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Jasper Spicero, Intriors.

Appendix Project Space, January 13, 2012.

By Sean Joseph Patrick Carney

Full Disclosure: Jasper Spicero was a student of mine in a Theory & Practice: Art in Context seminar course in fall of 2010 at Pacific Northwest College of Art in Portland, OR.

Jasper Spicero’s work confuses the shit out of me. His recent solo exhibition, Intriors, at Appendix Project Space, was confounding, hilarious, stupid, and challenging simultaneously. While looking at the various pieces, which included sculptures, moving image, collages, and a pair of those “What’s your problem, hippie?” toe shoes, I couldn’t tell if I was supposed to laugh at the work or if it was laughing at me.

"Intriors," courtesy Spicero and Appendix Project Space.

There exists a profound lack of distinction for Spicero and his ilk between contexts in which their work is experienced. Spicero’s own website is as carefully and confusingly laid out as this first solo exhibition, and I’d wager that he considers both of equal importance. Naturally, these two contexts attract vastly different audiences, but it seems that, to Spicero, this phenomenon is simply matter-of-fact. I assume this is likely the result of having grown up dialed into social media as much as skateboarding, punk rock, or senseless vandalism — the ostensibly requisite youthful endeavors of so many of the artists whose work captures my attention.

The description in the press release for the exhibition alluded to Spicero’s exploration in this body of work of “spaces imagined by computer game designers and lifestyle marketing.” It’s an apt description for sure, as the objects and images exhibited are equal parts Minecraft on LSD and things one might find in the hatchback of an average Subaru in Oregon. His obsession with scouring the Internet and its residual effect on his processes is evident from the mishmash assemblages/collections reminiscent of multiple program windows open at the same time, to the intentional misspelling of the exhibition’s title through the vernacular employed by ironists and idiots alike across the web.

His work perplexes me enough that I actually had to email him and ask, “What is the specific terminology that you’d prefer to use to describe the moving image work?” This was in reference to a 3D animation work. The question was not intended to be antagonistic or to imply any answer that I was hoping to receive. Rather, I just didn’t know what the hell to call what had been looping in front of me.

On a flat screen monitor appeared to be an animated room, where an inflatable mattress with a beer glass penis wiggled around on the carpet, surrounded by butterflies and pseudo-plant life, until the scene was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a floating shower curtain that was then pierced by a Lawrence of Arabia sword. What immediately followed was an instant replay of sorts, a close-up redux of the sword flying through the curtain. The preceding description of what transpired in the video might be somewhat inaccurate, but that’s pretty much what I remember happening. Spicero’s response to my query was:

“The 3D animation in the show was a sculpture, or I thought about it as a sculpture while I was making it… it’s about making sculptures that are exceedingly more vivid in color and clarity… more hallucinatory and strange [which] gives them some new emotion or expression.”

"Intriors," courtesy Spicero and Appendix Project Space.

Possibly stranger was the actual sword immediately to my left, laid to rest in a shallow, rectangular pool fashioned out of some kind of waterproof, tarp-like material. Peppered around the room were other sculptures and collections. The “toe shoes” stood in a kind of wrestler’s first position, planted in white sand contained by black bricks but lacking any physical body to activate them.  That particular trend in footwear looks ridiculous enough on an actual person, but even more so in Spicero’s careful arrangement. On a shelf were two items that I have not seen before, but speculate might have been an electrical essential oil aromatherapy dispenser purchased by Spicero and… a fan? Above and to the right of them played a video on a small screen that had a wee child rubbing a Mac computer box at an electronics store in a disturbingly sexual fashion. Topping off this collection was a sort of Japanese-ish (operative suffix: ish) banner with more flowers, squiggly shapes, and presumably Asian-ish (supra) letter characters all hovering above a bed.

I’d also asked Spicero what is admittedly a shitty question, whether or not he considered the elements that make up his sculptures to be readymades — in my defense, he used fucking toe shoes.

“I got the [Vibram Five Brand] shoes from REI.com, the sword from an independent RPG [role-playing game] sword distributor in the UK, and the diffuser from an independent distributor. To me, they’re Internet objects more than readymades.”

Naturally, such is the thought pattern of one who has grown up in a time when everything is a pulsing rhizome, when any physical object can be digitally photographed, chopped, screwed, and reblogged thousands of times into Tumblr’s abyss. And consequently, any object on Planet Earth can be ordered and owned in days by simply setting up a PayPal account. It seems silly in hindsight to have asked about readymades because Spicero’s utilization of these elements isn’t an attempt to subvert notions of what constitutes the art object. To a whole generation of makers, an object for sale on a website is no different politically to them than a painting they’ve produced in their studio. Perhaps it’s not so much a rejection of the stodgy restrictions of art-appropriate behavior, but simply the manifestation of what happens when one is literally connected with everything — a kind of natural acceptance instead of an affected irreverence.

