Matt Heckert

For nearly 20 years, Matt Heckert has been building visually striking machines to create arresting industrial soundtracks. Spark visits the sound artist and kinetic sculptor in his studio as he prepares for a one-person show at San Francisco’s Catharine Clark Gallery.

Heckert began playing with sound machines while working with the San Francisco mechanical art collective Survival Research Laboratories (SRL), commonly credited as the initiator of contemporary machine art. In addition to fabricating parts, Heckert assisted SRL by producing soundtracks intended to communicate the personalities and emotional states of various machines used in performances. In 1990, Heckert left SRL to take his own sound machines on the road, performing across North America and Europe with his Mechanical Sound Orchestra.

Since 1999, Heckert has been focusing his energies on gallery installations. Unlike many kinetic sculptors, Heckert is concerned primarily with the sounds his pieces make. He designs pieces according to an aesthetic that he feels adequately represents the sound. For example, “Birds” — a work he originally exhibited at Catharine Clark, then expanded for a show at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts — began with the sound of sheet metal as it bends. Only after the piece was completed did Heckert give the work a name, realizing that the resulting machines resembled a flock of birds.

Like “Birds,” Heckert’s “Rotification” uses multiple identical components to create complex and varying soundscapes. It is composed of six steel poles that create centripetal sound as they rotate within circular steel armatures. As gallery visitors move between the sculpture’s parts, various aspects of the work’s densely layered bed of sound becomes audible.

Matt Heckert earned a B.F.A. from the San Francisco Art Institute in 1979. He has exhibited his work with SRL and as a solo artist in galleries throughout North America and Europe and has won numerous awards, including two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the prestigious Prix Ars Electronica. He currently teaches kinetic sculpture at the San Francisco Art Institute.

Matt Heckert 19 January,2016Spark
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