Technology and Consciousness: Artificial Intelligence and Art
A conversation with Jerry Kaplan and Kal Spelletich
Artificial Intelligence is poised to transform today’s society as completely as the Internet did 20 years ago. The impact of both on all aspects of life, work, art, relationships, humanity, and consciousness, is as yet unknown-but not for long.
Press from the Intention Machines exhibit;
“We have run in fear from the San Francisco mad-scientist’s widely acclaimed fire-ensconcing robotic art, which brought us too close to the dystopian realities of our real world–where art and life collide in anxiety-provoking, sensory rabbit-holes in which technology and terror machines run amok.”
An Evening with Kal Spelletich
By Ashley Hong, a Catharine Clark Gallery
August 15, 2014
There is something surreal about the animation of inanimate objects.
Maybe it’s the idea of metal breathing fire or machines that can mimic
sacred human actions, like praying and hugging, that creates a
transcendental impression. In the modern world, technology is
ubiquitous. As technology becomes increasingly more advanced, it
consumes more and more of our time. Kal Spelletich, a San Francisco
artist, builds robots and machines that question the role technology
plays in our lives. He asks questions that challenge our perception of
science and technology, such as, “How can we have fun with some
seemingly sinister technological applications?” and “Can we mechanize
spirituality?” To Spelletich, machine robots “inhabit an innersticial
place where they are both beyond human and robots at the same time.
This leaves the audience mildly suspicious of the machine world and
“reality;” it messes with people’s perceptions of safety and the role
Kal Spelletich was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. He ran away
from home at age 15, and worked numerous jobs as a carpenter, plumber,
teacher, and auto mechanic among many others. Art was never on his
radar as a child, but during college, interaction with a camera
sparked an interest. While at the University of Iowa and later at the
University of Texas at Austin for his Masters, art became a lifestyle
for Spelletich. As a mechanic and carpenter, Spelletich was naturally
drawn to sculpture, robots, and machinery. He wanted to make “art that
does things,” so an essential tool in his studio is a cordless drill.
Spelletich says he “scavenges junkyards, the streets, and Ebay,” and
people give him materials for his work. “I cannibalize old pieces, I
really try and not buy stuff, [and to] not add to consumerism.
Honor[ing] items already used, I often feel a used item holds
memories/energy from its previous user, previous actions.” To
Spelletich, every cast off has potential.
His studio can be described as an organized mess. Despite being filled
with wood and metal scraps and other industrial materials he finds
along the way, the warehouse in which he creates his magic has an
unconventional feeling of comfort and familiarity. Just as we build
our lives with pieces we find here and there, Kal brings to life what
others would quickly toss into the trash, “The roles of humans are
changing just as tech and robots roles are changing, humans are good
at a lot of things. But that is changing. Robots are good at a lot of
things. But that is changing. I like how the two things are flipping.
With every technological change there is a trade-off.” Spelletich’s
love for trees and wood is expressed through the small oasis of green
outside his warehouse in an otherwise industrial neighborhood. This
balance between wood and metal is beautiful. There is a compelling
tension between the many opposites that make up his world. Metal can
withstand fire, but wood cannot; and wood represents the very organic
essence of life. Wood is usually needed to spark a fire and yet when
it burns, it turns back into earth. All of Kal’s fire pieces are made
of metal and by working with both metal and wood, Spelletich explores
how seemingly materials are intertwined.
Spelletich’s Fireshower is one of his most known works. It is
essentially a capsule that surrounds a person in fire. To Spelletich,
fire is “like a wild animal,” and having the flames merely five inches
from your skin creates a feeling of “terror then bliss.” “I am often
exploring how much a person is prepared to submit to external forces
and how far s/he can allow a machine to intrude on the body. I like
the double edged sword of this medium, you are attracted to it yet
scared…” Spelletich’s multitude of fire pieces symbolizes his own
experiences with mortality and the process of coping and finding peace
after death. It was after dealing with the passing of close family
members and seeing important people leave his life that Spelletich
really began to grasp the ideas of abstract art. He found a new
appreciation and understanding of abstract art and began creating
abstractions that gave him a way to cope with pain and sadness. Here
his love of Eastern religions, particularly the idea of Zen,
transformed itself into robotic sculptures.
