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Feature: Jasper Spicero - Unguarded

Updated: Nov 24, 2020

By Jasper Spicero

In process screenshot of Unguarded, 2020, courtesy of the artist

It’s not often that I choose to write about my own artwork. I’ve long considered this a fault of mine so I’m going to give it a shot and focus on a project I’ve been creating in quarantine called, Unguarded.

I named the project after a documentary about Chris Herren who played basketball professionally until falling to drug addiction. The title of the documentary refers to Herren being physically unguarded by his opponents on the basketball court and becoming emotionally unguarded by sobering up and giving soul baring motivational speeches.

Unguarded involves a narrative that gives the accompanying sculptures an emotional history. The story is about a neighborhood in rural America that narrowly survived an extinction event where the atmosphere surrounding earth disappeared. People here rely on robots for food, power, shelter, healthcare, childcare; even emotional and spiritual support. They’re able to provide support adequately because Martha invented a technology that captures disembodied souls to utilize their loving awareness. Wandering souls are trapped in the head of a robot until their consciousness starts to awaken the robot into a high form of sentience. The soul is then released and recirculated to another head, resetting the awakening process before it’s complete, into perpetuity. An unforeseen, ecological result of this new technology was the gradual decimation of earth’s atmosphere.

When a chance failure in Martha’s system occurs, some few robots break the odds and become highly sentient. In response to the corroded atmosphere, a few of these spirited robots terraformed their neighborhood in hopes of sustaining the human lives they were created to serve. This is where Unguarded takes place.

Long Walk, 2020, courtesy of the artist; wooden play structure, wooden food, interior wall paint, plastic toy part, umbrella, pillow made from rags, newspaper, picture frame parts, antimicrobial wheels, tube, cafeteria tray, silverware, caution tape, public memorial

Sometimes a film could be better if it were just the very beginning, the very end or a couple scenes in the middle cut together. Most narrative works hand-hold through lengthy expositions. Artists have the liberty to leave intentionally wide gaps in continuity for viewers to embrace with their own imagination. These gaps allow fictional stories to bleed into the already highly subjective “real” world where living takes place. The world-building in the past two paragraphs will not be directly stated in the finished project. The sculptures hint at the world with poetic use of materials, form and site specificity; generating a mystery parallel to those in life.

My whole life I have invested time thinking about and playing video games. Video games have overwhelming gaps of continuity in their worlds. This is because gameplay is often paramount to story. These gaps gave me invaluable room to fill with my own ideas.

Illustration for Unguarded, 2020, courtesy of the artist

Unguarded is a web-based project with two pages. One page displays documentation of sculptures and the other is an interactive, choose-your-own-adventure with music and illustrations. W113UR, or Wilbur, is the robot you inhabit. You are the soul that helplessly fell into, and is now contained, inside of Wilbur’s head. As Wilbur carries out food deliveries, you receive transmissions from distressed people and listen to them with loving awareness. You also listen to a few people Wilbur physically encounters while serving the neighborhood’s withering, barren community. Incrementally you, a soul, gain agency over Wilbur and make choices that impact how the story ends.

Creating successful art relies on balancing imagination with common modern experiences. If the process is grossly imaginative then the product will be ungrounded and irrelevant. The Nightmare Before Christmas is successful because it is skillfully grounded in American holidays. On the other side of the same coin, if art is over encumbered by relevance then it’s plain uninspiring. That’s the side I’m most afraid of so my failures come from overindulging in daydreams. My mind thinks it takes unrelenting self-scrutiny to keep balanced. The reality is that my work will come into the world seamlessly if I am only kind with myself.

A Century Named Poem And Autumn, 2020, courtesy of the artist; public umpire statue, plastic egg shaped container, interior wall paint, dismantled designer lamp, folding table, fabric, poetry magazine, perler beads, picture frame parts, wooden food, hybrid metal lunchbox-tray, caution tape, umbrella, found drawing

I spent $800 on furniture to be the foundations of the sculptures for Unguarded. A Century Named Poem And Autumn is built on a folding table and designer lamp. After I hauled the sculptures to various parks and photographed them, I returned the furniture pieces to get my money back. There is an essential element of longing in dispersing sculptures once they are documented. Like a portrait of a person, the sculptures are displayed as a mimic of their true selves. Once the website goes live and is emailed to people, the life of the sculptures has long since passed; dismembered and recirculated to be real lamps and tables again.

Two days before the shelter-in-place orders were announced in Los Angeles, I canceled my flight to New York. I had been gearing up to direct my screenplay called, “Drops Of Medicine.” The script was about a high school student who drops out to produce a play for a spiritual guru with dementia. That was in March. My girlfriend and I evacuated to the desert in April.

Title graphic for Drops Of Medicine, 2020, courtesy of the artist

In the desert we were privileged with wide open spaces for wandering but the temperature outside routinely hit 110. The public parks were scorching and empty. In addition to the constricting heat, areas where people might gather were cordoned off with caution tape to enforce social distancing. Water fountains were wrapped in garbage bags and duct tape to contain transmissions of the virus. Playgrounds, vigorously wound with caution tape, looked the most bleak with longing. I knew right away that these parks would be the stage for a new series of sculptures. They would ground my imagination in the ensuing pandemic.

You might notice that the documentation photographs embedded here are pretty crumby in quality. It is my intention to reference a time in the internet before 9/11 when images had to be compressed in order to load properly. Not to be sentimental or nostalgic but to access that technological time period as a material to weave into the present moment.

Caution Tape Designs, 2020, courtesy of the artist

Fourteen has been my favorite number since it was assigned to me in the 3rd grade. Within the classroom my name was, “Jasper 14.” Unguarded will be released on September 14th at

The launch of the project has since been moved to September 22nd.


Jasper Spicero works in New York and Los Angeles. He had solo exhibitions at Swiss Institute, New York; Mother Culture, LA; Time Square Space, New York; Johan Berggren, Malmo;New Galerie, Paris; Wapato Jail, Portland; duo-exhibitions with Bunny Rogers at Arcadia Missa, London; with Alex Dolan at 4649, Tokyo; with Win McCarthy, at The Rudolph Steiner Bookstore, New York; and created installations at LUMA Westbau, Zurich and Musée d'Art Moderne, Paris.

In Our Own Words is an ongoing feature where artists and writers are asked to speak about their new work, ideas or projects, or works that they have been thinking about in their own words. It is also part of invert/extant Transmissions for the Artist Writings series. If you would like to be kept up to date on this or other projects, please sign up for our newsletter.


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