Sunday, May 12, 2013

Bridgett Riversmith’s Recycl-O-Scope

It's finally here. This week is the 2nd Annual Steampunk Spectacular, May 16 & 17 at the Depot. Steampunk art, steampunk fashion, a steampunk emporium and live entertainment all conspire to make this year's Duluth Art Institute Steampunk Show even more of a spectacle than last year's stunner. Day one of the event is being called a Steampunk Symposium. You may visit the Steampunk Art Show from 10:00 a.m. till 7:00 p.m. with a strong collection of local steampunk enthusiasts as well as some visiting artists from New Orleans and the Northwest.

Concurrent with the art show will be a Steampunk Marketplace from noon till closing as well. If you haven't created your costume yet for the Friday night train ride (Yes, you get to go back in time!) you may pick up a few embellishments for your costuming here.

And if you're not sure what all this steampunk fuss is about, you may attend a lecture on the subject in The Underground at 6:00 p.m., presented by UMD professor Dr. David Beard along with myself. David will present a framework for understanding Steampunk's roots and I will share the various ways in which steampunk culture has been manifesting itself in our local art scene.

For a complete rundown of Friday's scheduled events visit the dedicated DAI Event Schedule.

Bridget Riversmith's Recycl-O-Scope Returns
Bridget Riversmith
If you attended last year's Steampunk event here in Duluth I'm sure you were overwhelmed by the astonishing variety in the costumes, the wares and the context... going back in time to be with steam powered locomotives in the once great depot train museum. In the midst of all this there was an unusual device that utterly fascinated... Bridget Riversmith's Recycl-O-Scope. If I were a judge I'd have declared it Best of Show, and this was a show that already was over-the-top. So, it made me happy to get another chance to see it on display and in action.

What, pray tell, is a Recycl-O-Scope?

Well, if you go back in time, before film and film projectors, there were inventive people who strove to create a motion in pictures. When I was a kid my dad would make little flip-books with drawings that might show a boy kicking a ball, or some other little fun sequence. Bridget Riversmith is a teaching artist and animator who works with children with disabilities, and just so happens to fascinate them by having them not only creates flip books, but through a scanner and software converts them into short animations.

At Adeline's in April
Riversmith's fascination with animation led her to research the early development of motion picture techniques, which led her to the Steampunk era when the fervent spirit of invention was everywhere. When I spoke with her recently she took me on a little tour of these early developments. The first of these was the zoetrope,  "a device that produces the illusion of motion from a rapid succession of static pictures." (1)

According to Wikipedia, the zoetrope consists of a cylinder with slits cut vertically in the sides. On the inner surface of the cylinder is a band with images from a set of sequenced pictures. As the cylinder spins, the user looks through the slits at the pictures across. The scanning of the slits keeps the pictures from simply blurring together, and the user sees a rapid succession of images, producing the illusion of motion.

Earthworks and Skyscrapers, by Riversmith
Riversmith explained how in 1877 Charles-Émile Reynaud, a French inventor, designed a machine called a Praxinoscope and later the Theater Optique as an improvement on the zoetrope, turning it into a suitcase-sized theater to make it a three dimensional experience. In 1892 he projected the first animated film in public, but was later trumped by other forms of moving pictures. 

EN: What influenced you to make your Recycl-O-Scope?

BR: Biggest influence… My grandparents were farmers, the best mixed media artists in the universe, finding out what can be done with materials on hand. I’m a creature of necessity. Building zoetropes solved a problem.

I found something in Hungarian, but essentially did some elementary geometry and math. I used almost all bits of a (broken) dryer. I learned welding to accomplish this. I created handle for the drive wheel from a drill and other parts. I've been inspired by Dick Rosvall as well and I'm a big fan of Terry Gilliam’s films.

EN: Why are people so atracted to Steampunk?

BR: People are attracted to what the Victorians were trying to do. They were self-made inventors, fearless. People didn’t draw an arbitrary line between the arts and sciences. It was all the same thing, resulting in amazing discoveries. Creating an arbitrary line between the two results in stagnation. People enjoy the projects. Isaac Asimov once said, “Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic.”

People were rising above a society steeped in superstition. They weren’t exclusive. It was a period with an incredible range of creativity, a real inspiring time. It’s interesting to see, too, how a lot of visions of the future had rails and airships....

EdNote: I share all this today because if nothing else, when you get over to the Steampunk Spectacular this Thursday and/or Friday, I want to make sure you don't miss Bridget Riversmith's upgraded Recycl-O-Scope. Her husband won't have to spend the evening cranking it with manpower this year.

(1) Wikipedia

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