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Destruction is Creation: An Ode to SHL0MS
In a space where generative art means cartoon animals — even from us — one artist challenges the boundaries of genesis.
Here’s to the crazy ones — the line of the iconic old Apple Think Different ad. Whether you want to hold this ad campaign up as revolutionary or dismiss it as corporate cosplay, it defines a spirit I both admire and seek to embody. And no one better embodies it in the world of NFTs than SHL0MS, the experimental conceptual artist that quite literally just blew up a $200,000 Lamborghini, the charred, scarred remains of which he is auctioning off as digital scans tokenized on the blockchain. The project is simply titled “CAR.” Here’s to the crazy ones indeed.
Many are quick to label this project as either a protest against the wealth flex culture of the crypto space or, more cynically, a cash grab. While people may find meaning of their own in works — and SHL0MS’s previous work “FNTN” had a video that spoke to the power of the spectator in art — these seem searching for a clear answer behind something far more artistic. And, as SHL0MS himself points out, the money will go to fund a treasury for his mysterious art organization, 0xBELISK.
It is easy to view art as valuable for its aesthetics — especially in the NFT space where people pour over galleries of similar-looking pieces in a collection to find one that best represents them and their personal aesthetic. I am not above this practice myself. That said, how different “FNTN,” the artist’s previous work, was from this was what made me take NFT-based art seriously in the first place.
In the late aughts, I took a Philosophy of Art class from a recently late professor named Rudolf Makkreel. Going into it, I thought artists like Duchamp and Warhol were jokes. Leaving it, I thought they were genius. And they only had the realm of the physical, the real from which to find and fashion art. SHL0MS’s recent work instead bridges the real and the digital with high-quality 3D scans of real world objects. In the case of “FNTN,” smashed up shards of a urinal in a tribute to Duchamp’s “Fountain.”
Both “FNTN” and “CAR” are accompanied by experimental videos that do well to not just contextualize the ritual of creating the physical elements — whether it be smashing porcelain or blowing up a sports car — but to weave it into our broader cultural tapestry. Much like the old Apple ad, the video for “CAR” features several shots of Pablo Picasso painting a bull on glass, the camera opposite the artist. In this case, it symbolizes the spirit of the sports car that SHL0MS and his team so carefully deconstructed.
Much as the bull has long stood as a symbol of power, so has taming a bull as well. However, instead of a bloody battle with a living, breathing — and perhaps most important feeling — animal in the matador’s ring, SHL0MS instead tames the mechanical bull, a far more fearsome foe. The particular model of Lamborghini, the Huracan, is named after a Mayan god of creation — but who triggered catastrophes like the Great Flood to pave away a canvas for new creation.
My grandfather was obsessed with phoenixes. They were his favorite symbol. The only way he could be more blatant about it is to become the headmaster of a wizarding school — and he did, in fact, spend some time in charge of muggle schools. For him, destruction was never something to celebrate but always an invitation to build anew better. What this mysterious OxBELISK will build remains to be seen, but they tease tantalizing bits on Twitter and on their website:
“ℂ𝕠𝕞𝕖, 𝕝𝕖𝕥 𝕦𝕤 𝕓𝕦𝕚𝕝𝕕 𝕒 𝕥𝕠𝕨𝕖𝕣 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕥 𝕣𝕖𝕒𝕔𝕙𝕖𝕤 𝕥𝕠 𝕥𝕙𝕖 𝕙𝕖𝕒𝕧𝕖𝕟𝕤 𝕤𝕠 𝕥𝕙𝕒𝕥 𝕨𝕖 𝕞𝕒𝕪 𝕞𝕒𝕜𝕖 𝕒 𝕟𝕒𝕞𝕖 𝕗𝕠𝕣 𝕠𝕦𝕣𝕤𝕖𝕝𝕧𝕖𝕤; 𝕠𝕥𝕙𝕖𝕣𝕨𝕚𝕤𝕖 𝕨𝕖 𝕨𝕚𝕝𝕝 𝕓𝕖 𝕤𝕔𝕒𝕥𝕥𝕖𝕣𝕖𝕕 𝕠𝕧𝕖𝕣 𝕥𝕙𝕖 𝕗𝕒𝕔𝕖 𝕠𝕗 𝕥𝕙𝕖 𝕖𝕒𝕣𝕥𝕙.”
This, of course, is from the Bible, specifically Genesis depicting the construction of the Tower of Babel. However, a far more fascinating use of the tantalizing tower in the context of NFTs and the emerging world of the “metaverse” is the Neal Stephenson classic, Snow Crash, in which the Tower of Babel is a core part of the story’s lore. In it, the role of the tower is redeemed, as it is Enki, the Sumerian god of knowledge and creation, who constructs it to protect humanity against the “mind virus” of rival goddess Asherah.
In a time when most creativity — even a lot of my own — is put towards stuff designed to be cute and appealing, what stands out is the art that challenges us. SHL0MS’s art made me feel feelings from art I had not in years, even if not all of them are positive — though nothing but love and positivity to the artist himself. When I first put on the video for “CAR,” with its ticking clock, I felt tense. Almost a little scared. And that connects the audience charred remains of a car in a truly beautiful way.
The time seemed to tick down as SHL0MS put together this project in recent weeks, posting vaguely about setbacks and frustrations on Twitter. I, myself, am currently anxiously piecing together the remaining parts of the next NFT project I’m co-creating. But, while many are quick to view “CAR” as about money in some way, be it as a cash grab or a protest, let us not downplay its celebration of destruction as a creative act. Let the fury released by the flames inspire you.
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