Post-production: Cally Spooner
Spike Island, Bristol
Review by Rowan Lear
In the days before ‘Post-Production’ opened, I watched Cally Spooner in the familiar, inglorious throes of post-production itself, making final video edits. Encased in headphones in the dim Spike Associates space, with hard-drive whirring, Spooner is attended by a procession of curators and technicians, whose visits increase in frantic waves as the hours count down.
The result is an extended credits sequence, which occupies a television screen in the otherwise empty – and blindingly white – first gallery, and reveals the project’s many funders, partners and collaborators. It’s unremarkable to anyone who’s worked in film or television – or any institution really – but signals that organisation of labour is significant here.
The main event lurks around the corner and behind a curtain. Immediately, darkness disorientates as five large projections flicker, revealing a studio set, in which isolated groups of dancers and singers perform alongside stagehands, camera operators and dolly grips. The recording cameras roam the floor, gliding and zooming, while one takes a dismembered gods-eye view of the space. Spooner’s directorial voice often permeates over loudspeaker, imperious and inexplicably irritating: “Great work guys, that was fantastic!” and “Cut to commercial! 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.”
Shot simultaneously on six cameras, the film emerges from a decomposition of ‘And You Were Wonderful, On Stage’: a live musical co-produced by the Stedelijk Museum, Performa and Tate Modern, that Spooner decided “needed to be dismantled.” The mutating musical was inspired by a critical experience: when working as a copywriter, the artist re-worked employees’ voices and stories to be turned into advertising to benefit their company. Key phrases like “Making the values real”, “We know we’ve got some work to do”, and “Relevant Assets in an Organised Way” return here as a relentless soundtrack, sung a cappella by the often off-camera chorus line, while the ‘commercial breaks’ that interrupt each act of the 43 minute film, present a white-shirted employee struggling to learn his lines.
Spooner’s latest variation on a theme is distinctly informed by (and risks illustrating) philosopher Paolo Virno’s thoughts on post-Fordist capitalism. Virno highlights the position of virtuoso – the speaker – as non-productive labour, but a labour which is subsumed by the “culture industry”, which turns an employee’s communicative faculties into their function. What once was space in the lives of workers for political action, now serves the continual improvement of workplace procedures. Virno’s question: ‘How is non-servile virtuosity possible?’ Spooner’s unfinished film: a feedback loop of impudent voices, repetitive singing, silent dancing and shifting points of view, demonstrates an incessant editing process that seeks an answer, and denies the viewer a final product. Even the swivel stools – an invitation to spin effortlessly between screens – implicate the audience as workers too. Reminiscent of the office environment and bureaucratic labour: what are swivel chairs for, if not to increase efficiency of the workforce?
‘Post-Production’ is nothing so banal as an exposé of the manipulations of editing or the methods of a collaborative process. It’s an artist wrestling with herself: with her work as labour and her art as politics; with the problem of perpetuating capitalist modes of production while striving to critique them. It’s this struggle, not Spooner’s rising stardom, that should occupy the thoughts of those of us in the “culture industry.”
Published on 19 June 2015