Matt Heckert and Walk and Peck


Way back in the age of video tape, in the time before the Internet, a machine named Walk and Peck roamed the earth.

One of the stars of the seminal Survival Research Laboratories film “Bitter Message of Hopeless Grief” (1988), Walk and Peck (AKA The Centaur) also had a feature role in the 1985 performance, “Extremely Cruel Practices: Designed to Instruct Those Interested in Policies That Correct or Punish.” 

Walk and Peck’s maker, Matt Heckert, will be bringing the old W&P out for a little walkabout at the East Bay Mini Maker Faire this Sunday.

In the world of art+robots, Survival Research Laboratories (SRL) is considered to be the pioneer of the “spectacle” form of underground robotic art.” (Wikipedia). Remote control machines, often the size of small cars, interact with props and each other, producing mayhem, surprise, and destruction.

Heckert came to machines and engineering pretty early.  Obsessed with cars and Formula One racing, Heckert got his first car when he was 13 years old.  “It was a little Volvo 544 that I was going to make into a racecar. I was done with the lawnmower and the outboard motor; I wanted to have something to work on.”

Matt’s dad had seen this Volvo out in the country for sale, and tracked down the owner.  It turned out that this guy, Paul Krot, was a photographer and a professor at the Rhode Island School of Design (as well as founder of Sprint Systems Photography—still in biz), and had in fact raced the Volvo in some Sports Car Club of America runs.

Krot wouldn’t sell the car.  Instead he said, “I won’t sell it to you but I’ll give it to you if you will race it.”

Krot proceeded to take 13 year old Heckert to the junkyards to look for just the right motor.  “The motor was tired and bell housing was shot. I took my money that I had earned and bought this motor for $220.”

“He showed me how to port the manifold and what cam shaft to get and what grinds to put on the cam shaft.” Heckert was in business.  Re-reading the owner’s manual, Heckert would check in with Krot and follow his advice—but continue the work and progress on his own.

The point all of this is that this guy was that this guy dealt with me as if I had a brain, had the ability, and was an adult.  He never talked down to me. 

 I never forgot about Paul and my Volvo but I never really got a perspective on how important it was for me developmentally until I was reminiscing about it recently. That I had taken the initiative to get the car and then met Paul and his attitude was “you can do this,” without faint praise or hand-holding, and then completing gave me a sense of accomplishment that I carrier forward to future projects.

Heckert made his way from there to an award winning art career with exhibitions around the globe.  He is currently Chief Engineer for TCHO chocolate in San Francisco, having re-engineered their vintage East German chocolate manufacturing equipment into a full-scale production line on Pier 17.

He’s also currently saying goodbye to Walk and Peck, which has just been acquired by a museum. Come and pay a little homage Sunday at the Faire.

P.S. Check this shot below, the original wiring notes from the control box:

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One response to “Matt Heckert and Walk and Peck

  1. Thank you for your kind words. Paul Krot was one of a kind. And, Sprint is one of the many remarkable things he did, and I appreciate seeing his hand written note. Sincerely, Marlaine Noel

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