Caption: Cover of FISCHERSPOONER’S SIR (Ultra Records, 2017). Photo: Vincent Claudio Urbani.

FISCHERSPOONER is the dynamic duo Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner, who have been joined by many collaborators during their nearly two decades of creativity. Their latest output includes an upcoming album from Ultra Records, cowritten and coproduced by Michael Stipe with additional production by BOOTS on the lead single “Have Fun Tonight,” and released in time for New York City Pride; an exhibition at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien (MUMOK) in Vienna, on view from June 30 through October 29, 2017; and an artist’s book designed by Nicolas Santos—all titled SIR. Here, they discuss their work across music, fashion, photography, film, performance, and more.

WE’VE NEVER HAD a museum exhibition and an album release at the same time. It’s a unique creative opportunity when everything comes to fruition simultaneously. For example, the designer Nicolas Santos is working on the album packaging while he’s designing the artist’s book; he made these Carl Andre–inspired text-patterned pieces for the publication that are also in a music video, and probably out of that will come projections for a concert. Short-form, long-form, populist, elitist—it’s an amazing moment for us to explore different modes of art making more fully.

Our exhibition at MUMOK, curated by Marianne Dobner, consists of a photo, film, and sound installation that incorporates a series of images taken with the photographer Yuki James in Casey’s old apartment. The images are printed as wallpaper that surrounds the room, and from those photos we shot a music video for the song “Togetherness.” We’re also showing a video sculpture with a single take of a dance between Casey and a performer named Juan Pablo Rahal, slowed down to an eighth of its speed, with audio. It’s about twenty-seven minutes long, and the music is so abstract that it sounds like growling, explosions, and door slamming—an ominous soundtrack within this domestic fantasy.

Usually when we work on an album, we begin thinking in terms of character and image before or alongside making music. We knew we couldn’t do our usual avant-garde, high-fashion Pop extravaganza, because when we started in 1998 it seemed exciting and interesting, but now it’s become status quo. The challenge was how to make something powerful, unusual, and relevant now. Casey has started to tap into this ’70s gay character—mustache, long hair, built body—that seems to be connecting with a young audience coming of age amidst the emergence of internet-sex-app connectivity and Truvada in the United States; it’s a post–gay liberation, pre–AIDS epidemic image that shows the parallels between now and then. Vigilant homosexuality as a theme for the album became immensely, awkwardly, personal and private and in a way, a crusade.

Excerpt from FISCHERSPOONER’s interview for 500 Words.

Michael Stipe has been a complete and utter revelation in our process because we’ve never trusted a producer; we’ve always controlled everything ourselves. There’s a new naturalism in our music; we kind of equate it to a ’70s Lou Reed record like Berlin. It doesn’t sound like that, but there are just a lot of flaws. Michael was obsessed with making sure we didn’t airbrush the vocals too much. He wanted it to feel human, and so the vocals are dry and unaffected.

The artist’s book is our third publication. As an exercise, Casey decided to give his phone, with everything in it from the past four years, to our collaborator Nicolas Santos and asked him to try to embarrass us. The book is basically a collage of Casey’s personal life built from DIY, user-generated content; it’s a visual diary, made by someone else. We think one of the most powerful images Santos picked is of an email from Casey’s mother. It was in response to a portrait of Casey with his tongue sticking upwards. She sent him an email saying, “Dear Casey, Please change your profile picture . . . it’s obscene . . . all the little old ladies who love you see it . . . love, Mom.” A screen grab of the email is on the last page of the book, and the tongue image itself is also the album cover.

Everything comes together as a body of work, a cycle, an era. That’s not a strategy—we just have interrelated ideas that fit both art and entertainment. The only reason why these worlds are typically separated is because of capitalism. But we love ideas and don’t care about the financial systems that exploit them. This may be our greatest strength and our greatest weakness.

