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.
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.”
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.
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.