Aesthetically and formally, Spicero has some growth ahead of him, as any junior in art school should. Some of the animated works in the show and on his website just look too much like Trapper Keeper’s “Designer Series” from the late 1980s and early 1990s. I doubt very much, though, that they’re intended to reference the popular binders, because it is likely that the Trapper Keeper had all but disappeared from elementary schools by the time Spicero was old enough to cart homework to and from school each day. I’m picking on the work here, because, to be honest, 3D animation is an impressive skill regardless of how slick it looks. Nonetheless, I’ve been spoiled by the outrageously smooth and captivating animations of Pixar and the like, and it’s hard to read moving image works like Spicero’s as anything but ironic at first glance. With a bit of contemplation, Spicero’s animated works don’t actually seem ironic at all, but a casual viewer could very well mistake them as being such.

"Intriors," courtesy Spicero and Appendix Project Space.

One thing that I wish the exhibition had included was some kind of takeaway for viewers that would point them towards his website, because it’s there where many of the works are interestingly expanded. Reading the hilarious appropriated and rearranged poetry that he’s developed in conjunction with this body of work takes, for instance, the toe shoe piece to an entirely richer level. Of them, he says:

“The poems are from a blog that I found while surfing. They are like… spiritual poems written by a Chinese man who recently moved to America that were spammed by Vibram Five Technology so that links to Vibram Five distributers were ad-libbed into his poems. I altered them slightly for my own purposes.”

Also worth examining are his multiple rearrangements of his own works, and his correspondence with the aforementioned UK RPG sword distributor via email asking, over and over again, if the sword will be ready and delivered in time for his exhibition. Suddenly, the sword sculpture becomes more than a funny prop, instead serving as a manifestation of an unlikely connection between two individuals courtesy of the world wide web. Imagine the confusion on the other end of that email thread.

I hope that he continues to explore both physical and digital media, because for a first solo effort, this show is unarguably good. His sculptural works are really getting at something, and what will set Spicero’s digital practice apart from thousands of others uploading crude, homemade animations to the web is an eventual mastery of the form. Can you imagine if that ridiculous sword shooting through a shower curtain looked as outstanding as The Incredibles?

Now that would be fucking confounding.

Sean Joseph Patrick Carney is an artist, writer, and educator living and working in Portland, OR. He is the founder of Social Malpractice Publishing, an artist book distributor established in 2009. Carney’s works, which includes performances, visual art, and publications, have been featured in exhibitions nationally and internationally. He holds a BFA in Printmaking from Arizona State University and an MFA in Visual Studies from Pacific Northwest College of Art.  For more information, please visit: http://www.socialmalpractice.com.

Highlighter.

Nationale.

by Daniel J Glendening

We live in a squiggly time. Neon signs have long been over, we’re living in the era of light emitting diodes and fiber optics and plasma screens. Sweeping laser arrays of light.

Highlighter is a group exhibition of painting curated by Nationale director May Juliette Barruel and Amy Bernstein, featuring work by Bernstein, James Boulton, John Brodie, Timothy Scott Dalbow, Marie Koetje, and K Scott Rawls. All the artists live and work in Portland, OR, and all the work was completed in 2011 or 2012, except James Boulton, who lives and works in Los Angeles and whose contributions to the exhibition were completed in 2008. The work leans toward abstraction, with some nods to landscape, architecture, and still life.

Maybe I’m just seeing what I want to see, but in its abstraction, Highlighter seems to carry hidden fires, hidden smoke, a hidden collapse of surface and object, plane and light.

Highlighter carries out a conversation about space: exploded space, collapsed space, layered space.

Amy Bernstein, "Untitled #1-3," courtesy Bernstein and Nationale.

Boulton and Brodie manipulate the relationship between background and foreground. Brodie’s Faces/City superimposes two three by six grids of square color swatches over a recessed background. While the foreground grids rest comfortably on a single flat plane, the background exists in a distant space: brushy, grayed out bands of color like a muddy, foggy, drippy laser light show. Ikebana with Afghan pushes this juxtaposition further, smashing a flattened abstracted still life sidelong into an atmospheric, borderless space. Boulton stacks his layers, Quetzecoatl on Ice flattening its fore-, mid- and backgrounds into something recalling, for some reason, a painterly take on that old 8-bit game Kirby’s Dream Land. Los Chinches, in contrast, carries a materiality, building up layers of heavy-stroke color, gray and foggy-purple in the background giving way to deep brownish greens, salmon-y orange and cloud streaked blue. In the foreground floats a white and orange shape, two conjoined rings, waiting.