In an exhibition at Catharine Clark Gallery in conjunction with ZERO1
Biennial in 2015, Spelletich further delves into the ideas of what
truly makes us human. He asks whether we can mechanize spirituality,
“Can praying be automated? Buddhists do this! If we do not pray can a
robot do it for us?” With these questions in mind, Spelletich began
creating what he calls “Praying Robots.” He aims to bring into the
forefront of people’s minds the possibility that intangibles such as
emotions, the soul, and spirits, might be measurable. “Can I build an
interface to trigger robots that can read viewers’ “auras, vibe or
character”? Can a robot respond to one’s individuality? Is
spirituality quantifiable? Can one crowd-source energy to trigger the
robots? Why is an atheist interested in this? Can I scientifically
conduct experiments on whether this works?” These kind of questions
spark the creative genius of Kal Spelletich and further explore the
proximity of art and science.
In such a high tech, fast-paced society, we need constant reminders to
take a step back from our phones, tablets, and laptops and realize the
things that are constantly changing around us. Does being consumed by
technology help us as a human race? Or is technology taking away parts
of what makes us human, like physical interactions, reactions to
people, and emotions? Many of Spelletich’s works aim to bridge human
interaction with the art pieces themselves. Controlled simply by
hovering a hand over a piece of metal to move the sculpture, many of
his works require audience engagement. He even has a hugging machine
that grabs a person from behind and lifts them into a huge bear hug.
This is another example of technology and machines doing very
human-like things, and it makes one wonder just how much a machine
will be able to do in the future. Spelletich’s interest in the ideas
of religion and spirituality makes him question whether art and
technology can provide a substitute for religion. His Praying Hands
are human operated machines that essentially pray to the person that
is controlling it. Spelletich creates a beautiful connection between
human and machine, demonstrating how each relies on the other to
Kal Spelletich’s renowned art pieces have lead him all over the world,
from Europe to Africa to India. Every culture has an influence on an
artist’s perspective and every culture interacts and reacts
differently to the same artworks. Spelletich has noticed that “every
exhibit is an experiment in engaging the audience and learning. To
bring work that appears to be from another world, into another world
is eye opening for me. In essence, I am interested in conducting live
experiments on audience members using technology.” Audience engagement
is at the heart of Kal Spelletich’s work and as he continues to
explore ideas that extend our boundaries of thought, he creates works
that changes the way we think and interact with art.
The Artist as Change Agent:
Kal Spelletich’s Transformative Art and Performances
Artist Kal Spelletich has no use for passive consumerism and inaction. With a longstanding interest in Zen philosophy and an enduring commitment to activism, Spelletich’s life has been staunchly anti-consumerist in his pursuit of making art out of recycled, freecyled, donated, stealthily procured, and otherwise “opportuned” materials scavenged from Bay area junkyards and dumpsters. While Spelletich is known primarily as a kinetic machine and robotic artist who works with fire, his conceptual and affective art work has always been much more expansive, including performance, multimedia installation, interactive participatory social practice, and more recently, abstract geometric kinetic constructions.
photo; Arnaud Gaertner firstname.lastname@example.org
FOR AN UPCOMING EXHIBIT IN SAN FRANCISCO
An Exhibit I am included in;
From a Workshop I led in Prague, Czech Republic. At the Wonderful MEETFACTORY.
click on text image, scroll down to bottom of page, click on view full SIZE .yeah, weird format
An overview of a new direction with my work, or maybe more like an evolution……The comments at the bottom are pretty great, ADD ONE!
LA show at CAFAM;
New York Times
MORNING GLORY July/August 2013
Jack Hanley Gallery
Press from NYC April, 2013
One of Many talks I have given:
From A Movie I was In in The Olden Days
From an April 2013 event: French Press on the Huggerer
A Brilliant book i am in from the Arts Organization, KONTEJNER
Curatorial Perspectives on the Body, Science and Technology by: IvanaBago, Olga Majcen Linn, Suncica Ostoic with thanks to Will Linn. http://www.kontejner.org/
A talk I gave
summer, 2012 at http://www.baasics.com/
A Class I did in Prague
A talk I gave at UC Berkeley
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 are willing to interact and play with technology. My work attempts to challenge and subvert the applications of technology, the boundaries between art, the audience, fear and play.
