Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Confessions of a Steampunk Journalist

Eric Horn
This week the Duluth Art Institute is hosting the 2nd Annual Steampunk Spectacular on May 16 & 17 at the Depot. I kid you not, this is not something you see every day… I’ve already noted part of the agenda for this event and hoped to draw your attention to at least some of the very special artist/inventors who will be there. This morning I’d like to invite you to a lecture that I have the privilege of being part of this Thursday evening at The Underground from 6:00 - 7:00 p.m.

Our working title for the lecture is:
"Steampunk 101: An International Movement & A Duluth Phenomenon” 
Manifestations from Our Rust Belt Steampunk Scene

Part I will be a presentation by David Beard, Associate Professor of Rhetoric, Department of Writing Studies, University of Minnesota Duluth. Beard has been a fan of Steampunk culture for quite some time and has written extensively on the topic. I’ll be presenting the local Steampunk culture, as much as I understand it through close association with some of the local artists involved with this movement, or diversion, depending on how you look at it.

As for me, when it comes to Steampunk I consider myself late to the dance… I’d seen it in myriad ways, in a Will Vinton claymation movie about Mark Twain, in a variety of films from the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen to 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. But I’d failed to grasp that it was itself a genre, until the scales fell off my eyes. Eventually I became fascination with it as a cultural phenomenon, and allowed my association with it to influence some of my art.

Like postmodernism, Steampunk is a catchall for a variety of manifestations along a convoluted stream of individual expressions. Attempts at a perfect definition are elusive, but there are common threads that stitch these various components together as David (Professor Beard) has explained.

If at first you don’t “get it” you needn’t be alarmed. Sooner or later you’ll understand.

Patty and Wally Mahnke
One of the things that struck me about nearly all the people who have immersed themselves in Steampunk art and activities is that they have become real students of history in order to get their costumes and gear accurately created. Whether Roman times, Medieval times or Victorian Era, each period of history has its own fashions and technological limitations. Steampunk role-players research this in depth in order to conceive and produce their own fashions and gadgetry.

It may be too late to rustle up your complete dream attire for this year, but if you're interested in being a part of the train ride Friday evening (5:30 - 7:00 p.m.) or partying in the Railroad Museum afterwards, here are some images to give you an idea of what others might be wearing. Don't worry, you may come as you are. No one will make fun of you. Afterwards you can start collecting ideas for next year's costume.

Last year, as I was going into the Depot I saw a young man with a weapon affixed to his left forearm. Upon closer inspection I realized he had modified a typewriter carriage with a few gizmos, and hed had "the look." 

The Steampunk art show and Emporium in the Great Hall will be free both Thursday and Friday, open to the public up till 7 p.m. The train ride will cost you a few bucks as will the party in the Railroad Museum, to defray expenses of making this a true Spectacular. And don't forget the afterparty.

Photos courtesy Andrew Perfetti Photography

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