Steam dream

By SHARON STEEL  |  May 19, 2008

Up until recently, most mainstream coverage of Steampunk has hovered on the hot novelty of hardware tech-mods created by men. Libby Bulloff, a photographer, graphic designer, and wearable-artist — she’s now also an editor of SteamPunk magazine — laments the fact that the women who have changed the face of Steampunk culture have often been brushed over. “Considering how many writers, crafters, milliners, and performers of Steampunk are female, I very rarely see any of them get the attention they deserve for their work,” says Bulloff. “Steampunk is feminist friendly and encourages people of many backgrounds to create, contrary to the sexism and racism of the Victorian era.” She sells her colorful, futuristic hair extensions made out of tubular crin material on Etsy, and conceptualized “Pipe Dream,” a Steampunk-themed solo gallery show in Indiana late this past year. “Certainly our culture is greater than one single aspect of creating.”

A HOPEFUL HEART Writer and sculptor Molly “Porkshanks” Friedrich designs usable Steampunk art, but takes the movement’s ethics as seriously as its aesthetic.

A fabulous junkyard of ideas
Steampunks situate themselves within the movement like embroidered clusters on a gigantic swatch of fabric: part of the whole, yet very much a separate entity when cut from the source. They would be drawing, making, creating, and DIY-ing whether or not they had found Steampunk, and they continue to do so in spite of having found it.

“Through its merging of the old and the new, Steampunk is creating the new ‘new,’ ” says Julie Madden, director of special events at Axiom Gallery. “One might venture to say Steampunk is a new form of new-media art at its finest. . . . It is here to stay, even if only on the fringes, which is an exciting place to be.”

Although the Internet has brought the various and disparate elements of Steampunk connoisseurs together, the Internet isn’t Steampunk’s blood — it’s not even its flesh or bone. It’s just a skin that’s routinely shed by the makers. Offline is where the Steampunks get their hands dirty so that the DIY ethos that defines their community can truly bloom. In an interview with SteamPunk magazine, graphic novelist Alan Moore spoke of Steampunk as a “fabulous junkyard of ideas that may have an awful lot of life left in them.” That much, at the very least, is true. Not everyone will choose to live as if Armageddon has arrived, though more than a few will take a good, long look back at what we’ve discarded. Von Slatt, for one, treasures these elements as a way to forward-roll into the future with grace — even if it means playing a joke on ourselves.

“I just love the idea that, 50 years from now, some little old lady will show up on Antique Roadshow with this, and some poor antique dealer is going to have to explain it to her,” says von Slatt, holding up an aluminum telegraph sounder he designed for airship duty — an anachronism twisted into itself. He laughs, delighted. “It’s fabulous, you know? Of course, the idea of a wired telegraph sounder aboard an airship is patently ridiculous. Someday, I may just take that into some large antique store and leave it on the shelf.”

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Related: A future less dour, Bruce Rosenbaum: steampunk interior design’s unlikely leader, Photos: A tour of the steampunk works of ModVic founder Bruce Rosenbaum, More more >
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