Wednesday, February 13, 2008

SCU Alumni Exhibits Art in San Jose

For Santa Clara alumni Chris Eckert, dreams became reality in the form of haiku. The mechanical engineer-turned artist co-created “Light Haiku,” one piece of downtown San Jose’s current “Who’s on First, What’s on Second” outdoor public art exhibition.

(photo by Chris Eckert)

Eckert’s piece combines the sophistication of engineering and the art of Japanese poetry. A computer-controlled spotlight projects haiku, written in light, on a parking lot wall across the street from Gordon Biersch restaurant, at San Fernando and Second streets.

The entire exhibition features eight different multimedia art projects—including mechanical and sound sculpture—on temporary outdoor display between downtown’s First and Second Streets and between St. James’s Park and San Carlos Street. The aim of the public project is to liven up the downtown area and introduce residents to its unique sounds and art.

Eckert, of the under- graduate class of 1991, got his masters in mechanical engineering from Santa Clara in 1993 and worked as a design engineer in the Valley for nearly a decade before putting his skills to a different use and beginning to design automated sculpture.

“I’d always been interested in art,” said Eckert. After ten years in the mechanical engineering business, “I started realizing that it wasn’t quite right for me.” Eckert decided to go back to school, getting his MFA at San Jose State University in 1998. Now working full-time as a sculptor, Eckert says, “I’m lucky” to be able to do what he loves and live comfortably in San Jose.

Sculpture actually isn’t drastically different from the automation of mech engineering, Eckert said. “Light Haiku was very much a piece of automation that I built.” Eckert was one of several San Jose artists nominated to do a proposal of public art for the San Jose Office of Cultural Affairs.

“The interesting thing about public art,” said Eckert, “is how can you make something that no one can destroy?” It took Eckert a year to create the one-story high box mounted to a pole which houses the spotlight he calls his “Light Cannon.” The haiku itself was written by San Jose grade school students and one of Eckert’s colleagues, recording artist and poet pc muñoz of San Francisco, a graduate of the University of San Francisco.

“It’s weird—I spent a year on it, and yet if I did it right, nobody even knows its there,” Eckert said of his “Light Cannon.” Eckert’s spotlight allows passersby to contemplate the different haiku, such as pc muñoz’s, “surreal stillness/anticipatory vibes/something big coming.”

“Light Haiku” is on display from 7 p.m. until 2:30 a.m. nightly. It runs until February 15.

Eckert, who is always doing several projects simultaneously, is also working on mechanical sculpture, such as an automatic typewriter that writes and corrects the politically incorrect phrase that people used to use to test typing speed and accuracy: “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country.”

Eckert encourages college students to follow their passion in life. He stressed the need to like what you do for work. For Eckert, as an artist, this means learning “to see the potential in things.” Even if that thing is as simple as a parking lot wall.

*Check out a review of the exhibit by The San Jose Mercury News.

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