JOHN RUNNING THE DRINK DELIVERY SYSTEM AT THE ODEON BAR 2/14/04
an article by "Xeni Jardin"
heres Jeni with her pal Shaq
Spelletich is a Bay Area-based machine artist.
invite audience members to directly operate and
interact with their
machines, robots and kinetic art [in] real-life
has been delving into bio-morphic inputs, sensing the
human body and
using those signals to trigger the machines/robots/pyro.
who attends a performance has the chance to operate a
machine that can,
well, kill them -- but will empower them instead.
I've been to a
number of his performances, and they're as fun as they
What differentiates him from a number of other
artists" or "machine performance groups" is a sense
of playfulness and
exploration. His performances aren't about
combat, or blasting the audience deaf with
that liquefy your guts -- rather, it's more of an
exercise in sensory
fusion. In other words, synaesthesia. They're also
beautiful (I'm thinking in particular of one piece called
involves a wearable set of flaming, robotic, metal wings).
shows compel the audience to sort of fuse themselves with the
one of the machines, perceive the world and their place
differently as a result. Participants control (or are
controlled by) the art-bots, many of which are engineered to
respond to human
biological data. In a kinetic, visceral way, Kal's work
traces a sort of
elusive, thin, membrane that separates the physical and
Xeni Jardin is a technology journalist and co-editor of
BoingBoing . She hosts events exploring tech culture, and contributes
to publications including Wired Magazine ,Wired News , and
National Public Radio's Day to Day .
Art for the Ashcroft era
san francisco bay guardian
scientist-artist-inventor Kal Spelletich has been building a lot of
mutant polygraph machines, fusing the electrical guts of lie-detector
devices – heart-rate, perspiration, and voice-stress analyzers – with
strange and ominous robotics. One machine blows spinning halos of fire.
Another uses a pen-equipped mechanical arm to scribble away on sheets
of paper. All are hooked up to humans. Talk shit and these machines
know – and respond. "This is kind of my PATRIOT Act twist," laughs
Spelletich, the driving force behind the Seemen, a critically lauded
robot art troop. "I'm experimenting with the same medium our government
is." Spelletich brings an assortment of his interactive nightmare
machines to the close confines of Valencia Street's Jack Hanley Gallery
for an intimate exhibition running through Feb. 28. Though he won't be
showing any of his massive flame-spitting pyro-robots, visitors get to
play with a bunch of smaller, slightly less menacing interactive
machines, like the Portable Castrator (which features a pair of
snapping steel jaws) and a clawed steel hand that drags itself across a
blackboard. Tonight's opening features DJ Ragi Da Lawyer. Through Feb.
28. Opens tonight, 6-8 p.m. (gallery hours: Tues.-Sat., 11 a.m.-6
p.m.), Jack Hanley Gallery, 395 Valencia, S.F. Free. (415) 522-1623, www.jackhanley.com . (A.C. Thompson)
FROM BUZZ TOWN by
The rain didn't seem to keep anyone away from Kal " Seemen " Spelletich
's opening at the Jack Hanley Gallery Friday night.
Flocking to the first night of the machine-art show, moist robot lovers
and free-beer seekers packed themselves inside the fogged-up gallery,
steeped in that uncanny wool-sweater/shaggy-dog/hair-product fragrance
of our own making.
Mostly composed of prototypes for 20- to 40-foot-tall public
sculptures, the show is a continuation of Spelletich's life's work: to
make humans and machines more cozy with one another, even if someone
has to get hurt. As people squeezed between exhibits, buzzers buzzed,
gears grinded and the jagged bear-trap jaws of the portable castrator
freaked people whenever it snapped shut.
Go interact with Kal's creations through the end of the month, but
remember that you're the only one responsible in case of loss, damage
Saturday, February 21, 2004
Ye Olde Castrator/ Jaws is a steel contraption inside a vintage
suitcase, which, in the words of its creator, "has a movement sensor
that is very moody and goes off when someone gets VERY CLOSE to its
razor-sharp snappyjaws." So it won't come and get you, but people
visiting Kal Spelletich's show "Machines, Robots, Video" should
probably think hard about where their appendages are relative to the
art. The drawing machines, the whiskey-pouring machine (voted best by
journalists!), even the fingernails-on-a-chalkboard machine: All these
are, physically speaking, harmless. Several other pieces are extremely
dangerous, and some could kill you -- this is Spelletich's hallmark.
It's all in the name of good art. Are you afraid of it? Do you respect
it? Does your heart rate rise just to be near it? Well, good. You ought
to be paying more attention to art anyway. The exhibition is up through
Feb. 28 at the Jack Hanley Gallery, 395 Valencia (at 15th Street), S.F.
Admission is free; call 522-1623 or visit www.jackhanley.com .
by MELISSA MILLER
hear and I forget.
SF State University paper
If you were to climb into one of Kal
Spelletichís art pieces, as many techies and brilliant-minded
NASA engineers have over the years, you might have a near-death
experience--and like it.
One of Spelletich's most famous pieces, Jaws of Life
invites a participant to strap their torso, arms and legs to a metal
bed frame that violently jerks up and down while bulldozer scoop-sized
claws clamp closed mere inches away from their face while
propane-fueled flames dance all around.
