Shaun Slifer

installation view

Enoch's Hammer
(w/ Stuart O. Anderson)
mixed media installation

Stuart Anderson and I created this piece as part of "Meet the Made", an exhibit at the Mattress Factory's 1414 annex space which addressed "the relationship between robotics and all aspects of human culture."

The vitrine in the center of the room houses a replica iron sledgehammer head from the early 1800's, specifically the type commonly referred to as an Enoch Hammer (after manufacturer Enoch & James Taylor). These long-arm sledgehammers were the tool of choice for breaking into factories and destroying machinery during the Luddite uprisings in England. The replica sits alone in a room kept dark except for a single spotlight on the case. Rendered impotent by its treatment as a relic of a time other than our own, the case is surrounded by four security cameras and contains a proximity-triggered alarm on the case. By rendering this former implement of rebellion safe in a plexiglass box in a quiet and guarded museum, the hammerhead itself can be insured against future inspiration and use.

The term "Luddite" is popularly understood as a derogatory label for any person seen as being foolishly resistant to technological progress. The actual Luddite uprising in England (~1811-1813) was an organized working class response to the advent of mechanization in the textile workplace, one of the first industries to see steam power replace individual craftsmen and communal work environments. Typically represented as a reactionary backlash by simple peasants to their replacement by more efficient machines, the Luddites are better understood as one of the first organized revolts against the age of industrial capitalism in Europe.

Since 1770, the English working class watched their common farming homelands divided up and fenced in by new and wealthy landlords in a swift sea change historically labeled the Enclosure Movement (the clear precedent for contemporary private property laws). These English peasants were fully cognizant of their situation when steam-powered technology began to make it's way into their lives through factories: another assault on the core of their lifestyle was underway, putting thousands more out of work and destroying the roots of their lifestyle and family bonds. Groups of armed men and women stormed factories in the dark of night, smashing down the doors and destroying the machines inside. These actions occurred in conjunction with food riots in open markets, typically led my women. At the height of the insurrection, some Luddite groups went so far as to attempt the assassinations of factory owners. The English government moved swiftly to provide state aid to wealthy independent business owners, setting a precedent for the synergistic state relationship with industry and capital observed today.