Sabots, 2016
Two ABS shoes, 3D printed at a “lights out” factory
8 x 3.5 x 3.5 inches each / 20.3 x 8.9 x 8.9 cm each

Sabots traces the word “sabotage” to two, possibly apocryphal origins.  According to one popular account, the first workers in French factories were known to “saboter,” or “walk noisily,” in their wooden sabots.  Their unfamiliarity with modern machinery gave “saboter” an additional meaning: “to bungle a job.”  “Sabotage” thus draws on the ambiguity of whether the sabots caused a worker to bungle his job, or were the excuse for deliberately bungled work.

Another account holds that disgruntled workers actually threw their sabots into the machines, thus stopping production.  Whichever narrative one believes, the sabot became an icon of the Industrial Workers of the World until 1918, when the organization publicly distanced itself from sabotage tactics.

Sabots picks up this narrative in our era of “lights out” manufacturing, when many factories are becoming so automated that workers need rarely be present (hence, the lights can stay off).  I approached Plastic Components Inc., a plant in Germantown, Wisconsin known to produce parts for engines, vehicles, power tools, and other consumer products. My parts were 3D printed in expressly “lights out” conditions and only handled for packing and shipment.  Ostensibly products of the emerging automation economy, these plastic shoes also bear testament both to the history of industrial mechanization, and the forms of protest that emerged in response to it.

 

 

    Installation with a Jacquard loom attachment ca. 1805
The Promise of Total Automation, Kunsthalle Wien, 2016