— As told to Alex Fialho

Raymond Depardon, 6h57 du matin 1er mai 2017. New York. Le jour se lève sur Broadway. Je fais ma première photo en 20 x 25 avant de foncer au labo. La ville ne semble pas avoir beaucoup changé. Elle a toujours ce côté “paradis de la photographie,” mais aussi ce côté “fosse aux serpents” que j’aime beaucoup. (6:57 AM May 1, 2017. New York. Day breaks over Broadway. I take my first 8 x 10 photo before heading to the lab. The city doesn’t seem to have changed much. It still has this “paradise of photography” side, but also this “snake pit” side that I like very much.), 2017, color photograph. From the series “Correspondance New-Yorkaise,” 1981–2017.

Acclaimed French photographer and documentarist Raymond Depardon revisits his photographic series “Correspondance New-Yorkaise,” 1981, which occasioned a turning point in his career and a shift from photojournalism to an approach that blended photography and writing. In 2017 he updated this project by once again taking a photo a day for the French newspaper Libération, which were also accompanied by a short text. The two iterations of the series are being presented together at the French Institute Alliance Française in New York until July 1, 2017. Depardon’s latest documentary, 12 Jours (Twelve Days), 2017, was presented at the Cannes Film Festival last month.

LIBÉRATION WAS A SMALL, INVENTIVE PAPER, widely read in French leftist circles, but not yet distributed in America at the time. In 1981, I found myself in the offices of Serge July, the editor in chief, who asked what I was doing that summer. I was pleased to say that I was leaving for New York to meet a girlfriend who lived there. He said, “Why don’t you send in a photo every day?” I asked a friend to introduce me to John Durniak, the picture editor of the New York Times—a legend at the time—to see if I could follow the Times photojournalists, like an intern. I took photos with my Leica, had them developed at Time Inc., and sent one via a Concorde plane to Paris every day for a month. The next day it would be printed in Libération, full-page.

I already had a desire to write—that’s why I’m sort of singular in the photo world. Usually a photographer only writes captions. But I was in the midst of a photojournalistic crisis. I had founded the Gamma agency almost fifteen years earlier. I’d lost a friend, Gilles Caron, in Cambodia, and I said to myself that next time it would be my turn. The newspapers were in the midst of a transformation, too. Life magazine had just closed down. I was influenced by Roland Barthes, the great intellectual in France at the time, and particularly by his essay “The Rhetoric of the Image” (1964). He said either a caption was an explanation of a photo, a kind of “anchor caption,” or, on the contrary, it said nothing about what was in the photo, but acted more as a “relay caption.” I really liked that idea, because I’ve always felt that when I take pictures I am thinking of something else, I am not necessarily thinking of the moment.

I’m also an exception in French photography, because I come from the countryside. I grew up on a farm, and the first sixteen years of my life were happy, really magnificent. People who come from farms no longer exist; there are no more farms, in fact. It gave me an important foundation from which to confront a mad world, the world of photographers and journalists.

Something happened to me that summer of ’81 that saved me, because it pushed me to leave photojournalism. One day, Durniak called, saying, “The photographers’ unions don’t want you to stay at the New York Times.” I found myself on the street, and I didn’t know what I was going to do! Then I went to the Guggenheim, inside coffee shops, on the street—and took photos of everyday life. I realized that I didn’t need to be guided by journalists or news items.

So, gradually, from a photo-reporter, I became a photographer. “Correspondance New-Yorkaise” was a milestone—it allowed me to publish thirty photos over the course of a month, which was a novelty. The two things that existed at the time were the photo essay and the picture story—and in France we were not even doing those yet; we were still just photographing current affairs. Later on, this sort of project, in which photographs are taken in installments, was done again, but those photographers did not really play by the rules: they took the photos ahead of time. I really played the game of taking a photo a day in 1981, and then again in 2017.

One day I said to myself, “France has to be photographed. And France has to be photographed with an 8 x 10 field camera.” So I took to the road for four years in a camper van, and I photographed France in color. Everything started with the foundational work of “Correspondance New-Yorkaise.”

When people ask, “Is Raymond using digital?” we always joke about it—especially my wife, Claudine, who responds, “Wait, he’s only just getting to color!” I don’t need digital for my photography (filmmaking is another story). This month, thirty-six years later, here I am with my 8 x 10, which seems completely crazy. But at the same time it’s wonderful, because the 8 x 10 may be better suited to “Correspondance New-Yorkaise,” since you can’t fire off a bunch of shots—it’s too expensive. You can take five or six, and the quality is extraordinary. It’s not an option to walk around with it, like I did with my Leica in ’81; the 8 x 10 is too heavy. I didn’t have a lot of time. My one regret, perhaps, is not doing a specific text on architecture in this new series. I love the architecture of New York.

