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International Steampunk City 2011 Musings

For the benefit of the Charles River Museum of Industry and Innovation, the International Steampunk City took place on 6-8 May 2000. The museum is a worthy cause in any event, but they are currently in the process of trying to repair about a half million dollars of damage they suffered in a flood in 2010. Mary and I went, and had a wonderful time, as did about 5,000 other folks. As much as I would like this be a complete report of the event, there's no way we could have possibly seen it all, there was that much going on. (If you saw something I missed and want to squee about it, by all means get it down in the comments!

Exhibits

This steam engine ran several of NEMES' sculptures!

Saturday on the Commons was a perfect opportunity for several steam enthusiasts to show off real steam-based technology in their fine capacities as devices and art. Engineers and Blacksmiths were on hand showing off their abilities and creations alongside artists and crafters. For example, the New England Model Engineering Society ran architectural models equipped with moving parts a steam engine to power. Prospect Hill Forge was also on hand strutting their stuff, making the stuff we base so much of our stuff on.

I was particularly impressed with the way the outdoor acoustics allowed a functioning smithy to operate near a music stage without detracting from either.

Music

I would have loved to have caught Frenchy and the Punk's show, but it ran concurrently with the talk I led. Now, I've been seeing Frenchy and the Punk since our Faeriecon days, so I know it was a great show right up until they had to cut it short because the outdoor stage at The Watch Factory was taking too much rain. (Mary was able to catch them on Sunday, but I had to see a horse about a man. Did I mention that there was a whole lot going on at this thing? It was crazy.)

I was able to conclude my business and get back to their show in time to see them jamming with Emperor Norton Stationary Marching Bad. Either band is perfectly capable of getting audiences out of their seats, but between them and the more direct efforts of A Count Named Slick Brass the outcome was never in doubt: empty seats and dancing feet.

Vendors

It is always a delight to find Kelly M. Kotulak of Studio Hibernacula and Kurioser & Kurioser selling their art at an event. Kelly. takes any number of familiar Steampunk tropes and finds ways to keep them fresh and exciting. It seems as if every time I see her shop, she.s come up with a new way of expressing her aesthetic of mechanism while avoiding the trap of becoming clicée. Juxtaposed with the leather artistry of Curious Alchemy, one can easily spend hours seeing it all before even deciding which favorites to take home.

Joolie of I am Joolienn makes beautiful Joolienn and associate. clothing and accessories from recycled materials. Better still, she tracks where she gets her raw materials from and is happy to share the story of how the stuff you're buying became your stuff. If you're willing to return the favor and let her know what becomes of her wares, so much the better. The sheer coolness of all that storytelling aside, her wares are quite attractive and versatile: I picked up a garment for Mary that works both as a bustle and as a shrug at a price that doesn't assume I'm actually an aristocrat. I look forward to seeing what she comes up with next.

Shouts out also to City Lights and their combination of antique lighting fixtures with salvaged industrial elements for remarkable task lighting and table-top ambiance; R.H. Mardigan Enterprises -- the steampunk sewing bracer is destined to become a part of Mary's kit; Emrys Fynery for bringing style, elegance, and humor -- often in the same piece; Silver Owl Creations for adding new life to key-based jewelry through the application of metal enamels; and so many more!

Less thrilling was a vendor selling "Steampunk" costumes that would have looked more at home in a costume shop next to the vampire costume, the nurse costume, and the pirate costume. The plastic ensembles looked shoddy, the packaging indicated mass production -- and probably in a sweat shop by someone who didn't make anything near a living wage on it. In short, far more deserving of placement in the "This Is Not Steampunk" sectio of regretsy than anything there that was actually made by hands. Hopefully, sales were low enough that we won't see a return of that.

One vendor that impressed me with her innovation is Ms. McElhiney and her
art at various stages of completion. Beth McElhiney, who has invented a process to take antique silver plate wares, strip the silver to the base metal, and apply a durable enamel cover. I'd be happy just to have some of the silver-plated tableware . check out the photos, who knew different pieces were made of different metals? The big drawback to the method is that one Who knew silver plate's more boring than what's underneath it? never knows how well a piece will hold up under the stripping or kilning process until it's done, which makes the process lossy. While many people have expressed an interest in having their favorite pieces re-worked this way, Ms. McElhiney is quite reluctant to take the risk of causing financial or emotional distress. In the meantime, be on the lookout for her enameling motifs to expand from primaries and pastels to include patterns, tones, and all the special effects that an enameling process can create! (As a sometime former potter, I wonder if it's possible to incorporate some of my favorite techniques, such as the Japanese Raku process.)

There's no reason to wait for the next event to let these artisans enhance your life -- check them out, give them some love, and they're sure to return the favor.

Programming

I will admit I was quite pleasantly surprised at the turnout for my talk on Progressive Steampunk (formerly Steampunk and Left Wing Politics). All told, about thirty people attended, and none of them were simply avoiding the rain! The hour passed very quickly as we discussed the parallels between the political realities of the 1900s and the modern day; how Steampunk invites if not demands that we deconstruct the social realities of both in the same way that Makers take things apart and put them back together in improved and surprising ways; and how we as Steampunks use our Steampunkery as political expression and activism.

There is still one challenge I'm working on with this panel, though I feel better that I am far from the only progressive presenter who finds themself faces with it: who dominates the discussion. We live in a racist and sexist society, and one of the ways that racial and sexual privilege manifest is who feels they have the privilege of speaking - especially in I need to do a better job of creating a space in which white guys aren.t the only people speaking up. public. My audience was delightfully diverse racially and sexually, but the reality was that white guys tended to dominate the conversation. A number of times, I pointed this out and tried to open the floor to the rest of the participants, and I had some success, but not as much as I would like. My take-away from this is that I have some work ahead of my putting together some introductory material in the hopes of better setting the stage.

I had wanted to see more programming than I wound up seeing, in particular Kayte.s discussion on Steampunk and Female Empowerment and Ay-Leen the Peacemaker.s always-excellent Beyond Victoriana series, but between communications snafus and tech monkeying I was only able to catch the tail end of each.

Of course, not all programming can be as light hearted as using Steampunk as a driver for class, race, and sex justice. Mayor Dr. Grymm presided over The Steampunk City Town Hall, wherein we discussed the truly important issues of the day: Funding an airship port, and whether or not to ban giant robots from the city, to name two!

Art show

We've discussed jewelers and clothiers. Makers go without saying. It really needs to be noted more: Steampunk has some truly talented "fine" artists. The City's Welcome Center featured the art of several gifted folk working in several media, each of which is well worth their own article - and that may well happen at some point. I found General Caled's soul on the wall at the art show Everyone's seen Red Fork Emperor Justinian Stanislaus's Will of the People, but have you seen his sculptures of the guardians of his throne room? Have you had the chance to conclude that General Caled's doesn't have his soul because he pulled it out, merged it with a mixed media collage, and put it all up for display? And what an impressive collection of Diety eyes the General has amassed over the years... Nor can we neglect how the Lady of Graves brings shape, texture, and light together with her photography to give us a glimpse of a post-apocalyptic Stemapunk work in which we might actually not mind living? If you missed your chance at ISC, there'll be another - be sure to catch it!

Collage by Jeff Sculpture by Justin Photograph by Jessica

None of this is to say that the event was perfect, or that it went off without a hitch. The Watch Factory proved to be further from everything else to really integrate well with the show as a whole. The shuttle was not as publicized nor as timely as it needed to be to make the entire event as accessible as it could have been. Happily, it's clear that the organizers have already heard this message and indicated that they will be addressed in time for next year's International Steampunk City. I am very much looking forward to a return to Waltham and environs.

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