About/Biography

Kal Spelletich
Career Narrative

I am a visual artist who has been developing projects that directly connect people to hidden aspects of life using sensors and robotics since the early 1980’s. Working with interactive sculptures and live performances, my projects rely on viewers to take an active role to complete each work.

Projects primarily involve hand built robots, digital technology, sound, video, movement, and human physiology.They raise open ended questions about the dominant economic producers of technology, the interplay of technology and spirituality, the role of the collective in capitalism, and economic and educational privilege.

For 30 years I have been an artist and educator based in San Francisco, completing large scale, collaborative, local and international projects that question the values, roles, and norms inherent in how our culture develops, distributes, and uses technology.

Technology is the most important medium to be working in at this point in history. Technology is steering the planet and will either save us or destroy us. My work is generated from the belief that ultimately humanity prevails over technology.

My interactive sculptures are built from the same elements of technology, hardware and software, used in everyday consumer, industrial, and military devices and machines. Viewed from our contemporary vantage point that is immersed in functional technologies, my sculptures seem nonsensical. They are not meant for a proscribed use to achieve monetized goals. Technology’s previously intended use is subverted and the barrier of exclusive access is broken.

 

 

 

Brief Biography
For 38 years, Kal Spelletich has been exploring the interface of humans and robots, using technology to put people back in touch with real-life experiences. His work is interactive, requiring participants to enter or operate his pieces, often against their instincts of self-preservation. He probes the boundaries between fear, control and exhilaration by giving his audience the opportunity to operate and control fascinating and often dangerous machinery.

 

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Born and raised in Davenport, Iowa, the seventh of nine children. He has an undergraduate degree from the University of Iowa, and an M.F.A. from The University of Texas at Austin, both in the field of Media Art. He has performed, exhibited and lectured worldwide, collaborating with scientists, musicians, and politicians. Spelletich’s work has been included in numerous museum and gallery exhibitions over the past three decades, including the De Young Museum, SFMOMA, The Exploratorium Museum and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, S.F., Ca., California Folk Art Museum, L.A., Ca., Oakland Museum of California, Oakland, Ca., and Headlands Center for the Arts, Marin, Ca. He has exhibited internationally in Namibia, India, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Germany, Croatia, France, Czech Republic, Holland, England, Slovakia and Austria. Spelletich lives and works in San Francisco, California.

He has several upcoming exhibits and performances in San Francisco and Berlin, Germany. In 2019 his work will be shown in a solo museum exhibit at St. Mary’s University in Orinda, Ca., and a concurrent solo exhibit at the Catharine Clark Gallery in San Francisco, CA.

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7 Responses to “About/Biography”

  1. Kal Spelletich Artists Statement Jan. 22, 2009

    The question to ask artists is NOT how you got here but how you sustain the making of art.
    In this world full of lies, a false economy, a fake democracy, fake elections, heartbreaks, letdowns, life in a security state and endless wars. Making art has always given me a sense of having a voice. It fulfills something lacking in our world. At my darkest moments art is always there for me. I feel engaged with an audience and not completely powerless. I am in a dialogue with the planet. I am technically challenged beyond belief building robots as well as conceptually realizing them. It has kept me form going crazy, from going on a shooting rampage and from becoming a drunk or drug addict. Art is like the lover who has never left me, and always says yes.

    What is going on right now on this planet? Technology is rocking it, and terrorizing us. It is saving lives through medical breakthroughs and easing our workloads. At the same time the war machine continues to slaughter with deft precision and ruthlessness. So, I work with technology. I am experimenting with live audiences, robotics, pyrotechnics fear and play.

    We are also being terrorized by fear, a fear of everything. This year it is financial collapse, the last few years it was terrorists. Previously Communists, Black people, Native Americans, next, maybe Martians. So, I work with fear as a medium.

