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.
In the contemporary news cycle, the intermediary -- the Morse code operators, and later, the Telex machine -- disappears. News flows almost unfiltered from various outlets into our eyes, ears and brains. Eckert’s piece skillfully captures this sensation with Mixed Messages’ insistent tapping, but spares us from the likely unhappy content we’d otherwise read via Tweets.
At a time when various news outlets seem to be reporting from a sci-fi multiverse, in which alternate facts and realities seemingly coexist, Mixed Messages temporarily makes those purveyors of overlapping and contradictory information speak the same language.
Mixed Messages is on view at the Museum of Craft and Design in San Francisco through Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. For more information visit sfmcd.org.
Funding for KQED Arts is provided by The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation.
Support is also provided by Yogen and Peggy Dalal, Diane B. Wilsey, the Kenneth Rainin Foundation, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Helen Sarah Steyer, the William and Gretchen Kimball Fund, and the members of KQED