—As told to Laura Hoffmann

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.

Teju Cole


Teju Cole, Brazzaville, February 2013, 2017, archival pigment print, 20 x 24".

Teju Cole is a novelist, photographer, art historian, and critic whose work often addresses the disjunctures between what is seen and what is known. His latest book, Blind Spot (Random House, 2017), weds the fragmentary essay form with photography, incorporating history, myth, and memoir to limn the connections and contradictions within images made during years of global travel. As discussed here, selections from the book, along with a second project begun in response to the recent US presidential election, will appear in the exhibition “Blind Spot and Black Paper” at Steven Kasher Gallery, Cole’s first New York solo show, which opens June 15 and runs until August 11, 2017.

BLACK IS A DIFFICULT COLOR TO WORK WITH. A lot of artists avoid it. I remember being so impressed when I realized how subtly and effectively Henri Matisse used black in his work, how he simply treated it like any other color. I’m interested in the idea that blackness is not empty, that it is profound and full of information.

Although I initially included images by Kazimir Malevich, Julie Mehretu, and other artists in my early conception of Black Paper, an ongoing work, I ultimately decided to use only my own photographs. Black Paper is not only a response to the last six months, but a highly individual response; I was not only playing with the chromatic presence of black in photographs, but also doing it from the point of view of a black person.

I first conceived Blind Spot for an exhibition in Italy entitled “Punto d’ombra,” or “Shadow Point.” I had to find a form that would work equally well in both the gallery exhibition and the accompanying book. I have always been interested in the complications that ensue when images and texts meet. What work do I want images and words to do in my practice? Blind Spot is, in some sense, the most direct approach to this question I’ve taken so far. On one page you have text, on the other a photograph. I did not want to make a photobook that was simply, “Here are my travels.” In the course of the six years I worked on the project, I asked myself what I wanted to say about the terrain and history of each place I encountered. At some point in the journey I found this form for it, this alternating form, in which I would place an implied voice-over on each image.

A big part of the sensibility that went into Blind Spot came from film, specifically documentary films like Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil. This is why I use the term voice-over: it seems to sit a little better than simply caption. A caption is a standard thing that’s supposed to do a fairly predictable job of elucidation. A voice-over suggests something a little bit more digressive, something weighted with a certain intent, but an intent that isn’t always simple to pin down. Although there are twenty-five different countries represented in the book, there is a kind of uniformity of line in it—and a uniformity of palette. This palette comes from shooting with 35-mm film: I recognized that film served the project best because of how it forces a certain slowness and a way of looking at things meditatively. On the other hand, most of the shooting for Black Paper was done with a digital camera because of its reliability in low light and at nighttime. I let each given project suggest its own best tools; I try not to be doctrinaire about it.

Instagram had a profound influence on the eventual outcome of both of these projects. The length of the text in Blind Spot was partly shaped by writing on Instagram. One feature of the application I’ve made use of is the possibility of switching off comments. I don’t really want to know what people think of a work that is still being formed. Rather, I want Instagram to take me through the process of seeing the work being seen. The mere fact of having shown a particular picture to someone else helps me figure out my own critical response to that image. Of the photographs I have taken since November and tagged #blackpaper, I used maybe half in the printed, physical iteration of the work. It now exists as a massive multipart image on a wall, about seven feet long and four feet wide. Instagram helped me figure out which pictures were strong enough, and which I needed to discard.

There is always tremendous activity that leads to the formation of a landscape. In the aftermath of violence, things take on a placid appearance. I’m interested in the oblique ways in which we have to respond to atrocity, since the violence isn’t always apparent. How does what we know relate to what we can see? Black Paper is a project I started in response to the US election, but also in the wake of having finished a book. The photographs in Blind Spot are bright. There is daylight. The complication—the darkness—is in the voice-over. The photographs themselves are legible and fairly artless in this kind of “photographing democratically” tradition that comes from William Eggleston.

