What is SteamPunk?
Steampunk is a genre of art, literature, and creative design in the neo-Victorian style. It was first conceptualized in the late 1980’s by science fiction authors who were trying to characterize and differentiate their alternate-history Victorian era works from the popular Cyberpunk genre at the time.
The Steampunk ethos stems from imagining an alternate history in which steam- or spring-driven mechanical power drives technological advancement. Examples include lighter-than-air flying ships, analog (as opposed to digital) computers, clockwork automatons, atomic locomotives, coal-powered flying boats, and ornate submarines. Steampunk ideology influences the Maker movement, wherein technology is useful and accessible to everyone, and where the DIY attitude prevails.
Steampunk aesthetics will most often utilize Victorian styles and design elements, such as the use of materials like polished brass, iron, wood, and leather.
Captain Nemo’s submarine The Nautilus, as depicted in the Disney film 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, is often referenced as the hallmark of steampunk design, as is the time machine from H.G. Wells’ novel and depicted in the film of the same title. In the pictures below, note the exposed rivets, pipes, iron and brass work which all speak of industrial-age design. The interiors show off hardwood floors, red linen and drapery and ornate rugs, also reminiscent of the Victorian era. The Time Machine's aesthetic incorporates brass pipe, red velvet upholstery, and exposed mechanical elements.
The Time Machine
A more recent and dramatic example of Steampunk art was Paul St. George's Telectroscope installation at London City Hall and New York in 2008. Based on a Victorian idea popularized in the 1870's of an invention that could transmit images across vast distances, the fanciful yet fictional backstory of this giant interactive sculpture was that the Telectroscope connected London and New York physically by a giant tunnel beneath the Atlantic Ocean. The work appears to be an oversized telescope burrowing into (or out of) the ground. Visitors could peer into the device and see images from the other city in real time, but those images were actually transmitted by video cameras at each site networked together.
Arts Et Metiers (Paris Metro station)
The Steampunk aesthetic lends itself to bold interior design. The Paris Metro station which stops at the Museum of Arts and Trades has been in service since 1904. In 1994 it was redesigned to commemorate the bicentenary of the National Conservatory of Arts and Trades in all-out Steampunk style. Exposed rivets and machinery, shiny brass and copper, even an image of an airship are all present.
Steampunk is now going mainstream, making its way into people's homes. Here are some examples of residential design. The first image, of a kitchen, is noteworthy for its use of the ever-iconic steampunk airship as a centerpiece.
By now you've probably surmised where I'm going with all this. Steampunk is everywhere, even in downtown Evansville. Visit The Rumjahn Gallery in December to see how we've incorporated Steampunk design elements into our own gallery!