Friday, April 13, 2012

Past and Future Intersect at DAI Steampunk Event in May

When all is said and done, there's usually more said than done. Except when it comes to Steampunk.

Tuesday evening's meeting of the Twin Ports Arts Align included several members of the Friends of Industry, a devoted arts circle located in the heart of Duluth. The alley cats present included steampunk artist Richard Rosvall, Gustave Campini, Amanda Teague, and Eric Horn, a graphic illustrator whose comic-style story book Chronicle premiered last summer to a packed space.

I write about these things now in order to give people time to mark their calendars, to set aside May 17 for an exciting Steampunk art show at the Depot.

May is a busy month in the Northland, culminating in Hibbing's Dylan Days and the weeklong Dylan Fest here in Duluth. It would not surprise me to learn that a few readers from Europe might fly in a few days earlier than usual to participate in this unique Duluth Art Institute event. The Dylan celebrations draw people from all over and the Steampunk scene is big over there on the other side of the "big pond."

If the genre is not familiar to you, think of Steampunk as a subset of science fiction, except these futurists are from the past. Think of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. Put yourself in 1880 and imagine what the future would look like, what space ships of tomorrow might look like from the vantage point of pre-flight, pre-plastic, pre-organic synthesis, and what futuristic weapons and uniforms might consist of.

If you ever saw Will Vinton's claymation production The Adventures of Mark Twain, you will recall seeing a steampunk-style flying contraption that carried the story, along with its characters. Mark Twain had a fascination with the future, and was intensely curious about the capabilities of science. As a result he developed a close friendship with Nikola Tesla and spent a lot of time in that brilliant man's lab.

Some people credit cyberpunk writers William Gibson and Bruce Sterling with the re-birth of interest in steampunk. The two wrote The Difference Engine, a book that brought their futurist sensibilities to Victorian England. Last year's Cowboys & Aliens had a bit of that past/future feel, taking place in the wild West as it did.

Richard Rosvall and other steampunk artisans take ordinary objects and make extraordinary masks, gear and goggles using materials that were likely to be found 130 years ago, hence the preponderance of leather, brass, wood and iron. Events like Campini's provide the occasion for steampunk fans to get decked out and show their stuff. And the May 17 Depot event will undoubtedly get both steampunk actors and photographers jazzed because the railroad museum will be open with all that 19th century steam engine lore making a perfect backdrop for a night of unfettered imagination.

At Tuesday's Arts Align gathering DAI director Kristin Duckart spoke about “growing the arts for all” and doing what we can to foster a culturally rich community here in the Twin Ports. This was a perfect lead-in for introducing Richard Rosvall and the Friends of Industry and to announce this unusual event featuring Steampunk genre clothing and gear.

Based on my experience with the steampunk show last year, this is not a "come as you are" affair. This is a "come as you wish you were" when the past intersected the future. Consider yourself invited check it out. Although there will be a price for admission, it's my understanding that this may be reduced if you come in costume, which you will probably want to do anyways.

As a starting point to learn more about Steampunk, visit Wikipedia.

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