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Sunday 30 August 2015

On Steampunk

Disclaimer: I make no claims as to actually living the steampunk lifestyle myself, I am merely an interested observer and admirer of the aesthetic. The thoughts expressed here are merely my own ramblings and should absolutely not be taken as being in any way authoritative on the subject!

Now that that's out of the way....

I attended the my first steampunk event yesterday and just had to write and share some of my thoughts, along with a selection of images of some of the best dressed folk to be seen in Wales this weekend.

When I first began creating altered art, a common comment I heard was "That's very steampunk" - though that was never my aim. Twenty years spent living with a software developer has made me a kind of geek-by-proxy, but I don't do sci-fi,  and I'm reluctant to adopt the aesthetic of a movement that I don't consider myself to be a part of. For me, it was more about creating work that counterbalanced the decidedly feminine glamour of my Burlesque Period.

In preparation for the event this weekend and for the first time, I've been actively aiming to create Steampunk work. But what does "steampunk" really mean?

For me - and judging by the costumes on show yesterday, this seems to be a fair observation - there are a few items that immediately flag something up as steampunk:
1. Gears
2. Goggles
3. Clocks
and of course, the colour brown. And also grey. Corsets pretty much de rigueur for the ladies, extravagant facial hair for the gents and hats all around. But when the term was first coined in the late 80s, it referred to a genre of fiction that incorporates a sort of future reality as the Victorians might have imagined it.

So how does that translate to art? It can be a little tricky - there are only so many gears one can incorporate before it starts feeling like a cheap attempt to co-opt someone else's subculture to make a quick buck. But I found that in some ways, it really didn't matter what found or created objects I used in my own work, because everything ended up looking great with the judicious use of paint effects to mimic an oily, aged industrial look. My favourite piece incorporates a mixture of mainly scrap wood and waste materials, found objects and moulded clay to create a fantastical panel which one woman likened to the drawings of Heath Robinson. It was much admired, and very gratifying to hear surly adolescent boys exclaim "That's so cool!" and grown men linger over it - a refreshing change for my work to transcend the gender divide!

I wanted to make sure I fully appreciated the origins, aesthetic and scope steampunk before opting in to an event, so tried to do my homework responsibly, and judging by the public reaction to my work, I guess I did okay. It's kind of difficult to pin down a complete culture which has evolved from a niche literary genre, but in the end I found that's also because steampunk has grown to be such an all-encompassing and inclusive movement that it really transcends any simple definitions. And that is a very modern thing indeed.

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