What Casey Did Next: an interview with Casey Legler

Casey Legler. Photo © Paul Mpagi Sepuya

Casey Legler is a model whose beauty can inspire long-term change, not only spark superficial trends. For the 35-year-old French former Olympic swimmer, modelling is an artistic medium. Whereas most models are tools for others’ creative expression or muses who inspire artistry, Legler uses fashion as a forum to advance her avant-garde deconstruction of gender norms and boundaries. After studying architecture, being offered a scholarship to law school and beginning medical school, Legler is currently devoting her keen mind and striking physicality to video art and performance. As the first female model signed to Ford’s male agency, Legler joins Andre Pejic as an exemplar of a future where gender is fluid. She poses in womenswear and menswear and in her own challenging art, which she produces under the moniker Edward Merton Casey. Here, we discuss art, fashions for gender-bending and bending gender in fashion.

Sleek: At shows and shoots, what have you observed about how male models relate to their beauty and their status as embodiments of some beauty ideal?
Casey Legler: At my first go-sees I noticed that the first thing the boys did when called up was take their shirts off. While it’s unclear to me whether this was expected of them or not, they all  unequivocally did. In this setting I experienced surprising privilege as a result of “objectification” being re-posited solely onto men – I was never asked to take off my shirt, nor did I ever get the sense that it was expected of me. It seemed here that the rhetoric of objectification as it is most commonly applied to women, was in this case only applied to men – I am curious about this and wonder whether it has similar repercussions as female objectification – it might; and did I experience “male privilege” in this experience? I don’t know; is that even possible?

How does being older than most models help you relate to the process, pressures and experience of modelling?
I think what informs my process and experience as a model, more than anything else, is the discipline and rigour that is the framework to my art practice, and this since I was young. Modelling and its ensuing conversations are a part of my larger body of work that I posit in terms of “social sculpture”, and when I am thus engaged collaboratively and publicly – as is most often the case when I am modelling – I bring to it and ask of my  collaborators, the same focus, intellectual inquiry and discipline I bring to my non-collaborative projects. 

Why do you use yourself as an element in your art? How does self-portraiture enrich your conceptual intentions as an artist?
The closest I’ve gotten to a self-portrait may be the 9’ x 5’ reclining nude all made of glitter which I’ve come to call “chimera”. I created her for a commissioned, creative non-fiction video piece I recently completed for ACON in Australia. I wouldn’t qualify any of my other works as self-portraits, despite the presence of my body, and am not sure self-portraiture is conceptually interesting to me at the moment.

What inspired your masculine and feminine mannerisms in your film “Genesis?”
In the King James version of The Bible, Genesis 1:27 states the notion that, before Adam, there existed this singular being who was created “in the image of God” and who “both female and male created he them.” “Genesis” riffs off of this notion of a singular being. Its a love story actually. I think that as queers there is this desire to find our history, right? It’s not like we appeared out of a vacuum within the past 10 years… we’ve been around a really, really long time (it’s amazing we’re alive actually and survived long enough to share ourselves, our minds and our ways in the world as we can now – I like to think of us as a pretty magical bunch that, when not persecuted to death, actually have some pretty rad stuff to show). I can’t speak for my whole family and tribe, but for me, the idea is that I share what I know with you, and you take what moves and inspires you, and you leave the rest – no harm, no foul – the fact that I do get to share is a privilege that I am extraordinarily grateful for. So I guess this is an ode to my history in a way.

In Conversation with Walter Pfeiffer