Thursday, May 15, 2008

Teach as if Armageddon Has Arrived

There's a wonderful article - Steam Dream by Sharon Steel on the Steampunk movement in this week's Boston Phoenix. Steampunk is “like punk, but with better manners.” An art movement and a lifestyle that just might save the world as you know it.

Of particular interest to school reformers is an idea that could be adapted to create a nomadic school:
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.

“As we desperately fumble for a way to throw this machine into reverse,” says Dowling, “not just in the Steampunk scene but pan-culturally, I think it’s only natural that some people should manifest that desire by going back to the beginning — the Industrial Revolution and the Victorians. That’s where all this speculative fiction intersects with politics and the DIY movement — a desire to stand on the cusp of the industrialized, mass-marketed, engineered, branded iSpend future and the labor-intensive, technologically impoverished, hand-crafted past and ask: where did we go wrong? What could we have done differently? How can we re-imagine the fiction we will become in the future?”
Oh, and there's some very nice free Steampunk (post-punk)MP3's to be downloaded here.

"Steampunk is the creative mind’s answer to a world that has flat-lined." - Captain Robert Brown, Abney Park

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