrive in time to see the last of the audience loitering on the marble floor of the former meat hall with wine or water and the singers being congratulated for a job well done outside in the historic Middelburg town square. Spooner considers asking them to perform the piece again for my sake but as professionals it might be too much for their vocal cords. A passer-by on a bike says the sound had come like “a wave” and –perhaps delivered with a dose of that renowned Dutch directness –was “just bearable”. I can only imagine what went on. But the fact is I never saw ‘On False Tears And Outsourcing – Singers deliver timesensitive instructions’ and I have no idea what it sounds like.

Cally Spooner, On False Tears and Outsourcing (2015) Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist and the gallery Vleeshal.
Cally Spooner, On False Tears and Outsourcing (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist and Vleeshal, Middelburg.

“My shows can be very physical”, says Spooner about her body of work, which by now, being in her early 30s, is sizeable. “Maybe they’ve got screens, and lighting rigs, and speaking. But normally all of these components are hired, like the people. They’re these temporary assemblages of things that come and then go.” The ‘go’ part is key to what’s become my understanding of Spooner’s work, which extends well beyond business processes and affective labour, hysteria and the conflicted self of On False Tears And Outsourcing’s loose thematic thread and into the function of an artwork, and by extension its artist.

After all, my first encounter with Spooner’s practice was through what she had to say about it at a Lunch Bytes panel last year. As part of a selection of people put together under the Life: Language title at London’s ICA, Spooner spoke eloquently about the “big musical collapse” of her Tate Live commission ‘And You Were Wonderful, On Stage’ (2014) and an opera inspired by, among other things, Jean Cocteau, acrimonious online forum comments and the Lance Armstrong doping scandal.

Spooner’s ideas were intriguing and when the opportunity arose to see the real thing, I jumped at it. Except that what constitutes the ‘real’ in the case of Cally Spooner is complicated by the fact of her works’ impermanence. “I find this really difficult because in the absence of the work, which is regularly absent, I am all the time supporting it with this discourse, which is actually even not even a discourse that should be around those works. It’s just what I’m thinking about while I’m making it”, says the artist, who as a writer and voracious reader as well, tends to think (and talk) a lot.

Cally Spooner, On False Tears and Outsourcing (2015) Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist and the gallery Vleeshal.
Cally Spooner, On False Tears and Outsourcing (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist and Vleeshal, Middelburg.

Curated by newly appointed Vleeshal director Roos Gortzak, Spooner’s On False Tears and Outsourcing solo exhibition comes in several components. It’s treated more as a research project than a complete piece of work, and the program includes the aforementioned singing, a dance (with the overblown title ‘6 dancers, responsible for delivering self-organised efforts to resolve difficult and time-consuming issues, ‘go the distance’ across multiple overlapping phases, using appropriated competitive strategy and appropriated intimate gestures’) and an intensive Stanislavski’s method course including a notable Dutch instructor, volunteers and a financier. While I’m in Middelburg, there’s a pink sign on the door of the Vleeshal Markt that says “FINANCIERS ARE TRAINING TO PRODUCE TEARS; THE GALLERY IS THEREFORE CLOSED TO THE PUBLIC”. By now it would be gone but the exhibition still continues.

“Within the dance, within the sign, and within the song, there are choreographic movements within all of these things”, says Spooner about the three elements developed for her solo show at Vleeshal Markt. “There are vocals, there are textural gestures, there are graphical implications; there are things within all these that I do actually think stand on their own”, she adds about what she calls the “awkward politics” of her performances in their raw, unfiltered form. “It’s always this thing that I come up against because they might not contain any of the things that we’ve just been talking about. I’m talking to you about the mechanisms that enable me to make work or why I make work. But like, I think, all artists, the objects that come out –although mine are living objects formed from temporary assemblages of people, or temporary signage, or temporary lighting rigs, or whatever it might be –they could also carry other things.”

'Violent Incident' (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy the gallery Vleeshal.
Bruce Nauman, ‘Violent Incident (Man-Woman Segment)’ (1986) @ Violent Incident (2015). Exhibition view. Courtesy Vleeshal, Middelburg.

Anchored by the 1986 Bruce Nauman video ‘Violent Incident (Man-Woman Segment)’, Spooner’s Violent Incident exhibition, co-curated with Gortzak is the longest-running component of Spooner’s solo show and includes none of her own work. Instead, it draws from the collection on loan by De Vleeshal from Belgium’s M KHA and includes pieces by Nauman, Jef Geys, and Andrea Fraser; as well as other independently sourced works by Rosa Aiello, Danh Vo, Gil Leung and Bernadette Corporation. The three rooms of the second floor exhibition space are stark and white, but the sentiment is warm and vibrant. There’s a sense of humour here, a humanity that mirrors Spooner’s approach to taking potentially alienating business models and applying them to an art practice. It’s an exploratory procedure focussed on trying to understand the problematic nature of affective labour in the workplace by essentially replicating it, along with the paradox, whether by design or not. “I’m just interested in those spaces where you do manufacture emotions… industries that are designed to build certain machines or systems, or mechanics, or songs, or courses that produce affect in people. It’s just a big industry, isn’t it?”