Something I wrote a few years back for Zing Magazine:
http://www.zingmagazine.com/issue21/johanson.html LIFE IS THIRST A few statements and rambling observations By Kal Spelletich All glory comes from daring to begin. –Eugene F Ware Art, it is about collaborating, be it with a friend, a gallery owner, a television crew, your neighbours, or a stranger. When I am asked to exhibit my work I think, I am blessed. Each show is a gift, a miracle. It is about giving back, and sharing. It is life and death. Just like my day-to-day life. Junky friends OD’ing. Friends dying of very simple medical conditions. Drugs in the arts community are like a plague, like AIDS. We sacrifice ourselves for something bigger; the suffering necessitates the creating. In the end, it is supposed to be hard. You make and make and hope you can inspire your audience, to be a catalyst, and send someone on their journey. Not your journey, theirs! Why are you on the planet? Why am I? To help others find their purpose–probably the most important thing for us to do. Artists generally don’t have much money, but they are wealthy. They have soul, heart, passion; they follow their muse–something people who only follow money do not follow and will never understand. So we are wealthy! Money can be a good thing, but you have to waste a lot of time making it. This life, it is amazing, confounding and transcendent. I’m writing this in a field full of stones from an ancient lava flow in Namibia, Africa, May 9, 2006. I never dreamed my art would take me to such spectacular, transcendent places, where I meet such astounding people. These are the rewards. Another reward has been teaching. It keeps me a perpetual student. To stay in touch with different generations, to help people get where they need to go, and not whitewash it with bullshit and lies. I am always impressed by artists, that they have the balls, the guts, to make something, to even attempt to create and add to our language, to make something out of nothing, to face demons, to contribute, to give back, to enter into a dialogue with humanity. The real glory is to begin. Then, to exhibit, to present new ideas. The secret of success is constancy of purpose. Our stories, written words, songs, pictures: we repeat them through the millennia, sharing what bits and pieces we glean, looking for poetic moments. Out there, we look for that DEEP thing that isn’t visible in day-to-day life: an undercurrent, another dimension you know is there, a source for real knowledge, and the quest for a connection with that. As artists, the more you take in the more you are able to give back. The longer you stay in it the richer your oeuvre. ART CAN: Change your destiny Find your soulmate Find your fortune Stop injustice Remove tyrannical governments Help you realize yourself “They” can censor us. “They” can CUT US OFF, but that will never stop creativity. Sometimes the land has to burn in order to regenerate. Art is so much like science: The Philosophy of Science can be divided into two areas. The first: the process of scientific research and discovery. The second: the fruits of that process, the things we discover, the insights we gain. #1. We are concerned with the proper procedure for acquiring knowledge that can justifiably be called “scientific.” #2. We are concerned with the ultimate use and purpose of that which is discovered. #3. It is metaphysical: the study of any question that cannot be answered by scientific observation and experimentation. Artists add even more to the mix. There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge available to us: observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them, experimentation verifies the result of that combination. –Dennis Diderot PEOPLE WANT TO BE TESTED. They test themselves. They go out looking for challenges. How can the mind transcend the limits of the body? By addressing its fears. Fear–not baseball–is the great American pastime. Politicians use it masterfully to manipulate the people. I use fear as a medium. I am interested in empowering people with it, not humbling them. It is one of these inexplicable paradoxes that we pay good money to rid ourselves of our fears, when we should be inspiring people to face the limits of what they are capable of dealing with, to experiment with the body’s limitations as well as the mind’s. Each piece I make, I make it like it is the last piece I am going to make. My final statement. ONE THING TRULY EXPERIENCED IS WORTH IT ALL. WE ALL WANT TO EXPERIENCE WHAT WILL RESONATE WITHIN OUR SOULS. Keeping a workspace has always been paramount to my art making. I have lived and worked in numerous squats, and illegal warehouse studios. Living in my studio was and is the only way to swing the bills. My current studio has existed for 16 years. Hundreds of people, if not thousands, have worked there. We have squat gardens on abandoned derelict lots, neighbourhood events, endless BBQs, classes, shows, exhibits, political events, on and on. Having a play space, party room, a sacred zone where I can escape and focus, overrides all comforts. I have always booked my own shows, trying not to count on the galleries or museums for