By Bruce Rosenbaum
What is Steampunk? A basic question, right? I’ll begin by saying that there is no single, simple, explanation that adequately explains what Steampunk is or what it is becoming. It’s a creative design solution. It’s a movement and a culture. It’s a practice. It’s a dynamic force in my own work, part philosophy and part aesthetic, that guides my approach and process in design, engineering and craft.
Though there are some core principles to Steampunk, and what Steampunk is varies with each person’s interpretation (and expression) of it. A quality that makes this aesthetic/culture distinct is its fluidity and that its characteristics are entirely chosen by the community of individuals: tinkerers, designers, artists, engineers, crafters and enthusiasts.
Unlike other forms and fashions, Steampunkers as a collective continuously choose what proportion of components such as: Victorian, Edwardian, Industrial Age; Science Fiction and Romance; pre- and post-apocalypse is represented in every aspect of the culture and its crafts.
Since Steampunk is really about the way we put things together (and take things apart) I’ll describe what it means to me:
Steampunk is a re-imagining of two (or more) distinct time periods and the fanciful and functional inventions that are produced. For example, imagine (or re-imagine) if the Victorian or Industrial age happened at the same time as the modern or information age what would have been produced in inventions, innovations, gadgets, art, dress and jewelry. In simple math terms – Steampunk = History + Art + Technology
It is basically a game of “what if” where you mash up different time periods and speculate what would result. (The process that combines speculating and creating is the essence of Steampunk.) The movement and community now expresses itself and answers the question of ‘what if ‘ through home and object design, movies, literature, gaming, fashion, jewelry, art and more.
Although many think of Steampunk as only as an aesthetic or ‘look’, the essence of the style is the community culture. In our time as Steampunk crafters, my wife, Melanie and I have been welcomed by a community that promotes inclusivity, accessibility, self-sufficiency. There is something about the hands-on creations and inventions that offer solutions for issues in contemporary culture (consumerism, living beyond one’s means, scarcity of resources).
In fact, I think that Steampunk as a movement offers solutions to larger conflicts in society through recycling, reusing, repurposing and managing issues relating to ecology and the limitation of natural and financial resources.
More broadly, I see the act of Steampunking as satisfying our human needs for leaving our own mark and making (or remaking) objects that express our own personal history and personality. Also, in a way, by creating our own personal objects and art, we control our destiny and become masters of our own domain.
On a more personal level, I believe Steampunk design is about infusion of the best of two worlds, repurposing and the marrying of form and function. To make sure we preserve the past, while remaking our future.