When I started to do Black Paper, the photographs became dark, moodier. They were less conceptual. Black Paper is actually more purely visual as a project: What I want you to see is in it, you just have to really look at it. The shadows are active. The pictures themselves contain a lot of information. I started out by including a lot of text, almost like a continuation of this technique from Blind Spot. And I’m going to use texts for future iterations of the piece, but for this first stage of the work, I wanted to just have a cluster of images speaking in that shadowed and emotional way. Later, I might add elements like projection, performance, sound recording, and video. We’ll see. What I’ll say for now is that I want Black Paper to be the general rubric under which I consider my own personal response to this ongoing apocalypse. I continue to gather images for the project. The crisis is ongoing, and therefore so is the responsive work.

Georgia Sagri, Soma in orgasm; as leg, as hand, as brain, as ear, as heart, as breast, as sex, 2017, aluminum, acrylic spraypaint, various metallic parts, plastic, fabric, dimensions variable. Photo: Angelos Giotopoulos.

Georgia Sagri is an artist based in Athens and in New York. Here, she discusses Dynamis, 2017, her piece for Documenta 14, which entangles twenty-eight sculptures of organs, ten breathing scores, and six days of “demonstration / performance simultaneously and in continuum” with a chorus—featuring Nora Barbier, Sophia Djitli, Ioannis Karounis, Clara Marie Müller, Angela Stiegler, and Fernanda Valdivieso, Marianna Feher, Emma Howes, Lo-Yi Lee, Jaqueline Lisboa Silva, Hannah Peinemann, Deva Schule, and Catherine Woywod—and will take place from June 7 through June 12, 2017, in Athens and Kassel. The departure points on June 7 are Tositsa 5 in Athens at noon and the Glass Pavilions on Kurt-Schumacher-Straße in Kassel, also at noon. A public discussion on the work will take place on June 12 at 8 PM at the Papier Café in the School of Fine Arts in Kassel.

MY WORKS ARE DECLARATIONS, CLAIMS, AND ANNOUNCEMENTS. They are ghosts—appearances that eventually take shape materially and then disappear. My Dynamis / Invitation was emailed to a lot of people—friends, friends of friends. I sent it to so many people because I hope they will in turn send it to their friends and make the invitation open up even more. In that sense materiality is not simply what it is made and finalized. I’m more interested in the tactics that the piece proposes, in terms of how it defines and claims the time and how it is produced.

The invitation is a call for something to take place and a confirmation that it will try to make its declaration possible. It is a text, it has a design, it is distributed in many different ways and it can be utilized by everyone—like a poster on the wall, a message on a flyer that it is handed out to passersby—my works could happen if the realm, the moment, factors and agents allow it to be received and make its reason exist.

Production is defined not only by an already existing frame—such as institutions, language, and the specific decisions I have made about the work materially—but by the moment when the work is able to autonomously shift its fate as a piece of art, as something that makes everyone feel responsible to have a claim in its production. My work hinges on this. That’s why the up-front language in the invitation—“We need to continue to stay in trouble”—is written the way it is: I want the receivers to respond and to create a purpose, the ground of the work. The invitation itself is not the piece. The piece is made when the text is read, when the message is received, and when curiosity and excitement come. The receivers are all different; I thought it was really beautiful that you wrote to me to ask what is this all about and you wanted to know more about it. The invitation is also, symbolically, a return of Documenta’s institutional invitation back to where it belongs—to everyone.

Clearly over the past decade we have been experiencing the decisive development of fascism through the dictating assumption that capitalism is the only way for all of us to organize our lives and deaths. Creative producers under such economic and social pressure can turn into unquestioning automatons of production, working just for the sake of acquiring the authorship stamp made in art.*

The piece Δύναμη / Dynamis is taking place at the same time in two cities, and it acts as a reminder that the social exists. The orgasm is the work’s structural methodology. Sexual encounter for all living creatures demands four stages: excitement, plateau, peak (orgasm), and resolution. The sculptures involved in the work evoke organs, and when they go out in the public, on the streets, that’s the moment of the orgasm, and that’s why the sculptures are called Soma in orgasm; as leg, as hand, as brain, as ear, as heart, as breast, as sex. The excitement in the piece is the emotional shaping, and the shape of the training, the breathing patterns, and the shape of the sculptures, the shape of the work. The plateau is the moment when this shape makes a trajectory with other trainings, with different forms and others, and of course when this takes place the orgasm happens and the organs go out. The resolution is when, after six days of demonstration and performance, we will all gather to talk and to recall.

