New York

Fischerspooner

Deitch Projects

Pop music is Fischerspooner’s prime métier. Their song “Emerge” is a club hit; they have signed with Ministry of Sound, a London record label for a reported £2 million (around $2.9 million); and they are being marketed via the music press. So where’s the art connection?

Perhaps it’s context: Their recent performance was funded by Jeffrey Deitch and mounted in his gallery and—voilà—here’s the review in an art magazine. There is also the issue of pedigree, credentials: Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner met a decade ago at the Art Institute of Chicago. This doesn’t necessarily make them artists (members of bands from the Beatles to Talking Heads to R.E.M. did time in art schools). But it does put things in perspective: Fischerspooner is different from most bands, primarily because their music is secondary to almost everything else they do.

Fischerspooner’s performances here included a full cast dancing, singing, and lip-synching along to an hour’s worth of adequate electropop. Between (and sometimes during) songs the performers bantered about physical problems, mistakes, and postshow social engagements. During a ballad, Spooner sat in the twilight of a gallery platform (his image projected on the walls) drinking Veuve Clicquot from the bottle and complaining about his costume. In another song, a man in a suit (Jeremiah Clancy, a core member of the troupe) appeared on stage and moved the dancers around, manipulating them like mannequins in a department-store window.

The show began with video images of the performers as they prepared, projected on three huge screens around the gallery and bringing the backstage action front and center. Laying bare the performance in the midst of creating it, Fischerspooner’s act is staunchly self-conscious, rejecting the seamless spectacle created by most theater, dance, music, and performance art (a term they vehemently eschew). Drawing on every showbiz cliché (soap bubbles, exploding confetti, crowd-surfing, wind machines), their performances are highly artificial and ironic, playing on their audience’s knowledge of (at least some of) the sources from which their aesthetic is derived. And these are plentiful: from late ’70s and early ’80s electropop and New Wave acts like Kraftwerk, Depeche Mode, and Gary Numan to Vegas stage shows, drag performance (e.g., Larry Tee and the Now Explosion, RuPaul), and stand-up comedy.

So is Fischerspooner art or “merely” pop music? The ambiguity may not be a bad thing: How many artists today wouldn’t prefer, after all, to be pop stars? (Or get their hands on that £2 million record advance?) Although their installation in Deitch’s primary gallery space—including some counterfeit gold records honoring their soon to be released album, #1—fell flat, the duo’s understanding of spectacle and authorship is obviously well tuned. The art part seems to be in their exploration of the performer-audience relationship—a relationship long mined by experimental theater artists. The Fischerspooner twist is to draw on the pop tendency to pleasure rather than to rebuff the audience as the old-style avant-gardists did, while nonetheless exposing the machinations of that pleasure. In the context of the art world, this seems fresh, but it remains to be seen if Fischerspooner is really new or just a novelty act.

Martha Schwendener