validation or income. Having a studio space has helped infinitely. Art is like voting: “good” art creates discussion, “bad” art creates no discussion. Either way, you are at least voicing an opinion, like voting. If you don’t try, nothing will happen. I have always thought the original artists, after children, are native Shamans. They worked with and for their community. For art to go anywhere, it needs to go beyond the white box, reach past the tyranny of capitalism, products, production, consumption, consumerism, and business models. I doubt any Shaman envisioned their work in such a format of with these constraints. Nothing works in isolation. If everything is dynamically interconnected, each action and reaction is vital. It appears we are past the tipping point with the environment, and the US government is the leading terrorist on the planet, but if we are NOT on our true paths, then are we terrorists also? Virtually all of my work is interactive. Stuff that just sits there, on the floor, a wall, or a pedestal, always seems mute. There is a Buddhist belief that the central delusion of human existence is that each of us exists independently of everything around us. Interactivity is closely related to that. Interactive work demonstrates interconnectivity because it cannot exist without the input of a participant. We must ask how art can be interactive. Can a white cube, a truly artificial space that isolates art from our day-to-day lives present a valid view of our culture? Is this a role model for success? Does most art depend on this sort of space for its context–this self-contained space without real life references or interventions? Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, calls the essence of non-duality “realizing the nature of inter-being,” or surrendering some of your personal identity to free yourself. We are not isolated, just as political administration isn’t: artists, and the ripple effect our lives cause. I do not let Robert Oppenheimer off the hook for creating the nuclear bomb, or current American politics terrorizing the planet, any more than I do Andy Warhol for creating product-driven, consumerist “art.” Being dominated by economic ideals, competitively struggling for shows, income, personal survival, and conducting business in art fairs is a far cry from inter-being. If artists enjoy the journey by surrendering some personal identity, they will collaborate more easily with each other and the universe. That collaboration makes you free. Immortality is to labor at an eternal task. –Ernest Renan Scott Snibbee, Bill Viola, Suzi Gablik, Zen masters, and others who have snuck into my subconscious, inspired these writings.
workshop and exhibit Prague, Czech Republic
April 2011: První ze série UMakArt International workshopů s rezidentem pražské Meetfactory Kalem Spelletichem (9.4.2011). First of the UMakArt International workshop series with Kal Spelletich (9.4.2011) youmakeart.cz http://vimeo.com/31326196
A PBS Documentary on moi:
52 machines and robots
David Černý, The MeetFactory, Pavel Vančát, Richard Loskot, Einsturzende Neubauten and “Machines Without a Cause”. http://www.robertcarrithers.com/2011/06/i-met-kal-spelletich-on-the-fateful-and-surprising-night-of-april-1rst-the-einsturzende-neubauten-30th-anniversary-event.html
Photos from a May 2009 exhibit:
Lots of VIDEOS:
Press from Prague 4/2011 exhibit
by Mimi Fronczak Rogers
Jack Hanley gallery Show 8/2010 German Article translated:
The artist Kal Spelletich are hybrids of plant and machinery for his exhibition in New York not quite succeeded. But he talks about him, the words are not big enough. The visitor feels while in the gallery as on a fair. The California artist Kal Spelletich says he loves the planet, people, technologies and nature. And he also loves a not inconsiderable extent theinternets: He runs three websites and a blog can be found on Facebook, Flickr and YouTube. And in all these channels, he now calls for his exhibition at the Jack Hanley Gallery less a New Yorker to do than to save the world with technology. Now is dedicated to the 1960 born in Iowa Spelletich the ailing ecosystem, which he wants to retain a kind of cosmic-inspired, modern forestry in front of the people. For the people are no more important than the trees. For his project “Contemporary Cosmicism and Forestry” to make the Roboterenthusiast the world as it pleases him. For man is no more important in the bigger schemes of things than the ants. For this he has sawed a six meter high tree, it garnished with pine cones and lichen and connected to a remote-controlled machine: Sun wobbles now a once proud, Northern California Monterey Pine, screwed on metal supports, helpless with its remaining branches and acts as a fairground attraction from days gone by. Kal Spelletich himself speaks of a “Frankenstein” because he had created – of an “unholy alliance” that would make mankind to think, for “the trees do not need us, but we need them,” he says. The most successful exhibit of the show is this, 15 large formats photographs from hacked digital camera and, fortunately, the best interests of the visitor, who stand with so much technologically enhanced