Machine artist Kal Spelletich uses his work to provoke a response in his audience: wonder, awe and even fear. Combining scrapped computer parts with welded metal, Spelletich’s machines interact directly with audience members, sometimes taking them right to the edge of bodily harm. In the episode “Shaken and Stirred,” Spark visits Spelletich in his warehouse-turned-studio as he works on some of his latest creations.
Since the late 1970s, San Francisco has been the epicenter of machine art, a creative practice that fuses kinetic technologies with artistic performance. Spelletich’s work is a unique combination of high and low technologies, combining outmoded computer hardware from Silicon Valley with the metal detritus from abandoned factories at the fringes of the city.
Spelletich’s fascination with machines developed at the age of 15, when he began working on cars in his industrial hometown of Davenport, Iowa. After years of odd jobs, Spelletich enrolled at the University of Iowa, where he studied photography and graduated with a B.F.A. in interdisciplinary art. In 1987, he founded SEEMEN, a machine art collective, before completing his M.F.A. at the University of Texas, Austin, in 1989.
Lately, Spelletich has been making works that involve pyrotechnics, incorporating moving gas flames that come within inches of audience participants. For Spelletich, it is at these moments, when his works provoke a reaction of fear or anxiety, that art becomes most transformative. Spelletich has also been experimenting with biofeedback medical technology, using information emitted from a participant’s body to make a piece function. In this way, an audience member may have a reaction to a work, but the work itself also reacts to the participant, reflecting the user’s emotional state.