Monday, November 21, 2011

Kal Spelletich At The Art Technology and Culture Colloquium

Kal Spelletich is a San Francisco artist who "explores the boundaries between fear, control and exhilaration by giving his audience members the opportunity to operate and control some fascinating and frequently downright dangerous machinery."

The following are some random/disjointed notes I started writing while attending the Art Technology and Culture Colloquium at UC Berkeley with Kal Spelletich as guest speaker on Monday October 10, 2011.

Two points:

These notes may not make a lot of sense if you were not there yourself.

This post has very little to do with Internet Art. So it goes.


Wikipedia on demagogy:
Demagogy is a strategy for gaining political power by appealing to the prejudices, emotions, fears, vanities and expectations of the public—typically via impassioned rhetoric and propaganda, and often using nationalist, populist or religious themes. What qualifies as demagogy has been the subject of debate and ambiguity since Aristophanes first used the term, in reference to the Athenian statesman, Cleon.
Kal Spelletich is your typical Auntie-Demagogy. He uses the prejudices, emotions, fears, vanities and expectations of the public to seriously abnegate political power. His devilishness is in the details. It all starts with the family of origin.

What did your mother tell you? She said:
  • Don't play with fire
  • Don't get your hands dirty
  • Don’t stare at people
  • Don’t' drink the booze
  • Don't run with scissors
Kal has built an entire lifetime on doing precisely these naughty things over and over again:
[Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results said Mr Albert Einstein.]

The thing is have you ever seen a morose or sad devil?  Did you ever see a demon cry? Of course not. Devils are always maniacally gleeful. Why are they this way? Because they get to play with fire, stare at people, drink beer and do lots of naughty things. I must say though that personally I have never seen a devil running with scissors.

Anyway what the devil does Kal do?  Here is what I wrote down while at his talk:
  • Subvert the role of technology
  • Provide real life experience
  • Empower people
  • Making superheroes
  • Hybridize human bodies
  • Augment bodies
  • Take risks
Yup, you got it. These are all bullet points. As we watch his videos these pearls of wiseacredom came out - bullet by bullet - a staccato of syntactical stalactites dropped into our brains.
Later as I was riding the BART train home I came up with even more succinct short phrases to describe Kal and his world. Gee, I must have been riding on a Bullet Train, Huh?
  • The Very Kindly Fear-Monger
  • The Doctor of Derp
  • Mr Cruel
  • Fear of Frying
  • Weapons of Sass Destruction
Back to the show in progress - we watched a number of video clips. Each one portrayed somebody in something like:
  • The Electric Chair
  • The Flight Simulator
  • The Flying Carpet
  • The Iron Maiden
  • The Flying Machine
  • The Alcohol Delivery System
Many of these were systems where a person operated something that did something cruel to another person. It was inescapable that these events represented irreducibly triadic processes. The object, sign and interpretant of semiosis theory were all recursively present - over and over again  - living ring cycles of the fear that Charles Sanders Peirce is able to engender in students of semiotics unto to this very day.

Let me say it again, it's all about looking at the recursions.

Let’s look at one of Kal's works:
  • The audience looks at the scene.
  • The scene is of one person who looks at another while doing something quite nasty to them.
  • Hiding behind the curtain, Kal looks at the scene to see if he needs prevent blood or not.
  • Hiding behind the curtain behind Kal, Jack Hanley (Gallerist) looks to see if his gallery is about to be trashed
  • And so on, recursively all the way back until we look at Kal's mommie saying: "Don’t look at the television!"   
How many observers could an observer observe if an observer could observe all the observers?

Soon you will be able to look at the video of us looking at Kal - and so you too will become part of this semiosis - the in-derp-idants in a semidiotic process.

[You may have to be a Reddit fan to get that.]


Themes that came out during the Q&A included the following:
  • Dos Kal make anything useful? No.
  • All of this is not all SteamPunk. It's MechPunk - not an alternate reality, the more real reality. << Kal did not actually say that so I made up those thoughts for him.

Allusions were made to:
  • Jean Tinguely and his Le Cyclop [definite bucket list item in your next life]. I guess just because you get that tingly feeling.
  • Marcel Duchamp received praise. So he should.
  • Puppet master Jim Henson. Controlling Miss Piggy.  Controlling Kermit.
  • Robot master Ken Goldberg and telepisstemology  in the garden.
  • Escape artist Harry Houdini. Portrayed as a pop star whereas Kal prefers to be off-stage and observing others as they  perform.


Few of Kal's works are in the hands of private collectors. If he washed his work he might be able to sell because people don't normally buy dirty jokes.

Kal could make buckets of money doing stuff for DARPA but this could kill the pleasure of doing what he does.


Here is where I get stuck: Is Kal an artist or a craftsman? Neither? Both? Either/or?
Conversation to be continued - preferably near an alcohol delivery system.


And, at last, what's the very big picture here?

Well, what happens when you double-click Kal Spelletich?

OK. OK. No double-clicking. Mechano/Analog/Tangible stuff only.

So take those scissors [no running please] and cut out each letter of his name and let the letters fall down into the deepest, darkest hole.

As the letters land, some little devil down there will likely rearrange the letters of his name into this anagram:





Kal Spelletich's web sites

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