Rbt Sps and the Apple Express

Rbt Sps The Apple Express, video, Courtesy Interstate Project

Most of the time, unexpected events are those which are the most interesting. We are often attracted to what is scary. And… what no one wants to see is often of importance and deserves to be shown. This is also the case for art; or rather, because of art?!

Interstate Projects Gallery shows for the first time completely unedited video works by the American artist Robert Spees aka Rbt. Sps.  Photographer, video artist and documentarian, painter and sculptor, musician and designer, printer and collector of checks and bills, Spees uses nearly every expressive technique while focusing on representing reality through multimedia.

The Apple Express (named after a famous breakfast cereal brand) is a digital VHS document made in a house that is apparently peopled only by young maladjusted youths in Paris, Tennessee (USA). Far away from the format of a documentary film, we’re exposed to an audio-visual tale in which author and subject melt together until becoming indistinguishable. It’s difficult to recognize what artistic inspirations drew Spees to produce this work, but its singularity as a work of art lies precisely in such ambiguities. Produced at the very beginning of his artistic career, the twenty-year-old Spees wasn’t aware of producing artistically attractive material. Living six months in this environment/house amongst emotionally abandoned teenager, bearing his video camera with him at all times and without any premeditated storyboard, he produced in a very natural way a document that is amazingly stunning and sensual, and at the same time almost sexy. Infinite crazy nights compressed into 45 minutes, Apple Express becomes like a magnet for the spectator, provoking a sense of anguish and curiosity at the same time. The moving images that depict these young guys in a completely accidental way arouse sensations of loathing and compassion, and in a manner which is oftentimes touching. Such emotions can be found in the video stills as well. With a certain similitude to Larry Clark, Spees’s images possess an almost agonizing aura as the visual field is disturbed by a medium that has been used in a casual and improper manner. Grain, streaks and blurry images make the picture more fascinating and mysterious than ever, expressive of the malaise that these situations really had.

Interstate Projects shows a strong curatorial sensibility for having staged this unedited video. In line with its mission to give space to art outside of the pressure of the market, Tom Weinrich, the gallerist, took a gamble with an artist who has a keen sensibility for the sociology and psychology of the American Hinterland – a place of contradiction between extreme Catholicism and a culture of drug and alcohol abuse which exists in broad daylight. The artist never wanted to show this piece out of respect for the “actors” and out of a certain shyness in declaring it an artwork tout court; but he was convinced to show a unique projection of the work followed by an artist talk in which the spectators actively participated.

Rbt. Sps. does not limit his artistic production to video art and photography. Looking at his artistic productions within the last 8 years, we can testify as to how much he’s bound to paper, collage and materials of daily consumption. We can find artworks made of freezer bags, objects found in the garden, and the remains of garbage. His photographic eye and his experience as a video maker create arrangements that can be positioned between the advertisement billboards of Robert Rauschenberg, the paintings of Basquiat, and the architectural projects of Christo. He creates journals that seem be made by the hands of a graphic designer without ever touching a technological device while maintaining a strong relationship with traditional techniques. He usually uses more than one printing technique, adding embroideries, stickers, and embossment.  He composes music with friends, designing and printing the artwork for the CDs. He uses vinyl, latex and all kinds of plastic materials, collected haphazardly throughout the course of the day.

What is at first glance a traditional approach to art has in reality a deep investigation of technology used to create archives of our memory, or better said, of the experienced events that we would like to remember in the future. More precisely, he gleans from the digital documentation of his own life. The link to an immaterial, impersonal and artificial memory largely remains as such, as the question arises: How can we remember what we have stored on an electronic device if the number of files reaches the thousands or hundreds of thousands? His works are like a short story of his personal life, made for the purpose of amplifying the resonances of his own memories.

This article has been published on ArteFuse.