For the uninitiated, it seems unfathomable why any
person would choose to get inside a machine that can dismember a nose
if a hinge comes loose, or cause third-degree burns if a straps falls
off. But there are always takers at every show.
Call it a modern rite of passage, or a new way for thrill seekers to
get an adrenaline rush, but for 15 years, people have sought out
performance shows by Spelletich and his artist collective, the Seemen,
to have precisely this kind of experience. For Spelletich, mechanized
art is the most exciting, relevant art on the planet. This San
Francisco-based artist who is known in art circles around the world
dedicates his life to making art that agitates, scares, and thrills.
And if a few sacrifices in personal comfort have to be made along the
way, Spelletich volunteers himself as the lamb.
Today, Kal Spelletich, 42, rummages through a worn cardboard box
filled with transformers and other electrical odds and ends.
Heís looking for something to fashion into a ìbiomorphic
inputî that will allow Slug, a neighborís dog, to operate
a new robot under construction. Spelletichís fingernails are
dirty, and there is a burn mark the size of a D battery on his right
hand. He's still short a DC motor, and he borrows one from a
completed robot to test the circuits on the new piece. He paces the
rubber mat-lined floor, installed to ease back strain caused by
standing too many hours on concrete floors. It's one the one of the few
visible luxuries the Spartan mechanical artist allows himself.
Everything in his Bayview warehouse, from the avocado green and
brown-stripped couch where he reads The New York Times to the boxes of
what seems like long-ago discarded appliances, seem to suggest that
every material possession Spelletich owns was acquired second-hand.
Donít cry for him Argentina's he likes it this way.
These are admittedly humble digs for a semi-famous artist who has
contributed special effects for movies like the Matrix and Titanic, and
wrote and acted his lines for Slackers. He is also the subject of
numerous masterís degree theses about emerging trends in
electronics-driven art, and lectures at renowned universities all over
the world including M.I.T. and Parsons School of Design, and is a guest
lecturer this semester at San Francisco State University, teaching art
students about robotics. Even though heís been offered gigs that
could have paid the rent on shelter more comfortable than his current
3200 square-foot metallic hull of a workspace whose 34-feet tall
corrugated steel walls amplify both the summer heat and winter chill
due to lack of insulation, Spelletich chooses to live frugally to
remain artistically independent. Since he's not forced to take a job
just to cover the rent, he can make what pleases him, practicality be
damned. He values his artistic integrityóand if he has to make a
few personal, professional and financial sacrifices along the way, he
has his eyes wide open.
There is a certain punk aesthetic to the artistís approach.
Thereís the poverty, of course. Most of the materials used in
his art pieces were probably recovered from a dumpster. As independent
filmmaker Craig Baldwin puts it, ìKal reanimates dead
There is danger involved in many of the art pieces Spelletich is most
famous for. In Spelletichís opinion, fear and fire are mediums
as legitimate as clay and canvas (they're the original paint).
Basically, Spelletich is amused by art that is noisy, psychologically
agitating, and challenges the definition of what constitutes art.
Passive, traditional gallery experiences are bad. The audience
physically interacting with art pieces is good.
Which is probably why a museum would never want to showcase a
Spelletich piece in a museum and would ever consent to allowing the
public to physically interact with a piece they are they are charged
with protecting for posterity.
It's hard to imagine a museum displaying a piece like Fireshower. A
participant steps into a metal cage similar in size and shape to what
Jacques Cousteau used to dive shark-infested waters. When inside, a
gyroscope of flames spins around in varying directions, disorientating
both the passenger and viewers alike. A wrong step by either party
could spell serious injuries.
In a fun, conceptual way, my work attempts to generate the kind of
enlightenment gained by some after near-death experiences, Spelletich
explained once in an M.I.T. magazine.
But what really makes Spelletich's approach to art
so idealistic, if to the point of self-sabotage, is that he structures
shows in a way where his audience, not him or even the art piece
itself, becomes the star. What I really like about Kalís
approach is that he puts the viewer in position of participant,î
says electrical engineer and occasional collaborator Jonathan Foote.
Spelletich refuses to operate his machines at gallery openings; but
from his experience, there is never a shortage of volunteers. While it
holds to the punk rock ideals of egalitarianism, itís undermines
the cult of personality necessary to catapult an artist who is still
alive and creating work from the level of unknown, poor craftsperson to
ìstarî art personality. As a result, he hasnít
become a celebrity who can command thousands of dollars for appearances
and partake in the other perks enjoyed by Andy Warhol, Pablo Picasso,
and current multi-millionaire Dale Chihuly ñ who can charge Las
Vegasís Bellagio Hotel $11 million dollars for a hotel lobby
ceiling that he didnít even handcraft himself ñ but
merely only had to put his ideas on paper for his assistants to
BROKE BUT CONTENT
Spelletichís financial situation doesn't dismay him. Yeah,
Iím broke. But it's the life I chose. I always need parts.
