Jesse Small


The robots caught me by surprise.  As I went about Jingdezhen shopping for my domestic needs I came across the robot toys of my youth.  Toys that had been discontinued, unavailable, locked in childhood memories for 30 years.  In a totally foreign environment where everything was hard to explain, here was one thing that touched my deepest memories and fantasies.  When a signal emerges from the white noise, it feels like “the universe” is talking directly to you.  The timing of it isn’t something we can control, but it happens when we are on the path, a serendipitous gift.

Somehow the injection molds used to make robots soldiered on, and as fate would have it, robot toys were still being produced by Chinese companies, fitting into my thesis of “Toy Pirates.”  The plastic shapes and sizes were identical…timeless in new colors and packaging.  These were more valuable than the originals because they were in the flesh.  Fate and pirates had reunited me with the robots of my youth.

I began buying them, obsessively, and cataloging them.  I would squeal with joy whenever I found a new variant, like a bird watcher or a butterfly collector.  With no specific ideas in mind, I collected them for seven years all over China until they came into my studio practice directly, and became the subject of my porcelain sculptures.  I even trekked to Shantou SEZ, where 80% of Earth’s toys are produced.

I use nine essential robot shapes: the ones with the most familiarity to me.  As pirated plastic toys they are cheap and fragile, like something from a cereal box… not meant to last. As porcelains they take on a new life.  I use these toys to pose questions about pirating, and memories; about what is valuable and what is not; about what endures and what does not. 

The circular shelf reflects the robots’ Chinese origins. The circle honors a sacred, non-hierarchic space for the robot porcelains to simply be beautiful and strong.


Jesse Small
Los Angeles
2014