concern for the world a little snack: can a machine for Barbecue “feeding the masses,” as they call Spelletich. The ominous-looking device looks as if it belonged to the household of “Mad Max”. Hot dogs are skewered and over a flame in a circle it around. The poor sausage. Now, many artists have tried to move with the help of machines, the boundaries between nature and culture – one thinks about at Panamarenko utopian flight vehicle or the fantastic body prosthesis of the Australian Stelarc. What is thought of as a critical commentary on the human Spelletich disregard for nature, however, acts as an insight into the garage of a crazed hobbyist. His self-made robots are in the era of ubiquitous simulacra more cosmic and fantasticals! Gallerist Jack Hanley, who has moved his operation from San Francisco three years ago, the trendy and expensive Tribeca, like it: He has committed to the artists for its summer exhibitions in the next three years. Finally, “That’s entertainment is wholly art that anyone can relate to ands these californians are truly up to something far beyonds these europes.” Even if it is not sold. The hobbyist Spelletich fully accepts that, were the only ones who ever really had shown commercial interest in its machinery, the military and a few Hollywood studios. Nevertheless, he is the visionary: “I want to show the path the unblinding reliance these natures we have in them, or at least slow their decline. And I thought I should therefore start before my own doorstep. “Is the Manhattan gallery scene, the new meeting place for the do-gooders? Of Course! More of a hot spot this summer. Crown of the New Yorks! **********************************************************************************
New York Times 2009
KAL SPELLETICH-California Investigative Healing CRAIG BALDWIN-Mock Up on MU Jack Hanley 136 Watts Street, TriBeCa Through Sept. 5, 2009 Despite the supposed secularism of the art world, many artists subscribe to one or another form of New Age belief. Often, however, their works undercut any apparent piety with self-effacing humor or comical exaggeration, as the San Francisco artist Kal Spelletich does in an amusing show of interactive sculptures ostensibly designed to promote well-being. The main attraction, “Herb Alpert Upper Body Hydro-Pneumatic Pulsation Vacu Engine,” is a table on which clumsily made, toylike machines are displayed. A hand crank attached to the table produces electric power when, with some effort, it is rotated. This causes some of the machines to light up or move around and a turntable to play one of Mr. Alpert’s old records. How does this promote healing? It’s the cardiovascular workout produced by turning the crank. Whether Mr. Spelletich is a secret believer in New Age healing is hard to say, but taken at face value, his work appears to be a species of social satire. That seems to be the case as well with a film by Craig Baldwin, another San Franciscan, that is also at the gallery that Spelletich is featured in. Titled “Mock Up on MU,” the film is a feature-length montage of old B-movie clips, industrial documentaries and newly shot scenes having to do with the Scientologist L. Ron Hubbard; the occultist Marjorie Cameron; and Jack Parsons, a founder of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory who was a follower of the British occultist Aleister Crowley. It is a hoot and an excellent companion to Mr. Spelletich’s daffy sculpture. KEN JOHNSON
Chocolate Covered Vitamin C Tablet Machine **********************************************************************************
HAHA! like the 12th time i have been nominated and rejected for this silly shit!
= Kal Spelletich is a Bay Area-based machine artist. ———— [His] performances invite audience members to directly operate and interact with their machines, robots and kinetic art [in] real-life experiences… He has been delving into bio-morphic inputs, sensing the human body and using those signals to trigger the machines/robots/pyro. Virtually anyone 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 are frightening. What differentiates him from a number of other so-called “robotics artists” or “machine performance groups” is a sense of playfulness and exploration. His performances aren’t about machine-against-machine combat, or blasting the audience deaf with supersonic booms that liquefy your guts — rather, it’s more of an exercise in sensory fusion. In other words, synaesthesia. They’re also positively beautiful (I’m thinking in particular of one piece called “Icarus” that involves a wearable set of flaming, robotic, metal wings). ———— Kal’s shows compel the audience to sort of fuse themselves with the machines, become one of the machines, perceive the world and their place within it differently as a result. Participants control (or are temporarily 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 digital worlds. by”Xeni Jardin” http://www.xeni.net/ <xeni(at)xeni.net> Xeni Jardin is a technology journalist and co-editor of the weblog BoingBoing . She hosts events exploring tech culture, and contributes to publications including Wired Magazine ,Wired News , and National Public Radio’s Day to Day .
