Last month, Modern Weekly
, China's largest fashion and culture publication (with a readership of over 750,000!), published a feature article/interview that I did on Casey Spooner
. It exists in print form entirely in Chinese, but the magazine said that I could share the English version here. I'm not sure where you can pick this up in the states, but if you can track it down, you'll see one incredible suite of photographs that artist Asger Carlsen
took of Casey alongside the text. The shoot was produced by Adam Dugas
, who also shot an accompanying video
that is being screened as part of "A Shaded View On Fashion Film
" at Centre Pompidou in Paris this week!CASEY SPOONER
by Joseph Whitt
We live in a time of everything creating nothing, of invisible technologies and endless selfies, of algorithms autocorrecting imperfections, of singularities and sighs.
“Lessness,” says Casey. “Tell me what you think of that word.”
We’re standing in front of a temporary wall in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, wallpapered in flyers and street art, obscuring a blight of condominium construction.
“It has a nice economy,” I say.
Casey takes out a Sharpie and writes the word in all caps in a blank corner of the most compelling image plastered to the wall – a stark, impossibly contorted nude by an uncredited artist.
“You know Asger Carlsen, right? That’s his work. Look at the way he treats the body in that photograph.”
The form feels male but I’m not sure why, and reads as a hybrid of stone and flesh. There is no face to offer expression. Limbs and extremities have been turned in on themselves, deflated, or removed altogether with Photoshopped seamlessness. The result is a sort of precise abstraction of nudity.
“Lessness,” I say, pausing, my eyes darting back and forth from the word to the image.
Casey smiles and nods.
“It may be the title of the new record.”
I’ve been a witness to Casey Spooner’s creative process for the last 15 years, first as a fan, then as a writer, then as a friend. He is most famously the front man of Fischerspooner – a New York City-based performance art-pop collective that he founded with Warren Fischer in 1998. Their raison d’être in the early days was to deconstruct entertainment by pushing clichés of theatre and MTV to their limits within the context of itinerant spaces and art galleries. The group often included backstage preparation as part of their performances. They would enter the audience, interact directly with them, purposefully lip-synch songs badly, start and stop unexpectedly, then blow everyone’s mind with a perfectly choreographed routine. It was incredible to witness. Along the way, as budgets grew, wind machines, pyrotechnics and glitter cannons were added to the repertoire; and homemade wardrobes were replaced by requests from Parisian fashion houses to clothe Casey and his flanking army of dancers. An album of electronica followed. It became so popular that Fischerspooner’s brand of “meta-entertainment” reached mainstream music audiences on festival circuits, and then on international tours. A major record label picked them up, and suddenly Casey had to grapple with the place of performance art inside legitimate show business success.
“There’s a point when you create something and it escapes your intention and becomes something else.”
I’m getting a bit nostalgic as we walk further into Williamsburg. We pass a hangar-sized building on North 1st
Street where, in 2004, Casey and Warren hosted a series of eclectic salons. Gallerist Jeffrey Deitch, who represented Fischerspooner at the time, provided the space initially as a stage for open rehearsals as the group conceived its second album. When the recording took longer than expected, Casey devised the salons as a solution to the question of how to extend and expand the group’s inclusive impulse. Friends and collaborators were invited to come and do screenings, readings, unveilings, and all manner of theater. This is where I began to meet Fischerpooner’s large circle of associates who seemed to be from every creative background imaginable. I also discovered that these kind of confluences were, and still are, a big part of how Casey becomes inspired and makes work.
“That was a transitional time. Our process had to change to suit the demands of a recording contract. Before Odyssey
(the group’s second album), we would develop visuals – still photography and video – music, and choreography, all in tandem. After the signing, we felt a lot of pressure to compartmentalize… to work on each medium separately. I’d never worked like that before, but I learned a lot
. I’ve always been a good multitasker, but nowadays, I multitask much more intuitively.”
In recent years, Casey has released a solo album and a third Fischerspooner record. In between conceptualizing and touring in service of both projects, he traveled (and continues to travel) as an actor in international productions of Hamlet by The Wooster Group, New York’s most well-known experimental theatre company. In 2012, Casey and his partner of 13 years, artist/writer Adam Dugas, co-created a feature film, Dust
, that previewed at the Durban International Film Festival in Durban, South Africa this summer. And, Candy Magazine just published a suite of portrait photographs that Casey took of New York City’s emerging downtown performance crowd, many of whom he considers friends.