    I build machines and robots that I allow my audience to operate. My art combines sculpture, computers, science, biofeedback, inventions and audience interaction. The collaborators are the audience. The work is inspired by political activism, volunteerism, getting involved. Man is not an island hence my work is not complete without some engagement. The participant is a part of the work, the subject matter and the content.

    Designing and building robots is hard. Designing and building robots of things that have never been done before is harder. Designing and building robots of things that have never been done before with the financial and time constraints of an artist, is verging on the ridiculous. I am not trying to humble people who volunteer to operate my art, rather empower them by putting extreme technology in their hands. I am exploring how far people are prepared to submit to external forces and how far they can allow a machine to intrude on the body. I am interested in a hybrid human machine system, technological interfaces, out of body/split body experiences/phantom limbs, blurring the boundaries between man and machine and prostheticly augmenting the body. I have been experimenting with bio-morphic inputs to trigger my art (EKG’s, respiration, EEG’s, proximity, lie detectors, touch and sound). Hence humans power machines and thru feedback the machines power humans. My work attempts to challenge both the applications of technology and the boundaries between art the audience. It is not about machines replacing people, instead the machines facilitate the thing that only humans can do: feel.

  2. and marjorie cameron

  3. Artists Statement/Image Identification list for: Kalman Spelletich #1. A hand cranked exercise machine that powers 8 different machines, robots and a turntable that plays Herb Alpert. The collaboration with the audience completes the work. This work is inspired by political activism, volunteerism and getting people involved in life. The participant is a part of the work, the subject matter and the content.

    #2. Volunteer wears backpack, sensor laden gloves trigger robot, it responds to signals sent though gloves by moving arms. EKG in gloves picks up heartbeat and activates tail and spine. Tilt sensors control upper arms. This creates a feedback loop between participant and machine. Technology is the overriding medium ruling the planet and, terrorizing us. It is saving lives, easing workloads and slaughtering with deft precision and ruthlessness. So, I work with this dominant medium, technology.

    #3. Electroencephalogram volunteer wears on head causes robot to react to your thoughts, emotions and intellect triggering 10 degrees of movement on robot. Can your mind control the robot or does the robot control your mind and body? Within this hybrid arrangement, assumed boundaries between art and audience, sentient and non-sentient are questioned.

    #4. 7 foot Tentacle’s “head” has a video camera, monitor, light and valve with brethalyzer for dispensing wine. Glove with flex sensors controls the tentacle movements. Inspired by the serpent in the Garden of Eden tempting all whom operate it.

    #5. Robotic self-portrait. Camera in mouth, 2nd overhead camera observes both the Spelletich-golem and viewer. Video is shown on two monitors at the end of room with a voodoo doll audience can manipulate causing the golem to move. Puppet-master or dictator? Parasitic or symbiotic? With no visible intelligence at work, is the golem merely entertaining? When the method of control becomes known, the golem becomes something to relate to, subjected to, act in opposition to, and play with.

    #6. Gallery Installation with flying machines, telepresence, sensors and video. Machines respond to audience, climbing and punching through walls. Inspired by transcendence, Yves Klein’s leap into the void, Chagall’s flying people, Gordon Matta Clark, Sisyphus, stalking, surveillance, escape, breaking through and out of traps.

    #7. Gallery Installation Installation exploring flight and the universal aspiration to fly. The desire to elevate oneself above one’s environment–to conquer the ocean of air.
    #8. Machine you get in and on and ride using 2 joysticks to spin you left – right, up – down, tilt forward – back. Wind blows in your face & fire blasts overhead. Built just after 9/11, AND inspired by bucking bronco machines. I am seeking an empowered participant who shows me how far they will allow a machine to intrude upon their body.

    #9. Spinning machine surrounds volunteer in a tornado of fire. Challenging the applications of technology and the boundaries between art, the audience, fear and play. Facing your mortality, fear and, finding something inside you, you didn’t know you had and coming out stronger. It is not about machines replacing people, instead the machines facilitate the thing that only humans can do: feel.