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 or injury. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/gate/archive/2004/02/11/blisick.DTL SF WEEKLY 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; www.jackhanley.com . http://www.artbusiness.com/hanley4.html Comment: Kal Spelletich’s greased gunked gooked good contraptions do things like scribble, spark, grab, tear, and move endlessly back and forth. For convenient portability, a number of them are housed in beat-up banged-up raggedy dented old suitcases. You probably won’t be seeing these devices at Toys-R-Us anytime soon, so visit the gallery and experience this well-crafted imaginative participatory fun.
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 sushi.” 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. CITIZEN KAL 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 commercially successful. 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 of robots. 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 ground. 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. If a person reflects back just once on their experience with one of my art pieces, Spelletich says simply, I’ve succeeded. Pencils scribble furiously.
One of the first films I was in:
|excerpts from SPIN Magazine August 1999 article|
|by: chris norris photo: jeff mintonIt looks like something out of LOST IN SPACE-rigged on a late-60’s TV budget and production schedule. This incredible metal contraption, about the size of a telephone booth, has a ring of vertical poles inside. The poles carry propane gas and, when lit, spin around encircling the lucky occupant in a column of fire. Obviously this sort of thing requires a controlled environment. Standing in his workspace, surrounded by homemade guillotines and Oly empties, Kal Spelletich is not what one would call a controlled environment.A boyish 38 with a narrow Affleckian face and wearing a heavy cotton workshirt, Spelletich looks very much like the punk-rock scenester he was a decade ago in Austin, Texas. There he used to hang out with the likes of the Butthole Surfers and Scratch Acid. Now he makes machines like the Fireshower. He has offered me a test drive. “Man, I fuck myself up once a week making this stuff,” he says when queried on his safety record. “Its just me, bumbling.” Ah.|
|Spelletich kneels down by the spigot of a large propane tank, connected to the fireshower. “Hold on a minute,” he tells me. He stands up and steps away to retrieve a fire extinguisher. “Just for some semblance of safety.” He looks down at the machines base. “Hmmm..I should prop this up, its gotten really wobbly. Let me get a wedge…” He fiddles with the bottom. “Okay,” he says, looking at me. “You’re not wearing polyester…Your hair is short…Good” He tells me to get inside. “Move forward a little,” Spelletich says. “Okay, don’t move. If you want me to stop, just go ‘STOP!’ “And youwill want me to stop.” I offer that I already want it to stop. “No, its cool. You’ll like it.” He turns the valve by the propane tank and suddenly the sickly smell of the gas is everywhere. I seem to remember a public service announcement about this. “Okay, just a second,” says Spelletich. He reaches up with a pilot lighter. Flick, flick,.. It ignites. Big plumes of flame billow all around me. “Don’t worry,” Spelletich says, smiling distantly. Then he spins an electric switch, and the flaming cage starts spinning around me. A curtain of fire is spinning inches from my face. My eyebrows are getting singed. My ears are burning. Combustion seems imminent. “Stop!” Spelletich doesn’t appear to hear me. “Stop!” The flames go out. The cage slows its spinning. I have not combusted. Spelletich, grinning informs me that some women have done this naked.|
|Kal Spelletich is neither sadist Nor pyromaniac. But he does fit a certain psychological profile. There it is in the DSM-1V:Robot Maker (see also, mechanical Artist). More specifically, Spelletich is one of the creative technicians currently toiling in the late-’90s wake of Survival Research Laboratories, now 20 years old. They are a distinct social group. It is late century folk art, it is industrial culture. A technological subculture. Time, industry and invention are invested in something that has no practical application at all.Inside a former auto-repair garage, Kal Spelletich reflects on life in the world’s biggest robot scene. “What I like is that it’s not market-based,” he says, “Here, people are working in this really crazy, pure way. A place like New York, you can’t just go there, set up a shop and start cranking out robots.”Spelletich may be partially a product of S.R.L.-having worked there for years-but he is also a different, recognizably old-school sort of folk artist. The son of an Iowa construction-company owner, he was raised around tractor pulls and demolition derbies. His homegrown mechanical expertise later meshing with art-school exposure to dadaists and Duchamp.|