“Now you’re rehearsing for the role of Diomedes (in Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida)?” I ask.
“I’m going in and workshopping for a couple weeks to see if I fit the production,” says Casey. “Wooster will preview it here in January, and these coming weeks are a bit of a test to see if I can do the part. I just have to memorize those damn Shakespearean lines!”
We agree to duck inside a coffee shop to escape the August humidity and begin an interview.
“I want to play you some of the demos that Warren and I’ve been working on (for the forthcoming Fischerspooner record). Then, let’s talk.”
So we sit down. Out comes a succession of espressos. And, I don a pair of earbuds…
“Headlong, young, dumb and full of cum
You find you're all washed up
On some beach
You've pieced together from a teenage fantasy
Getting hard in the back of a bookstore
Searching for clues in a Bruce Weber volume
Dog-eared and beat up
You sneak a peek but you leave it on the shelf
A sacred tome you visit secretly
Now here you are
Now here you are”
[excerpt from “Oh Rio,” (work in progress)]
JW: When we first began discussing these songs, you said that you were exploring a “new masculinity” – a kind of post-political maleness that lacked self-consciousness. Could you elaborate a bit about how that came about?
CS: I wasn't sure if I would ever make a Fischerspooner album again. I wondered if there was any relevance left in our core thesis of merging the avant-garde with entertainment. What once seemed radical had become status quo.But then Warren and I decided to do a test last January, just see what would happen if we made a couple of songs. No pressure. It went well. We made a song in 3 days, and it was damn good. So, we knew we had to keep going. We had to admit that there was still some kind of magic between us.Immediately after making this first song, we had discussions over a core topic. We always do this. We pick some idea to move towards. I knew I wanted to deal with love and sex and men. Sounds cliché but I wanted to reflect the new hyper-sexualized world that we live in. There has been a huge shift in the world, one that has influenced me and everyone around me. Cameras in everyone's hands. Apps to find anything and everything that you want at any time. A collective shift in what is permissible and possible. The end of privacy and an explosion in narcissism and desire.
JW: Do you think that the knowledge of always being watched makes someone behave less authentically? If privacy truly is a thing of the past, will we all end up simply… acting for one another?
CS: I find myself wanting to capture and share moments. Share them with strangers. I find myself peering into others' lives. I have feelings for people I don't know or care about. I find myself thinking in terms of status updates and posts. But I also forget. I forget there is a camera. I forget what I have posted and where. I forget who I have met in person and who I have seen online. I am inundated with so much information that it all starts to blur. I stop caring. I give in. I over share.I get so excited when I actually see someone in person. I get so excited when something happens in real life in real time.
JW: Your enthusiasm for "realness" is a sentiment that I see expressed a lot, especially on dating sites, in online profiles. It's often presented as a requirement in a potential partner. Yet it's also often placed alongside self-portraits airbrushed by Instagram, and checklists of rigid social, physical and sexual categories.
CS: It comes in waves. I am extroverted and connect with others, or I retreat into extreme privacy. Oddly, I am more private as of late. When I first began working on this album I was much more active online. One of the best interactions was a very philosophical chat that I had on Manhunt. I used its text in the bridge of the first song that we wrote: "There's language and coding here. Affinities and ties to others. An approach to thought that's let us both be brave. That's what a sexual revolution is, being brave and trusting." I like this sentiment. I like its positivity in describing a world that is open and free sexually. Fearless.But this new material isn't all about technology and homosexuality. I would say that it is more in general about the emotional complexity of sexuality. Trying to show love and lust as compatible, and both as holding great depth. Finding the profound in the erotic. Attempting to understand the elusive nature of desire and how it ties back into our notions of romantic love. There is a segregation between romantic love and hard sex that exists. A strange double standard that needs to be obliterated.
JW: You're exploring the dialogues of classical antiquity, of éros and agápe.
CS: I always end up finding inspiration in art and history. It's not intentional but it is my instinct. There is usually a touchstone artwork that gives me a clue to where I am headed and what I am trying to say. When I make a Fischerspooner album I work on all aspects simultaneously. Image, sound, and text
– all form and influence each other. Asger Carlsen is that clue for me. His nudes tell me there is a way to deal with the body and sexuality that resonates in our fully digitized world. A bare form brightly lit that can't possibly be real. Yet somehow I can relate and connect to these bodies. They scramble my circuits and confuse my reading of the physical. They trigger feelings. They are metaphors for emotions.
Hidden and undefinable emotions made manifest in dysmorphia.