Many artists can identify with Chris Eckert, whose long hours in the studio making work and listening to public radio left him feeling overwhelmed and frustrated. “The topics are complex and nuanced without simple answers,” Eckert says. “I don’t pretend to have solutions for any of these issues, but I feel their weight.”
So Eckert decided to turn that sensory overload into artistic fodder. The kinetic sculptor’s piece Mixed Messages, made in collaboration with John Green and currently on view at San Francisco’s Museum of Craft and and Design, reduces the signal of news to almost pure noise.
At a bank of 24 artist-made telegraph machines labelled with the Twitter handles of different news organizations, tweets become Morse code in real time, tapping out (unintelligible to most) updates with machined precision.
Western Union sent its last telegram over a decade ago, long after its 1929 peak when more than 200 million telegrams zipped around the globe. Like Twitter, telegrams, paid for by the word, fostered a specialized syntax of cost-effective short phrases and abbreviations.