As a result of Spooner’s fascination with this idea of “deploying affect” as a productive tool within the workplace –whether it’s in pop music, or a start-up, or method acting, or even Andrea Fraser’s embodied institutional critique in the ‘Official Welcome’ (2008) video featured in Violent Incident –she winds up perpetuating it. Gortzak emails me a fourteen-minute video documenting the earlier dances at the Vleeshal Markt, where six people embrace, push and pull against each other’s bodies in an act that is both intimate and supremely violent. Personal space is disregarded and tone confounds content as performers sneeringly shout out each other’s names, along with things like “Have a great weekend!” They’re in a slowly moving scrum of bodies that are repelled and propped up by each other; oppositional forces creating a precarious, and short-lived sort of balance. “You feel the struggle yourself, standing in the space, more so than when you’re watching it on the screen”, Roos tells me, next to Spooner at the Middelburg hotel, about these labouring bodies in a choreographed performance that appears spontaneous but is in fact highly structured.

Rosa Aiello, 'Serving' (2015) @ Violent Incident (2015). Install view. Courtesy Vleeshal, Middelburg.
Rosa Aiello, ‘Serving’ (2015) @ Violent Incident (2015). Install view. Courtesy Vleeshal, Middelburg.

A “fucking cunt!” plays on loop from Nauman’s ‘Violent Incident’ (a video of two actors hired to mechanically hit each other over what looks like an intimate dinner) in one room of the Violent Incident exhibition. Gil Leung’s audio of an a capella of The Beach Boys’ ‘Don’t Worry Baby’ refrain competes in another. Fraser’s ‘Official Welcome’ is in the corner of one room. Rosa Aiello’s ‘Serving’ (2015) video –revealing the editorial tropes, devices and cuts, the invisible mechanics, of persuasion in cinema –is in a corner of the next one. Both videos have its viewer facing the wall, back towards the rest of the room and listening to the audio through headphones. The experience is intimate and it’s embodied. Jef Geys’ ‘ABC Ecole de Paris, 1959-1961’, ink crayon and coloured pencil on paper illustrations, hang across from Danh Vo’s as yet untitled Budweiser beer box with a pattern consisting of a repeated “Your mother sucks cocks in hell” printed in red Gothic font. His 19th century death letter, written in French and copied rote by the artist’s Vietnamese father is on the wall above it. In another room Bernadette Corporation’s ‘Oh snizzap!!!’ (2010) luxury bathroom fixture, inspired by a surprise series of naked Rihanna selfies and engraved with social media responses, is in the centre of the last room on a pedestal.

“I believe that an artwork should be able to carry all this stuff that we’re talking about without me having to say it,” says Spooner about the awkward position she inhabits as an artist essentially working in immateriality. “But the works do talk about that but you haven’t seen them because they’ve come and gone. I’m also not at a point where I feel like I can stabilise those works into discrete objects,” she adds while continuing on with a “breakthrough moment” that might minimise the problem of work that, in its absence, is always being explained: 

“Six dancers arrive in the space, they run around, they clear the space, they start to call each other’s name, they gather together, they touch, they bind, they squat, they build the team, they do several handstands; they tackle each other to the ground, they embrace, they roll around, they fight the wall. I think I need to change my tactics.” **

Exhibition photos, top right.

Cally Spooner is a London-based artist. Her On False Tears and Outsourcing is on at Middelburg’s Vleeshal Markt, June 21 to August 30, 2015.

Header image: Cally Spooner, ‘On False Tears and Outsourcing’ (2015) Exhibition view. Courtesy the artist and Vleeshal, Middelburg.

  share news item

Life, language and London’s last Lunch Bytes

1 December 2014

“I’m going for a deeply oceanic look today”, Holly Childs is reading from her upcoming book Danklands, to be published via Arcadia Missa on December 9. It’s an excerpt of what she calls, “a make-up tutorial that is also subliminally a climate change awareness campaign, or a self-defence for women pep talk”. It features a persona called Augustine’ pointing at ephemeral hyperlinks from inside a computer screen, while recommending “slut shame” eye shadow or “urban decay & deathzone 4 Eva” liner to suit any lifestyle: “maybe you’re a scientist who’s just started dating again after a massive break up, or doing some whaling”. From here come the ideas of “dredging and resurfacing” that Childs actively explores in her work, a subject that is revisited in various forms across ideas and artistic practices expressed in conversation with several other writers and artists. They include Cally Spooner and David Jablonowski, as well as art historian Florian Cramer and panel moderator Elvia Wilk at Lunch Bytes exploring Life: Language. The film that should follow the ICA programme is being delayed as the last in the London editions of the Goethe-Institut‘s European series applies some interesting ideas to the computer generated future of communication via the internet.

