23 April 2012

Public Art and Animal Adoptions Steampunk Style!

Is this a clothing boutique, or an animal-adoption center, or a cosplay clubhouse with a "kraken" pulling an "eighteen-foot zeppelin" through the ceiling? Watch Donna Ricci's [revised] video for "Public Art and Animal Adoptions Steampunk Style" and you may be able to answer that question. Then again, I've watched it, and the idea is still blurry around the edges.

Contribute, or someone will strap goggles to each of these animals.

And what does all this have to do with Doctor Who? Ricci also plans to build a TARDIS outside the boutique, a prop that "will be available to the public 24 hours a day." Is this the "public art"? If I LARP on the street or wear Klingon-face to Burger King, is that public art? Do people consider Doctor Who steampunk? What does this have to do with stray dogs and parakeets?

Maybe I'm in the wrong simply for asking such questions. Ricci asserts that steampunk is "based around science-fiction," "largely based in the Victorian era," and "almost beyond definition--there is no right or wrong answer." Problem solved: steampunk is whatever you want it to be. If there's some Victoriana in there, all the better, but medieval Scandinavian sea-monsters and 1960s British science-fiction TV shows both count as steampunk, as do stray dogs and clapper-boards with digital displays.

I assume that the popularity of steampunk doesn't spring from nostalgia for late-19th-century scientific racism, or Jim Crow, or America's colonial adventure in the Philippines, or laws that kept women from voting, or police repression of the labor movement--but I could be wrong. Now that I think about it, the lack of interest in the actual 19th century on the part of steampunk fans suggests that I am wrong.

Is steampunk then a symptom of postmoderns' nostalgia for modernity, for that reassuring sense that humanity is making Progress? There is an undeniable beauty to modernity's grand narratives, wherein we will someday fly personal aeroplanes to our 20-hour-a-week jobs, or explore the universe in soviet-built rocketships. In the US, at least, we seem to be returning to the Gilded Age of robber barons and tentacled trusts; is "steampunk" a way of imagining a liberated but individualist fantasy of that period, where artisanal rocket boots, and not unions or political parties, can save us from bread lines and 12-hour workdays?

1 comment: