Adriana Blidaru of Living Content visited Jasper Spicero in his studio, while he was in a residency at Times Square Space in New York, preparing for his solo exhibition there. Jasper’s practice has been going through a radical shift recently, and they talk about what motivated this shift, how his work has been changing in the last couple of years, and about how this reflects in his upcoming project. He also describes the long tradition of arts and crafts that runs in his family, his creative relationship with artist Bunny Rogers, and his newfound love for collaboration and film. Finally, Jasper reveals how video games help him better envision the encounters that viewers have with the sculptures and the environments he creates.
Jasper Spicero was born in 1988 in Yankton, South Dakota. He currently lives and works in LA.
Adriana Blidaru: Where did you grow up and how did you get into making art?
Jasper Spicero: I was born in South Dakota—that’s where most of my family’s from. My parents separated when I was two; my mom moved to Tennessee and my dad moved to Kansas. Later my mom moved to Washington State. So those were the main places where I grew up. Both of my parents are artists: my mom is a high school art teacher and my dad is a printing professor, and makes drawings and sculptures. They also came from artistic families: my grandparents and my great grandparents did a lot of woodworking and crafts, which I always thought was inspiring. So there was always a creative line in my family.
My mom, who was a teacher at a private school in Knoxville, Tennessee, had the opportunity to take students on these art-related field trips to Europe and New York, and she would take me with. I didn’t really appreciate art that much at the time, but I enjoyed traveling quite a lot. Looking back now, it was quite a big deal. It did make an impact on me.
AB: It’s interesting that your great grandparents were into arts and crafts. There is a visible inclination towards that in your practice...
JS: Yeah, it was really inspiring to me growing up, and they still are really inspiring. I remember my great-grandmother’s basement had an area where they had a little workshop, where she and her husband used to do wooden crafts. She would also weave beads in a way that would make these funny characters.
AB: Maybe it has something to do with the temporality in your work, and also with craft, but I noticed that there is a recurring feeling of nostalgia that runs through your practice. How would you address this feeling in relation to your work?
JS: Yeah, I don’t know... what is that about? (laughs) I really love this feeling of being in another time, one that wasn’t that long ago, one that still fits into the parameters of a human lifespan. I’m very interested in this last hundred years.
AB: I see. I think this is highlighted through the use of black-and-white photos and yearbook pictures, as well as VCR aesthetics. Where do you source this material from?
JS: It depends. One of the videos that I made recently was old footage from my middle school years; the yearbooks I usually find and buy online. They’re of random people, usually from the ‘70s. These objects themselves are charged with nostalgia, and I specifically love the yearbooks, because high school is a marker in someone’s life. Everyone has these markers in their life: an experience that feels significant. I think the yearbook is a great marker. The way I’ve been talking about my work recently is that every project is about one of these institutionally designed spaces that reads as a marker in your life, like schools, hospitals, mental hospitals, rehab, prisons, and so on. In theory, these spaces are designed to create some sort of a transformational result or make some type of impact. Those are the things that I’m interested in.
AB: I noticed that in your latest exhibition at Johan Berggren, you allowed more context to be disclosed through the press release. It seems that you approached this show a bit differently from your previous shows, which were quite obscure. I’m curious to hear more about the way you’re creating and conceptualizing shows now.
JS: It’s changed a lot for me over the years, how I’ve been approaching things. I’m more open now than ever to being direct with what I’m doing and a bit more concise. As for how I visualize work and how I actually get down to making sculptures, this is usually based on a narrative and a kind of imaginative process. I’m in that genre of people who make things in an intuitive way. I’m not really capable of planning out too well and foreseeing how things are going to happen. I’m trying to curate or design an outline, but I often start off with a soundtrack: by creating music or finding music, I’ll find a space.
Those are the two big things for me. If I have the space and I have the music, then I can start looking at themes and sort of start categorizing and researching these themes. But I’m more interested now in being concise about what the show is because it’s fun to be able to communicate and to connect more broadly to people. That’s a big shift for me because I started out not wanting people to know what the work is about. I wanted it to be really opaque.
AB: Why did you want the work to be opaque?
JS: I think it was so important for me to feel unique as an artist and as a person that that became more important than communicating anything in the work. It was all about “me” when I made things, and I think that really excluded people. But there’s been this shift now, where I really want to open things up more so the work can be enjoyed and understood. For instance, I’m really into collaborating with people and allowing other voices in my work, letting go of being in control.