And sometimes I'm forced to choose "do I buy a digital switch, or go on
a date? [Shrugs.] I really have to like a girl to take her out for
In fact, he laughs about his most recent job offers he turned down this
summer. Junkyard Wars, now a Discovery channel favorite, was looking
for a new host. They went through the all the tapes from the first
season, hoping that a former contestant might be suitable. Kal
Spelletich, who appeared in an edition filmed in London, seemed like a
he would be a natural.
I got a call for Junkyard Wars the same week I was asked to do a porno,
laughs Spelletich. I thought, "How appropriate."
He turned down both opportunities because they would be too distracting
from making art, "it was lame" and championing worthy political causes
like Cruz Bustamonteís gubernatorial campaign and Matt
Gonzalezís mayoral bid.
Spelletich subsidizes the cost of making art by running a continuous
solicitation for parts on his Web site, Seemen.org. Currently, he is
asking for a genuine F.B.I. lie detector, someone to insure a gas-motor
powered air compressor, a race car trailer, a jet engine, and someone
to pray for him.
There is more art philosophy to explain, but itís 1:10 in the
afternoon and Indian Summer sun has raised the temperatures under the
corrugated steel roof. The chimes of a bicycle-peddling ice cream man
promises a vanilla popsicle with raisins. Spelletich walks outside and
greets the man by name.
To separate Spelletich, the artist, from Spelletich the citizen, is
hard to do. His robot pieces are political in nature.
It's a political statement to make art that can't be co-opted. To make
art that can't be bought and sold is a big Fuck You [to the art world].
It does hinder you financially, Spelletich continues. But it allows for
the luxury of becoming indifferent to critics and in his words, make
art that is more honest.
Kinetic art is hard to show, because no one buys it;
you mostly see this kind of art at festivals. says Will Linn, co-owner
of the Tenderloin gallery, Rx, which recently curated an art exhibit of
kinetic art that included a Spelletich piece. Linn says he and his
partners subsidize the cost of the space by leasing the gallery out to
private parties, so that the gallery can stage shows by artists they
love without having to be concerned whether or not a show can be
Artists using technology defies the concept of a museum, which is set
up to showcase and preserve art that has stood the test of time. They
aren't going to risk showcasing emerging artists. Besides, they aren't
set up with technical support to assist with the hardware and software
PASSING THE BATON
At SF State, Spelletich's class is part lecture about kinetic art
history, and part workshop on how to survive as a working artist.
The class gives Spelletich a forum to tout some of his favorite artists
and ideas: Rube Goldberg, Adbusters, Michael Moore, and similarly
liberal minded folks who want to shock people through humor into
thinking deeply about the world they live in. He considers himself a
scholar of Marcel Duchamp, who is famous for placing a urinal in a
gallery and calling it art, among other intellectual pranks. Spelletich
has amassed enough research on the guy to probably earn him a Ph.D. if
he was motivated to actually write a thesis about it.
Then the conversation shifts to the practicalities of making art. What
if you donít get a gallery showing how do you show your art? You
do show it anyway, Spelletich says. You just stage a guerilla show. You
just do it.
The young students, probably half of which are not old enough to drink
legally, search Spelletich's face to see if this is just another one of
his prankish statements. They wonder how many laws does an artist have
to break to make it?
When asked how many laws Spelletich has broken, he says, What time of
day is it?î
They surmise he's not kidding this time.
Spelletich spouts off other ways he's defied conventional career paths
the Skywalker Ranch job he turned down, the Lollapalooza tours he
turned down five years in a row. The Maxim magazine feature story. All
turned down for various creative or ethical reasons.
Though there is no physical proof of these job offers, Spelletich comes
across as credible. He's not protecting a life many would envy. He
tells the class, Don't follow me to my demise; find their own middle
He lays out the three golden rules that he has lived by that have given
him the financial freedom to be indifferent to critics: 1) Don't get
into debt 2) Don't get married (before turning 30) and 3) Don't have
kids. Or at leats postpone this into your 30's!!
He says that by keeping his overhead costs low, and not creating
financial obligations for himself, he's been free to live the life he
wants to lead, which is really the point. He's creatively satisfied,
and if critical acclaim doesn't come in this lifetime, there is always
the next. It really comes down to making art that physically affects
people, art that makes people better citizens.
ìIf a person reflects back just once on their
experience with one of my art pieces, Spelletich says simply, I've
Pencils scribble furiously.
FOR LOTS OF OTHER
PRESS CLICK BELOW:
LA show 4/11/03 article in LA
scroll down to 3rd
Magazine article(MIT Press)
WINGERS THAT HATE ART!
I HAVE BEEN MENTIONED ON BOING-BOING A BIT
and other stuff
scroll down to near the bottom- http://www.metropolismag.com/html/content_1000/ob.htm
machine art of rogue technologists
a book i am in
some show pics.
SEEMEN were on the3-part PBS mini series "The Power of Play".
the presenting organization nor any of it's members shall be held
responsible or liable for any LOSS, DAMAGE, OR INJURY arising from any
activity organized, sponsored or promoted by SEEMEN or the presenting
organization anywhere in the universe, forever.
I see and I
I do and I
and while yer at
it Help save Islais Creek art
community from development
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