“There was so much positive energy and creativity, it was almost overwhelming,” Molly “Porkshanks” Friedrich writes in an e-mail message a few days after returning from Maker. “I felt like getting to know everyone in person . . . really vitalized us and gave a greater sense of a real family, not just a group of artisans working with similar tropes.” Friedrich, a contributor to SteamPunk magazine and a found-object sculptor of Steampunk wearable art, is at the other end of the Steampunk spectrum from von Slatt. Unlike some tinkerers, she has welcomed not just the aesthetics of the culture but its ethics into her life.
Whereas Cyberpunk posits a dark future, Friedrich says that Steampunk has “a hopeful heart . . . where a balance can be struck between progress and tradition.” Friedrich incorporates Steampunk as a strategy of quality consumption and slower living, with a distinct focus on the handmade. “If the idea of always having more is proving to be flawed,” she says, “then why not focus on having better of what we do have?”
Friedrich also dresses the part, and she doesn’t begrudge people who pick up Steampunk purely for its cos-play affectations — there’s an entire LiveJournal community, Steamfashion, devoted to Steampunk-styled photo shoots and garment showcases. The Steampunk “look” varies as much as the personalities of its wearer, although Friedrich herself says she enjoys transforming from “a turn-of-the-century jungle explorer” into “a post-apocalyptic warrior in shredded petticoats and bustled skirts.” She sells her creations, including her Chrono Corps Emblem ring and an “Ambience Enhancer” — a Steampunked device for holding a modern mp3 player on one’s wrist — on etsy.com, the eBay of craft sites.
Another of von Slatt’s colleagues in the Contraptor’s Lounge, David Dowling, is a Jamaica Plain resident, sculptor, and master’s candidate at the Boston Architectural College. Dowling, who has a background in blacksmithing, scenic design, engineering, welding, and machine modification, shares Friedrich’s Steampunk aesthetic, which sees the movement as one that can galvanize proponents.
To that end, he is working on the building plans for a large-scale Steampunk undertaking he’s calling the Meandering Manor — a mobile platform for art exhibitions, maker workshops, performances, and other creative purposes. The Manor, now in the design-and-planning phase, will be erected out of a series of junkyard Steampunked diesel vehicles. They’ll fit together like a puzzle, allowing the vehicles to travel independently or in a caravan and be locked together on site. Dowling hopes to start construction this summer.
“The Meandering Manor is about using spectacle as a tool to get people to engage with radical politics,” says Dowling of its anti-globalization aims. “This project is intended to activate people’s interest in creative reuse, sustainability, and alternative-living methods by showing them how cool and accessible it is without preaching about it. It’s to build an environment that was made by normal people, with normal means, in a sustainable, socially productive fashion.”
Dowling says that Steampunk, until recently, had little to do with “contrapting” and creative re-use. Now, however, these elements are a well-oiled cog in Steampunk’s main engine. Steampunk opens the door to a fantasy-future that can actually — if one wishes and works hard enough — co-exist with the present.