K Scott Rawls’ two works, Untitled (Oases3) and Untitled (Oases4), feature a palette heavy on bubblegum and Pepto pinks, pale beige, and cobalt teal, recalling an infinitely receding hallway opening to a not-yet-rendered blue, and the interior of a wooden A-frame, respectively. Timothy Scott Dalbow presents California, shadowy silhouetted palm trees against a chunky white ground. A beachfront postcard drained of life, charred palms swaying quietly in a smoky breeze.

Marie Koetje, "Ham Radio," courtesy Koetje and Nationale.

Bernstein’s three paintings, all untitled, feature smooth, hard, white grounds with just a hint of brush stroke: a depthless void, sparsely populated with free floating entities in the form of brushy color swatches, bent lines and loose-form geometry. These objects are suspended fairly evenly across the field of the painting, in some solution of emptiness at the edge of equilibrium. Each object carries its own identity with references to the vernacular of painting: a squishy Guston-y pink block, a square of tequila sunrise. This exploded or dispersed space is sharply juxtaposed with the densely collapsed space of Koetje’s work. Here, planes and surface pile in on one another, a cacophony of smeared gradients, loose laser-beam spray lines and jagged texture all gyrating against each other, with a healthy sense of humor. Ham Radio is nearly LOL funny, a parade of neon pink and orange squiggly lines forming a conga-line off the bottom edge of the canvas. Koetje’s is a Bladerunner space, packed full of concrete and shaky fiber-optic, reflected in a sidewalk puddle.

In many ways, it’s much easier to talk about these paintings individually than it is to talk about them as a conversation with one another. As curators of the exhibition, Barruel and Bernstein seek to “openly engage with the now,” according to the exhibition statement. Highlighter, in its six artists, is a small slice of what might define contemporaneity, but it seems not to be striving to make any such declarative statements so much as pointing to a particular set of possibilities. Space, now, takes a variety of forms, and refers not only to the physical space between objects but also to the nearly unfathomably minute space between molecules, the ever-expanding space between stars, and the space between digital data streams that can only, in most minds, be described through metaphor. How we move through the world is no longer just a matter of navigating our physical bodies but a matter as well of navigating these digital pathways. We can imagine that space in any one of the paintings on display in Highlighter: a receding infinite architecture, dispersed data points in equilibrium, a tangle of light and plane and surface.

A burnt out beach front, palms and ashes in the wind.

Fucking James Franco.

Social Malpractice Publishing and Container Corps.

by Daniel J Glendening

Fucking James Franco is a collection of short stories and poetry constructed around the titular act. The book, edited by Sean Joseph Patrick Carney and published by Carney’s Social Malpractice Publishing and Gary Robbins’ Container Corps, is somehow, despite all rationale, more complicated than it has a right to be. Fucking James Franco is a joke, a shaggy dog story – long, drawn out, crude, and lacking much of a punch line. It serves also as an examination of the cult of celebrity, of the rickety scaffolding of fame, and the slippery nature of delusion and fantasy.

The volume contains work by fifteen contributors, all of whom are, as Carney writes in his introduction, “involved in creative endeavors of some sort; visual arts, poetry, music, and so forth.” The individual contributions are somewhat scatter-shot, the writing haphazard and the narratives lazily constructed. Under scrutiny, Patrick Melroy’s Piqued becomes a jumble of point of view and temporal shifts, and First Date, by Nadia Buyse, is just a few paragraphs too long, lingering past its climactic punch line for an unnecessary cuddle, while Brandon Scott Bosch & E.L. Shaw’s San Franco stops short, giving us the set-up without the payoff.

Elsewhere, the craft of writing is well displayed. In (Aunt) Susan’s First Orgasm, Ellen Lesperance builds a well-crafted exterior and interior world for her character:

“She was upstairs, lying in one of the two twin beds that her mother had once arranged to straddle this single window draped against the sky in tones of black, and she was naked beneath the covers. She listened for the hum of the neighbor’s television, a comfort to her by this point (others!), but it was too late for that. She hadn’t changed the linens on the bed up here, and it had given her sad pleasure to find them just as her mother had left them: neat as a pin, with a waffle-weave cotton blanket tucked as tightly as humanly possible over flannel sheets. As always, the starch in the coverlet belied the softness of the interior.”