    #10. Paper money is the negotiating for and with the flesh of trees. In Chinese theory, the wood element is considered the foundation of the living world, the earth itself is held together by their entwined roots. And what has become of the forest?

  4. I integrate computers, science, robotics and biofeedback. My collaborators are the audience, the work does not exist without them. Inspirations: political activism, hybrid human machine systems, blurring the boundaries between man and machine and prostheticly augmenting the body. I attempt to challenge the applications of technology and the boundaries between art and audience. It is not about machines replacing people, instead the machines facilitate the thing that only humans can do: feel.

  5. The dominant medium in the 21st century is technology. Technology is the overriding medium ruling, healing and terrorizing us. It is saving lives, eases workloads and slaughters with deft precision and ruthlessness. Fear is also a source of terrorization. Terrorized by a fear of everything. This year it is financial collapse. The last few years it was terrorists. Previously Communists, Black people, Native Americans, next, maybe Martians. So, I also work with fear as a medium.
    I am currently exploring the issue of environmental dystopia also using photography and video. I am creating radical nature melding nature and technology as an aberration celebrating and warning about the loss of species and our environment.
    I build machines and robots for my audience to operate. This interactive work is inspired by political activism, volunteerism and getting people involved in life. The collaboration with the audience completes the work. Man is not an island hence my work is not complete without some participation.The participant is a part of the work, the subject matter and the content. I experiment with creating a feedback loop between participant and machine. This work questions the role technology plays in our lives. How far people are prepared to submit to external forces and how far they can allow a machine to intrude on the body.
    My work attempts to challenge the applications of technology, the boundaries between art, the audience, fear and play. Within this hybrid arrangement, assumed boundaries between art and audience, sentient and non-sentient are questioned. It is not about machines replacing people, instead the machines facilitate the thing that only humans can do: feel.

    Can your mind control the robot or does the robot control your mind and body? I am seeking an empowered participant who shows me how far they will allow a machine to intrude upon their body.

    A hybrid human machine system of technological interfaces, out of body/split body experiences/phantom limbs, man and machine and prostheticly augmenting the body. I experiment with bio-morphic inputs to trigger my art, humans power machines and thru feedback the machines power humans.

    I build machines and robots for my audience to operate. My work combines sculpture, computers, science, and inventions. The collaboration with the audience completes the work. I experiment with biomorphic inputs (EEGs, EKGs, respiration, and proximity lie detectors) to trigger activity and create a feedback loop between participant and machine. I seek an empowered participant who shows me how far they will allow a machine to intrude upon their body. Within this hybrid arrangement, assumed boundaries between art and audience, sentient and non-sentient are questioned. Who and what are doing the feeling becomes less certain.

    Well, this is one of the purposes of art itself. Science tries to understand nature in a logical sense, but there are many, many natural phenomena that cannot be explained by logic and science.
    Historically, religion served this purpose. But now, we are getting into the 21st century and the power of religion is fading. People still need another way to understand the world besides logic — and we’re turning to art and spirituality to help us understand our environment and the world.

    • Artsists statement March 2011

      Research is am integral part of my art. My practice is informed by expermenting with engineering and technology. Working from San Francisco since 1990 I have a group of collaborator/friends who are scientists, engineers, artists, construction workers and Silicon Valley X-pats. I make my machines and robots with no blue prints, designs or computer modelling. These works challenge phenomenologicaly those who activate and interact with them by challenging their perceptions about the role of technology, its roles in their lives and, what is fear and play.
      Kal Spelletich hopes to speak about truth and power to those who will deal with his work.

  6. sometimes on Sunday mornings i like to peruse Artstuff, let my mind wander from the state of reality and let it go entirely into imagination and inspiration. this morning i spent some of that time looking through your adventures, creations, words and photos and wanted to tell you that you added to my day! love your artists statement and the way that you seemingly hold true to your beliefs through your work; in an age of fear, using fear as a medium. hadn’t thought of fire and dynamite quite like that before. looking forward to following the world of Kal Spelletich.

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