James Shaw: Experimental Design Gunslinger

A gun that shoots liquid metal may seem like something out of Iron Man, but it’s actually one piece of an impressive artistic arsenal recently unveiled by experimental furniture designer James Shaw at London’s Royal College of Art.

In addition to the metal-shooting gun, which emits a stream of molten malleable pewter, Shaw has created a gun that shoots papier-mâché and a third that extrudes plastic. All three "weapons of design" were presented to the public by Shaw as part of the 2013 Royal College of Art graduate exhibition in London. The project was the result of Shaw’s research into radical furniture design and inspired by an essay by Glasgow-based artist and author Jonathan Meuli.

Using these innovative design tools, Shaw has produced a variety of strange and utilitarian objects, such as a papier-mâché lamp and a "pewter squirt" table. The objects look functional, but also otherworldly. And it takes a totally different approach to design. "In work like his," notes Monica Khemsurov of Sight Unseen, "it’s about the journey, not just the destination."

“It discusses the pervading perception of artists, craftspeople and designers as these lone heroic figures,” Shaw told Luxury in Progress. “They struggle away for some spark of originality, for creative territory or simply for survival. It inspired me to create an arsenal of ‘weapons’ with which to equip myself for leaving the Royal College.”

"I have produced a set of weapons (guns of course) to become my arsenal, with these I will fight the fight," said Shaw, a graduate of RCA’s Design Products program in his artist statement.

"We are all fighting for creative territory, for novelty, for some spark of newness. We are fighting banality and the oppression of massive systems within which we are complicit and sometimes complacent. Each gun is an innovation in itself, and each gun shall be capable of producing further innovation. These guns are tools for making, for making images of possible new worlds."

"Often (power) ‘tools’’ seem to fall into the form of guns, think nail gun, spray gun, glue gun, tape gun, tufting gun even the handheld drill has a definite gun-like nature," he says. "This bears an interesting relation to the way in which making is about the human dominance over natural resources and obtaining mastery over materials, but also the notion of a gun fits into this received idea of the heroic nature of the artist in a cowboy gunslinger way."

As any tool-wielders worth their weight in smooth shank stainless steel nails knows, it’s not the tool, it’s how you use it. But it’s also true that a creative vision can best be expressed with the right tools to begin with. As Shaw has proven with his innovative new design "guns," sometimes, to build a different kind of house, you need a different kind of hammer.

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