You may not know him by name, but if you’ve seen Richard Linklater’s Slacker, you probably remember artist Kal Spelletich from his memorable scene as a TV obsessive—not a television watcher but a collector of old televisions, which he places not only all over his hardwired laboratory (in, as he calls it, “a harmonious relationship, an equilibrium”) but also on his own body, in a backpack-like harness. As the head of the Austin-formed, San Francisco–based artists’ collective SEEMEN, Spelletich has been making such outlandish devices for decades, and he has a show of interactive sculptures currently on view at the Jack Hanley Gallery in New York. Titled Where’s My Jetpack?!, it incorporates machines, robots, photographs, and video in a whimsical rumination on the human desire for flight—or, as the press release states, the “ancient and ongoing struggle against gravity.”
On the occasion of his Manhattan show, which runs through August 13, and the twentieth anniversary of Slacker, we corresponded with Spelletich about his experience inhabiting the role of the video backpacker. He wrote:
It is hot, Texas hot. Eight people crammed in the back room/studio of my house. Rick Linklater, Denise Montgomery, and I go outside, sit on my front stoop rewriting my lines over our compared notes—not that I end up remembering half of them, but that’s what keeps it interesting. We can’t breathe in my studio; I keep going into the next room between takes to scarf bong hits with the sound person. We start at 9 a.m. and go until 3 a.m. Damn, we worked hard, and had a hell of a lot of fun. Maybe Slacker isn’t the best term, since everyone in the film was so engaged with the world, loving and living their art, sacrificing everything for it.
The setup takes most of the day. Sweat pours off of me and I’m soaked; they have to dab the sweat between takes, and we’re drinking beer like it’s water. It’s a blast, though; we’re all good friends and there is an electricity in the air because we know we have something good here. We’re synchronizing all of these TVs each take. I’m wearing a TV on my back and scuttling around the floor on a rolling computer chair. As the day goes on, I get more and more wasted. We are cracking up between and during takes; it’s fun but exhausting. I can’t believe I’m pulling it off. We have all this great stuff playing on the TV screens, and we’re sure we will never be able to get releases for this stuff if anything ever happens with the film. We don’t mind that we’re busting our asses getting each shot perfectly framed and lit, painstaking beyond belief, or at least for my impatient, manic self. The medium is excruciating, and I’m improvising from a loose script. We know we are really onto something here, even though there is literally no way to get the film released—there was no independent film scene yet, no indie anything. But this was and still is my life. You make stuff, you hope it is good, you try and get people to see it. I never dreamed I’d have little old ladies in the grocery store say they saw me on TV last night. I was completely oblivious a year later that this thing had taken off.