Cally Spooner is a writer, artist, playwright, curator and serial collaborator, whose work neatly avoids being confined to these categories. As an artist, she produces performative readings and extroverted contemplations of her own written dialogues to script the anxieties and slippages involved in turning thought into text, text into action and action into self-contained dramas. Spooner uses a variety of philosophers, theorists and writers – among them Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Hannah Arendt and F. Scott Fitzgerald – as ‘alibis’ to help her write, and uses casts of people – including Will Holder, Richard Parry and Dulcie Joslyn – to help her dramatise a familiar struggle with writing and theorising thought. From one perspective, she attempts to find a voice from the position of the fan who is completely enraptured by writing; from another, she is a writer obsessed with the possibility of producing the perfect piece of prose.
In works such as the ongoing Indirect Language (2010–), the artist endeavours to access and disassemble Merleau-Ponty’s texts on phenomenology through speech, visual interaction and a questioning of her own characters’ understanding and misinterpretation of theory; Spooner’s performances generally belong to ‘systems’ that focus on a particular piece of historical thought, where acts or chapters are scripted, performed, redrafted, rethought and shuffled perpetually. Importantly, Spooner uses this practical questioning to prioritise what she calls ‘emotional social knowledge’, which is constructed through each performer’s interaction with another and the work’s relationship with its audience to topple ‘correct’ positions.
In Piece for a Male Speaker and 27 Interruptions (2010), for example, Spooner attempts to perform the subject of Jacques Rancière’s 1991 book, The Ignorant Schoolmaster. Asserting that the schoolmaster need not know anything, Rancière challenges his readers to consider equality as a starting point, rather than a destination for teaching, and argues that educators can channel equal intelligence to facilitate intellectual growth in virtually unlimited directions. Spooner takes this claim to dwell on a deliberate lack of authority and sets her two characters to work in a semi-improvised scene. What ensues is a humorous anti-power struggle, in which neither character takes the lead, or places themselves in a superior position to instruct the other. It’s an intelligent move that produces a radically ambiguous play, testing Rancière’s theory and the philosopher’s current dominant status in our culture.
This article was first published in the March 2011 issue.