‘Contra to the traditional historical precedent of the performance medium, I choose distance over presence and within that is my enquiry. I’m not a fabulator, I’m an instigator, then a manager, overseeing others from the wings.’ (Cally Spooner, 2016) [1]

‘Cally Spooner is a writer, artist, playwright, curator and serial collaborator, whose work neatly avoids being confined to these categories’ wrote Andrew Hunt, in a 2011 article for ArtReview[2]. With a few years distance, we can still happily subscribe to his statement to define Spooner’s practice in a concise way. Or, with the addition of an extra attribute, we can further sum it up as: ‘language-making’.

At the question ‘how do you understand the term moving-image in relation to your work?’ – posed by curator Cecilia Alemani, in preparation to the 2016 Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement – the artist claimed: ‘I don’t make moving image in the sense of film. I mean, I am not – really not – an image-maker. You know how if you’re in the movies, you say you’re in the business of “making pictures”? Well, I have never made a picture. Not deliberately. I’ve always wondered why so often film scripts are really shitty and of course it’s because it’s about making images first. It’s the same in visual art – perhaps less so; there are so many language makers – but making images is very powerful in the visual arts still.’[3]

Spooner’s work is, indeed, a masterfully presented, ongoing rehearsal of different forms of language, converted into one another. Her earlier training in philosophy has greatly influenced her practice, whose concerns are investigated throughout a fluid interchange between directing, i.e. managing, her own performances and taking a step into more introvert moments, dedicated to the writing of texts. With this in mind, philosophers, theorists and writers including Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Hannah Arendt and F. Scott Fitzgerald are taken as ‘alibis’ in the fabrication of written words, whereas actors and groups of debating characters become her alleys to generate plots.

Image 2-2

Cally Spooner, And You Were Wonderful, On Stage (2015). And You Were Wonderful, On Stage installation view at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2015.


Her installations generally unfold in evolutionary phases, in conjunction with the delivery of a project or an exhibition. Worth mentioning, amongst her recent undertakings, is On False Tears and Outsourcing (2016) at the New Museum, where additions to the architecture of the Lobby Gallery became the stage of a performance executed by dancers, who were reproducing a series of movements in response to simple tasks devised by the artist. Trained by rugby players and a movie director, the performers were asked to follow techniques belonging to the fields of management, sport and on-screen romance. An immersive five-channel film installation And You Were Wonderful, On Stage (2013 – 2015), was displayed at the Stedelijk Museum in 2016. Here, a continuous shifting and intermingle between performance, music and video is recorded in a single take. In particular: ‘Distinct groups of performers seem oblivious to one another: an opera singer announces five scenes in the guise of television hosts, a chorus line generate soundtrack at static microphones, dancers governed by in-ear sound systems produce a repetitive image of movement while technical crew follow shot-lists, which most often privilege empty space and apparatus.’[4] The work originates from a two-year elaboration of a musical, commissioned by the museum and developed as a co-production with Performa 13 and Tate Modern.

Spooner is also the author of Collapsing In Parts (Mousse, 2012) and Scripts (Slimvolume, 2016) and from September 2016 is the Whitechapel Gallery Writer in Residence. On this occasion, the artist wrote a novel, progressively uploading extracts – such as dialogues, stories and requests for advice – onto the gallery’s website. Hence, her residency laid the basis for the realisation of a new sound work and the publication of a yearlong interview with a psychiatrist. Running between 30 August 2017 and 26 November 2017, Soundtrack for a troubled time and notes on humiliation puts on ‘absurdist replays of the political, economic and media rhetoric of our time;’[5] testifying, once again, the artist’s commitment to a performance orchestrated in the pace of a continuing conversation.

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Cally Spooner: On False Tears and Outsourcing (2016). Courtesy New Museum, New York. Photo: Luis Antonio Ruiz / Matte Projects.

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Maja Ho dancing in Cally Spooner’s piece On False Tears and Outsourcing at the New Museum in NYC. May 2016. Photo of Jeremiah Wilson.


Cally Spooner is currently based between Athens and London. A selection of writings and other words by the artist can be read here: http://www.callyspooner.com

Miriam La Rosa


[1] From: Cally Spooner by Cecilia Alemani. Biennale de l’Image en Mouvement 2016. http://biennaleimagemouvement.ch/cally-spooner-and-tk-alemani/ Accessed: 2 November 2017.

[2] Andre Hunt. 2011. ‘Cally Spooner’ in ArtReview https://artreview.com/features/2011_futuregreats_cally_spooner/ Accessed: 2 November 2017.

[3] Supra: Nota 1.

[4] From: http://www.stedelijk.nl/en/exhibitions/contemporary-artists-cally-spooner Accessed: 2 November 2017.

[5] From: http://www.whitechapelgallery.org/exhibitions/cally-spooner/ Accessed: 2 November 2017.


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