Seemen Mixer

So how does one land a gig whipping up compressed-air-powered robots? For Iowa-born Kal Spelletich of San Francisco's extreme-technology/postindustrial folk-art collective the Seemen, it required resume-building stints as squatter, dishwasher, carpenter, auto mechanic, day laborer, "street scammer," plumber, grocery clerk, salesman, teacher, union activist, stagehand and "fix-it guy."

Today, the University of Texas at Austin grad grubs through "junkyards and Dumpsters for industrial items whose technology can be reapplied." Spelletich's "reapplications" have more to do with function than form; i.e., they're not pretty, but they work -- and they have purpose. Yes, even the robot that "punches itself in the head -- really hard," to quote Chicken John (self-billed "loudmouth helper guy" for the Seemen).

You'll see this little self-punching bag and its scrap-heap kin in "Violent Machines Perform Acts of Love"; the title's a dig at Survival Research Laboratories, another extreme-machine manufacturer, but one with a scorched-earth policy -- literally. SRL's flame-spouting, diesel-powered mechanisms battle to the "death" in techno-splatter orgies of robotics unchained; if machines could bleed, SRL's would. Spelletich formerly collaborated with SRL, but split to pursue a less violent, more aesthetic path.

"Kal's machines are clean runners; air-powered -- no engines," says Chicken John from San Fran. And the Seemen (comprising Spelletich and "some 40-odd art-school dropouts") are aesthetes in more than an environmental sense: The group's mission is "art of the ephemeral spectacle."

Chicken John calls the Seemen experience "machine art," describing it as a "gallery-style" show in which the humans get hands-on with the robots and pork out on wine and cheese. "You know, like, there's white walls, and we're all wearing suits, and I'm the guy standing there yelling, 'Here are the T-shirts with "Seemen" on them.' And our machines rend things; it's high comedy."

"Violent Machines" will feature many of Spelletich's more compact creations. "Guardian Angel 3," a monumental piece of air-propelled Spelletichiana, is entered in Saturday's Art Car Parade. A description of the beast, if you please, Chicken John? He cackles. "It's got a 24-foot wingspan and a compressed-air rating of 175 PSI, which could rend the flesh."

-- Clay McNear

"Violent Machines Perform Acts of Love": 9 p.m. Friday, April 17. TemplO, 5217 Feagan, 802-1828. More info: $5.

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Clay McNear
Contact: Clay McNear