Performance—an exhausted term—has the capacity to return an invitation, to distribute power and to let go of representation. It allows for the manipulation of an existing framework. The very fact that its core is nongraspable but at the same time so common accounts for its impossibility as a medium and makes it uncontrolled. One of the dynamic elements of performance is time. Everyone talks about the here and now of performance, the presence of the artist, and that performance is ephemeral. For me, what takes place in performance has already been formed before, meaning that it was already. As the material has taken place before, it is a heritage of shadows you carry. Performance is crystal-image. It is projection. It is visual affect. And it has the materiality of a dream.

*made in art © Georgia Sagri.

Georgia Sagri, Dynamis / Invitation, 2017, C-print.

Amy O’Neill, Zoo Revolution and The Well Fed Wolf, 2017, 16 mm transfer to HD video, color, sound, 8 minutes 6 seconds.

Amy O’Neill is a New York–based artist known for her works that sift through the ruins of Americana. Her latest exhibition, “Convex Cornea,” which she discusses here, features a new video installation, drawings, and the wall-based “Bean-Bag Flats” series. The show is on view at Kristina Kite Gallery in Los Angeles from June 3 through July 15, 2017.

MY FATHER ONCE TOLD ME A STORY about a rumor that spread throughout his high school in western Pennsylvania. To commemorate the assassinated president, school officials had asked for the face of John F. Kennedy to be grafted onto the head of their mascot, the Indian Chief Monacatootha, which appeared on a giant mural adorning the school’s entrance. I was born and raised in that area, where things tend to get muddier than anywhere else in the US. It’s a place to which my work keeps returning.

Zoo Revolution and the Well Fed Wolf is a 16-mm film retrofitted to play in my parents’ 1970s television console. Over a death-metal soundtrack by the band Orphan, the film brings together an abandoned petting zoo and a storybook forest I visited as a child. Today the original snack bar, rusted cages, and the Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe house are invaded by wild brambles and on the verge of disappearance. Footage from two children’s films—a cartoon and an educational PSA on good eating habits—have been injected throughout the piece. I can’t remember precisely when I first saw those shorts, but I like to imagine digesting them during my first grade class’s “slow” period, in a cool and darkened classroom after lunch.

A lot of what I do takes many years to evolve. Deconstructing 13 Stripes and a Rectangle continues a work I began about a decade ago, around the time I first shot the petting zoo and the storybook forest. I asked a flag manufacturer to sew a batch of US flags minus the stars, and then I proceeded to hollow out the flag, excising the plain blue field and the stripes, leaving only the structural seams. This action was less about desecrating a flag than about physically opening up conversations about the continued casualties of war taking place worlds away, in Afghanistan and Iraq. An ongoing drawing series takes those stripped flags as subjects; for these I’ve applied a wax transfer technique to paper, which is a gentler approach for expressing my fears about the tattered condition of the United States political landscape. I draw like I think: piecemeal, over time. It’s kind of like surveying land, a job I assisted my father on—which I liked to think of as stories morphing into horizons, and then into lines.

A similar process occurred for my “Bean-Bag Flats” series. For these, fabric panels from the much-coveted 1970s chairs have been deconstructed at their seams, flattened, and pinned to the wall. Their outlines resemble torsos—in the style of Weebles, egg-shaped toys from my youth. Screen-printed jelly bean patterns run throughout the fabric, which is also littered with T-shirt iron-ons of slogans such as SIT ON IT!, all from the ’70s and pressed onto the flats.

I’m not nostalgic for a past that I only remember tangentially. These works aim at questioning how childhood souvenirs bring us to our current Trumpian juggernaut of telling tales. Or, as the cognitive psychologist Ulric Neisser once said about memory: “Out of a few stored bone chips we remember a dinosaur.”