AB: I’m excited to see your next show at Times Square Space. I think different artists work in different ways, but you have to agree that artists who share clear ideas through their practice are much more exposed and vulnerable to criticism—which, of course, is an important part of what art is about.
JS: By being opaque, I’m not only limiting the critique aspect of it, but I’m also removing myself from the world. It’s isolating. Plus, when I’m making things that are really aligned with what I believe in, with my convictions as a person, I’m not afraid of criticism. Of course, I am always open to begin wrong. But I do really enjoy working with people—that’s my new favorite thing.
AB: And you mentioned that you are working on a film now?
JS: Yeah. I’m interested in the process of it rather than the film itself. I’m really excited to see how a family is growing around the project; it’s also thrilling to see how when you put ideas out there, they snowball, and change. Right now we’re setting it up here in New York. We’ll shoot parts of the movie here and parts of it in a high school in Minnesota. It’s set in a high school that is also a storm shelter, in this really small town. We already have a lot of the outline and the structure for creating the dialogue with the participants and the actors. So we’ll start here, and use these initial videos as a resource to fundraise for the bigger project.
AB: What is the film about?
JS: The premise of the film is about this therapy experience: an experiential transformation and therapy group goes to this high school to work with a bunch of the kids there. While they’re there, they have a curriculum and a program, including motivational speakers who come and do different exercises. These are imaginative games, almost like a play that, as a participant, you can move through really intuitively without having to know the words. Each exercise is intended to create a specific result, to create some kind of a movement in the people involved and make a difference in how they think about themselves and about the other people around them. So it’s somewhere between a film, a documentary and a play. I’m keeping a very open mind about what it will turn out to be.
AB: Regarding collaborations, you have had quite a few collaborative projects with Bunny Rogers. Can you tell me a bit about the dynamics of your creative process when working together? What commonalities do you feel that your practices share?
JS: I can only speak for myself here, but she’s a tremendous, close friend, and she’s an inspiration to me. In a way, it feels like we grew up together because we spent a lot of time together in the last six years, and this turned out to be some of the most formative years for both of us as young artists. We really inspired each other and learned from each other. We’re two pretty emotionally sensitive people and, early on, we related to each other’s personal histories so I really do feel like a kindred spirit with her. Since I first met her and saw her work I’ve always had an instant understanding there. Like the research that she does, that kind of very intuitive process, the way of making things, which is really rooted in this kind of “bedroom working space”—they’re all similar starting points. When I was a little kid, I had a compulsion to make things alone. I made animations and drawings. I spent all this time in my basement bedroom on the computer. And also her ambition and her motivation to make things all the time—this is also something that I really relate to. We just share a lot of fundamental creative qualities. In these six years that we’ve been close, I don’t think I’ve ever had a conversation with her about what her work was about. We just get each other in a fundamental way.
AB: What would people have to read or see for a better understanding of your work?
JS: I play a lot of video games, and I think that would be helpful in understanding my works and the way I think about making things. I have a game-logic approach to making sculptures. In video games, the narrative can be very non-linear; the experience of playing a really good game is very intuitive. I would say that it’s similar to reading a book, but it’s more tactile and, even, broken. So, yes, video games play a big role in helping people understand my work better. There’s so many incredible video games. And secondly, I think everyone should really take the time to seek things on the Internet. So far, it’s less of an exact recommendation and more of an experience that informs my work, but these two links could make for a better understanding.
AB: I wasn’t going to mention this, but I noticed that you named one of your works Lennus, after the old video game Lennus: Memories of an Ancient Machine.
JS: I’m glad you mentioned that. That’s great! Yeah, so once you read that in the work and relate it to the name, the work kind of opens up. Almost all the work I do have these secret little reference points; some might be kind of obscure, others are not, but they are all over the place. This really creates a new experience and it draws people into it. Lennus is an interesting game, too. It’s really weird. It’s really hard and not very well-designed, but the art direction is really incredible, and the interfaces are tremendous. There are certain games that you play and when you’re in, you don’t know what the heck is going on because they just drop you into a world. This is my favorite thing: you find bits and pieces of information and the story kind of starts to unfold. It’s like the beginning of any movie. A lot of really crappy movies are actually beautiful in the first thirty minutes, because you don’t know what the hell is going on. There’s so much openness and mystery to it left for us to imagine. I’m into this openness. My work is a lot about beginnings and introductions; that’s how I get all these references into the work.