Holly Childs, Danklands presentation image. Courtesy the artist.
Holly Childs, Danklands presentation image. Courtesy the artist.

“’Always scared amateur porn is going to turn out to be a snuff film”, Childs is quoting Australian artist Aurelia Guo in exploring the “rerouting of form” where a format meant to present one agenda exposes itself for harbouring another. Hence the post-presentation question time concerning Emoji and their relationship with the corporate interests of the companies that produce them – say, the myth of “John Appleseed” embedded in Apple’s tiny pictographs. It’s a technologised type of social interaction that started in emoticons and has since been colonised by corporate entities; Microsoft, Google and Yahoo!  encoding them with their own ideologies. Spooner goes further with these “shared behaviours between labour and speech, and therefore politics” citing Hannah Arendt’s derailing of a political form of life through speech and actions in the “big musical collapse” of her ‘And You Were Wonderful, On Stage’ (2014) performance. It was inspired by the artist’s experiences working with an advertising agency in a campaign that would refill its employees’ real-life stories with a company’s brand and values, only to resell it to its staff.

“I was thinking about how people use Emoji when they’re sexting, like an eggplant is supposed to be a dick”, Childs deadpans about the subversive potential of recalibrating said characters’ intended corporate meaning via context. This is something Cramer also illustrates via the encoded language of early 4Chan image boards, where he draws parallels between the highly referential “visual linguistics” of 17th century allegorical art and something like ‘Y U NO?’ or the Anonymous meme-cum-hacktivist group-cum-global symbol of dissent. The latter’s famous Guy Fawkes mask signifier is, of course, an iconic image that draws from Alan Moore’s cult graphic novel, V for Vendetta – which in turn was inspired by the 16th century activist – resurfacing via a Japanese anime-inspired culture transfered to Western image boards and manifesting physically via the #occupy movement.

Cally Spooner, Performance of 'Damning Evidence Illicit Behaviour Seemingly Insurmountable Great Sadness Terminated In Any Manner' (2014). Courtesy the artist.
Cally Spooner, Performance of ‘Damning Evidence Illicit Behaviour Seemingly Insurmountable Great Sadness Terminated In Any Manner’ (2014). Courtesy the artist.

In his ‘Powerslave, Revolution Main (Signature Series)’ (2014), recently shown at BRANDS – CONCEPT/AFFECT/MODULARITY, David Jablonowski draws a link between political revolutions via his found object sculptural arrangement of Iron Maiden tour merchandise from 1984. The band are regarded as the first rock act to cross into the Eastern Bloc at the time, while the limited edition Vans shoes were discovered by the Netherlands-based artist during a visit to New York when the 2012 Arab Spring in Egypt had erupted.

That sort of layering of symbolic objects not only expresses a sort of density of information but also an emptying out of a self-contained object’s self-contained meaning, especially when presented in pairings as disparate as the plexiglass and lacquered bamboo boxes in Jablonowski’s ‘Alibaba (dot cn dot sa dot com)’ (2014) sculpture at To Satisfy Algorithms/ Still Life with Asparagus. It’s inspired by a Chinese-founded trade website ( with an Arabic reference that has no connection to the region’s history except for its global potential for brand recognition.

Illustrating language as highly coded and malleable to its context – whether corporate, political or personal (often all three) – it’s in a clash of cultures and concerns that makes contemporary communication and the Lunch Bytes Life: Language discussion such a dynamic one. Cramer references Heath Bunting’s 1998 “social sculpture” ‘_readme.html (Own, Be Owned or Remain Invisible)’, where an article written by the net artist for Wired magazine is entirely linked by words to a corresponding .com domain. Starting out with mostly dead links, in the almost two decades since, they’ve been almost entirely populated and commercialised – even the conjunctions like ‘at’, ‘and’ and ‘to’.

Courtesy Holly Childs.
Courtesy Holly Childs.

Meanwhile, Spooner’s ‘Damning Evidence Illicit Behaviour Seemingly Insurmountable Great Sadness Terminated In Any Manner’ (2014) opera takes its title from a public statement made by Nike after Lance Armstrong’s revelations of doping. The opera itself outsources its scores to comment threads reacting to public controversy like Beyonce’s lip-synced Obama inauguration performance (“if you can’t trust her, who can you trust?”). All this, while Cramer suggests, “a new kind of writing needs to be invented”. But when Childs shares her “cute and nice conversation” with a Microsoft Word spell check function via an error-box gesturing, “it didn’t have the exact language to convey what it was thinking or feeling”,  I rather think it already has. **

Lunch Bytes is a discussion series examining the increasing ubiquity of digital technologies in the art world.

Header image: Cally Spooner, ‘Damning Evidence Illicit Behaviour Seemingly Insurmountable Great Sadness Terminated In Any Manner’ (2014). Courtesy the artist.

  share news item