Lesperance’s contribution also, most explicitly, gets at a central theme of this collection: fantasy. The protagonist of the story, Susan Lesperance, struggling to achieve orgasm, indulges in a sexual fantasy revolving around James Franco and his role on General Hospital.

Fantasy is the primary theme of Fucking James Franco, more so, even, than the titular act of fucking. Read not as a collection of individual works but as one kaleidoscopic whole, Fucking James Franco is an examination of that mise en abyme described in Sydney S. Kim’s “Two Lesbians Get Stoned,” between fantasy and delusion.

This edge of the abyss takes many varied forms. Buyse gives the reader a meta-narrative about an encounter ending in sexual role-play between herself and Franco not long after the publication of a book by Sean Carney to which she’d contributed a story, “the book is called Fucking James Franco…” Ryan Pierce, in Jonquil, relays a narrative, taking place in a prison yard and featuring a character, Frank, with “a mug like a silver dollar” and an education in the arts. In the end, the characters are delusional, method acting gone too far. The title is enough in Sally Gotfredson’s Eight Poems to Serve as a Declaration/Evidence of the Mutual Feelings James Franco and I Feel for Each Other, to be Read by James Franco in Bed Post-Intercourse With Sally Gotfredson, and the fantasy is turned on its head, clinical and blue-balled, in Sarah Johnson’s spare and finely crafted Franco, Good Morning. There are those aids and prosthetics of fantasy in Emily Wolfer’s The James Franco Collection, a catalogue excerpt of sci-fi flesh-clone Franco-phile sex toys, and what begins as a porn-vid review in Fucking James Franco by Arnonymous Poet, unwinds into a tale of a teenage trip with Franco to Amsterdam, where the narrator and his daydream protagonist smoke hash, look for “Houses with Boys” and conclude with some possibly non-consensual anal-fisting.

One has to wonder what, as a cultural figure, the actual, living James Franco, has to do with the project. Carney writes in his introduction, “The point here, Mr. Franco, is that there is nothing outside of this text (whoa). It exists solely because you do, and, simply put, it had to happen. Luckily, I fucking thought of it before you did.” Leading up to the publication of the book blog writers and commentators on sites including A.V. Club and Nerve were questioning the books origins, positing that Franco himself had a hand in its manifestation. Not the case, but it raises the point that Franco has positioned himself in the cultural sphere quite differently than most of his celebrity peers. As an actor, he takes on projects ranging from stoner slapstick, to superhero-blockbuster, soap opera to art film. He exhibits, with Peres Projects, work heavily influenced by Paul McCarthy, and he recently published a collection of short stories, Palo Alto: Stories, primarily concerned with the lives of teenage boys in suburban California, drinking, getting stoned, and committing seemingly random acts of violence, including, if memory and interpretive skills serve, rape. Franco was Salon.com’s 2009 Sexiest Man Alive, and received a BA in English in 2008 from UCLA, an MFA in writing from Columbia University in 2010, and is now pursuing PhDs from both Yale and the University of Houston.

In other words, the man is everywhere, at all times, and is, undoubtedly, a man of his moment. It would appear that he is not satisfied with a fixed identity, but is seeking a multiplicity of identity. Along with this multiplicity comes some sense, or at least projection of the sense, that he himself is in on the joke, that he recognizes to some small degree the ridiculous nature of his position, and that, as many of his cultural critics would state, much of his success in the fields outside of acting are due, in part, to his status as an actor. If he didn’t appear to be in on the joke, to be winking off camera, the speculation that Franco himself was the mastermind behind Carney’s project would likely not have surfaced.

This is to say that James Franco is the perfect foil for Carney’s project. As a celebrity and cultural figure he molds a multitude of identities for himself, each one another facet of James Franco the Actor, the Artist, the Writer, the Sexpot, the Auteur. None of them are James Franco, the human. In the case of Fucking James Franco, James Franco the human does not exist. He is Rebecca Steele’s generic Nacho Franco reefer hazed, hung-over hotel room, “ITS OWN AUTOCRAT / IN LACKING ANYTHING PLAUSIBLE FOR / PERSONALITY / THIS COULD BE THE PLACE FOR THE LAST WEEK. / FOR ALL THE FUCK I CAN TELL / ART FASHION AND FASHION ART.” There is a total collapse of fantasy into delusion. James Franco the Public Figure is what anyone wants him to be. He is without a determinate gender, without a determinate sexuality, without a determinate face or even a determinate name. He is that perfect Renaissance man, the charmer, and the one who can do anything he wants to do.

He is the one we all want to be, to love, to be loved by and to fuck.