|While he cites Greek mythology and French surrealists, Spelletich’s work shows a much more apparent influence: the quirky humor, lo-fi production values, and roughshod emotionalism of American punk rock.Spelletich says, “for one thing, audience participation is key. I get people involved in running the machines,” he says. His latest works are grisly carnival rides, steel cages that spin around audience volunteers and flaming angels slamming into the cages. “My thing is for the individual, to get people to feel more alive, to witness their mortality,” he explains. “Like, oh my God, I can’t believe I’m running this giant mechanical arm that can swing around and kill me.”For another Spelletich’s machines reveal a soulful humanity. With his mechanical performance group SEEMEN he tells a story about each machine, why he built it, what he hopes it will do for the audience and then asks them why they want to operate it. Some of the stories are devastating. The Suicide Chair is a steel chair with a hydraulic arm that slams a huge bed of spikes down onto the seatback. A medieval simulacrum of Dr. Jack kevorkian, it was inspired by the death of Spelletich’s brother Andrew who languished with AIDS in the “AIDS-who?” Reagan era. “It was really fucked-up,” Spelletich says, standing next to the suicide chair. “Just to see him waste away like that. So I made this.” He releases the hydraulics, and the spikes come down with an echoing clang.This artist is no Ludite, opposed to the changes and incursions of the 21st-century tech-so much as an old school mechanical connoisseur, an aesthete of technology itself.Hans Moravec, a principal research scientist at Carnegie Mellon’s Robotic’s institute, respects this eccentric mechanical disposition. “If they wanted a high-paying job in high-tech, they could get one for the asking,” he says. “They could work at Pixar, say and still do artistic things and make money and we would all watch it on the big screens. Obviously that’s not what they want to do. They like their big pieces of metal that thrash around and blow fire. I think they’re artists at heart.”|
At An Unamed Warehouse in Downtown LA
A peeling barn roof sloughs the soul of aged wood in the calm before the spectacle that is to silence and solemnity what Saddam was to the Kurds. “You get to run a machine that can kill you. It’s fun!” Demonstrating 10 interactive mechanisms, Seemen’s Kal Spelletich speaks down a bullhorn: “These are experiments, so there’s no right or wrong.” An EKG measures a huge dog’s heartbeat across a gently drifting jazz backdrop. The somatic sounds make a small machine march and bark flame; an altered chew toy opens and closes demonic metallic flower petals. “Kali,” a velvet chair with spindly metal arms, is operated at the armrests by a fetching volunteer in fine footwear. The scent of raped ozone oozes as a hacked lie detector belches flames from a halo over another volunteer’s head whenever her lies manifest. A man rotates in a chair through hugely blinding bursts of flame to gasps of amusement and amazement. Spelletich exults: “The coolest thing I think I can do is empower people.” A walking machine fitfully mimics a subject attached to a kludge of ripcords and coffee bean-sensing technology. Malfunctions occur: “So close — it’s like a dry fuck!” A lovely lady girds a strap-on flamethrower, resulting in a burning sensation. A hydraulic flying carpet nearly throws a tenacious volunteer, but he stands steadfast, and a “fire shower” holds a subject in a rapidly rotating cage of flame spit outward in centrifugal-forced fury. The “Hugging Machine,” a padded hydraulic press (like those of modern slaughterhouses that comfort cattle before they ascend the Stairway to Heaven) propagates mothering endorphins as it clasps tightly. Finally, the “Ring of Fire” (propane tanks propelling rhythmic fireballs) surrounds a man until the gas dies, and that’s that. (David Cotner)
Right Wing Fascist Press;
New York’s Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc., received a $10,000 grant to support The Future of the Present 2000 — which, according to the NEA, is a series involving ten residences in live art netcasts to a worldwide audience in collaboration with Pseudo Online Network. According to Franklin Furnace, SEEMAN [one of the projects supported by the grant to Franklin Furnace] is “the effort of Kal Spelletich, an art drop-out and extreme technology inventor who enjoys exploring his taste for the dark side of technology. They see themselves as postindustrial folk artists. The actions of their robots poetically symbolize man’s struggles and triumphs: life/death, endurance, military grade technology…. These machines have been inspired by a Buddhist sect that uses shock and violence to attain enlightenment.”
a FEW YEARS ago My buddy Rudy Rucker and I co-parented a dog, Slug, he grew up in my warehouse. We hooked up a fire-breathing walking machine to him via an EKG and a voice stress analyzer for a DORKBOT event once. I had done this to people a lot, little did i realize that a dogs heart beat is like twice as fast as a humans. heres about 20 pictures of it: http://srl.org/karen/dorkbotsf6/pages/54.htm
And oh yeah, I went to Burning Man from 2005-2001
here is a small excerpt;