Los Angeles-based artist Luke Shalan invents large contraptions that drop porcelain slabs over familiar objects like hammers, shears, and dinner plates. He is a process designer who explores the relationship between tool, material, and creator/operator. Shalan developed the slab dropping process for his BFA thesis at California College of the Arts in 2014 and has since made multiple variations of the contraption. Videos document his performative creation of ghosted tools and domestic objects, icons of everyday life and a DIY sentiment.
Above image: Luke Shalan, Porcelain Slab Dropping Backpack
Shalan’s Slab Dropping Contraptions are constructed out of wood, rope, cloth, and other materials. A pulley system raises the flat slab a few feet up and drops it quickly when Shalan releases the rope. Gravity pulls the slab down sharply draping the waiting hand tool with a SMAK, resulting in a ghostly relief. The slab images are artifacts, clues to the thematic-meat of his artistic exploration – the performance of inventing, constructing, and executing.
“The artifacts I produce are records of the porcelain’s reaction to the process. They also articulate a sense of individual connection to the things we use on a day-to-day basis… The final artifacts record these objects’ shapes with astonishing fidelity, but are subtle in their presence.”
His machines are as specific as the hand tools they showcase. Just as a hammer drives nails and a saw cuts wood, his machine drops slabs. Shalan’s contraptions allow us to take a step back and notice the humor in their specificity. The artifacts, created as a result of Shalan’s process, document the formal essence of real tools. This iconification alludes to an archiving of important objects that may one day be lost to technological advancement.
The action of the Slab Dropping Device is reminiscent of the swift fall of guillotine blade. Shalan has reimagined the action, originally made to kill, now intended to immortalize. Both processes, though, result in the elimination of a thing replaced by a memory, a gravestone, a ghost. During the French Revolution, public beheadings were celebrated as a symbol of the revolutionary cause. In a similar way, Shalan’s public slab dropping videos celebrate the sentiment of the DIY revolution. While hooded executioners are responsible for taking life, Shalan is the opposite, he is an arrogant exposed god, immortalizer of domestic objects, an advocate of creation.
Shalan’s process design refocuses the DIY intention in order to explore, not the typical “what can be made?,” but rather “what is the experience of making?” The Slab Dropping Backpack is hilarious, implying that someone might want to drop slabs on things on the go. Shalan is an insider translating the DIY sentiment to the outside world.
Justin Crowe is Writer-at-Large for CFile.
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