Traces of Steampunk in Melbourne

A substantial entry in Wikipedia, as well as an illustrated article in the May edition of Metalsmith (Society of North American Metalsmiths quarterly publication) reflects a Steampunk aesthetic that pervades all areas of the visual arts. A Wikipedia definition suggests Steampunk is a sub-genre of science fiction, fantasy and anachronistic technology. Imagine Leonardo DaVinci meets Mad Max in the Thunderdome and their resulting artefacts. Video games, fashion and film such as Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland movie have Steampunk-inspired costumes and themes.

A History Apparatus - Vessel, Craft and Beacon, by Chris Reynolds (1993)

A History Apparatus - Vessel, Craft and Beacon, by Chris Reynolds (1993)

As someone who lives in Melbourne with an interest in sculpture, I’ve been quite curious about a work of public art in Russell Street. The sculpture A History Apparatus – Vessel, Craft and Beacon, by Chris Reynolds (1993) was a collaborative effort of the artist, the Australian Metal Workers Union and Aerospace Technology of Australia. It’s an enduring local example of the Steampunk genre. The Australian Victorian Heritage Register contains history of the interesting choice of site. The Chris Reynolds sculpture is placed on top of a 1930′s public toilet, the first in Melbourne to reflect gender equality. Because of changing sensitivities on access to public toilets, the toilet was decommissioned and capped in January 1994.

There is a hint of Steampunk, perhaps cyberpunk, on a smaller scale in the work of Melbourne jewellery artist Dougal Haslem. Dougal creates jewellery and small objects that are full of whimsy, including zoomorphic and anthropomorphic shapes with intricate moving mechanical parts. There are parts that are recognisable in his work and others that allude to something unworldly. They express an intriguing combination of imagination and mystery.

Dougal Haslem Pants and Drongo (2009) Sterling silver, Copper, Collection object. 75 x 70 x 30mm

Dougal Haslem Pants and Drongo (2009) Sterling silver, Copper, Collection object. 75 x 70 x 30mm

Metalsmiths, watchmakers and engineers too might have strong associations with Steampunk as common components appear to be analog watch or clock parts. The artists in this genre have freedom of expression in abundance, the only thing stopping them is the limit of their imagination.

As technology develops so fast and makes so many useful bits and pieces obsolete, it is sometimes hard to part with interesting facets of a possession, like watches, old computers or broken toys. In the workshop, or on the workbench, parts are saved to be used in another situation, perhaps reconstructed into a piece of art.

Personally, Steampunk connects me to memories of a childhood of racing cars. My father made me a billy-cart with a go-cart motor; mounted on the chassis were bells, levers and mechanical ornaments which made it quite an eccentric vehicle. Playing with Universal joints and gears developed my interest in engineering, metalsmithing and being creative. Each time we choose to recycle rather than discard, we are unleashing some potential Steampunk.

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