Tag Archives: steampunk

Melbourne’s Steampunk Sculptures

Strangers to Melbourne might think that the intersection of Flinders and Spencer Streets would be a central location in the city and this is one reason why there are so many hotels in the area. In reality it is a largely ignored part of the city that locals rarely visit, however the character of the area is changing to include a steampunk elements. The retrospective science fiction of steampunk can easily be imagined in Melbourne where much of the nineteenth century infrastructure remains.

David Bell, Raising the Rattler Pole – The Last of the Connies, 2013

David Bell, Raising the Rattler Pole – The Last of the Connies, 2013

Creating a landmark for the corner of Spencer and Flinders Street is David Bell’s Raising the Rattler Pole – The Last of the Connies, 2013. The 1:1 scale classic W class tram in stands at ten degree angle exposing what the Bell calls it “‘steam punk’ underbelly”. (More on the tram in Daniel Bowen’s Diary of an Average Australian.)  Bell has made other public sculptures including the Nest, 2012 in the Darebin Parklands.

Russell Anderson, Apparatus for Transtemporal Occurrence of Impending Space, 2014

Russell Anderson, Apparatus for Transtemporal Occurrence of Impending Space, 2014

Russell Anderson’s Apparatus for Transtemporal Occurrence of Impending Space 2014 stands on the boardwalk behind the World Trade Centre. The bronze, brass, steel and copper pseudo-scientific time machine offers a view through a porthole of the future. Part of the equipment is functional; crank the handle and look through the viewer like an antique flip card viewer on a pier. Anderson is a Queensland artist who specialises in interactive kinetic sculptures.

Mega Fun, Metal Fish, 2006

Mega Fun, Metal Fish, 2006

Not exactly steampunk but close both aesthetically and geographically are the giant metal fish in Wharf Lane. The fish were created by Mega Fun for the 2006 Commonwealth Games floating parade on the Yarra River. The spectacle becomes permanent; there were originally 71 large artworks depicting fish, there is another ell, split in two at  Kensington Community Recreation Centre.

Steampunk is not simply a fashion or a fad, the subject of shows like the Clockwork Butterfly (see my review) and not permanent public sculptures. The terms fashion and fad have been over-used, abused and have been miss applied to alternate aesthetics, like steampunk. Chris Reynolds, A History apparatus – Vessel Craft & Beacon, 1993 could be considered a proto-steampunk sculpture. Installed 1994-5 it is a twenty-four metre long series of aluminium and fibreglass forms, part of which is attached to some steel rails in the middle of Russell St., between Bourke and Lt. Collins Streets.


Steampunk Objet d’art

Synergy Gallery presents “Alchemy” by Erno Berkovics Sanders an exhibition of beautiful, steampunk, sculptures/lamps. Based on the solar system the lamps include: Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Earth, the Sun and the Moon in solid bronze, copper and brass and 24 carat gold guitar strings.

Erno Berkovics Sanders, Earth, (image courtesy of Synergy Gallery)

Erno Berkovics Sanders, Earth, (image courtesy of Synergy Gallery)

The stands are made of old fire hoses, large solid polished brass gears from pastry mixers and pistons from a tea bag making machine. Some of these object d’art have kinetic elements, rotating to create small lightshows, and all are electric and fantastic. The quality and beauty of the design, craftsmanship and materials in these Erno Berkovics Sanders’s alchemy is awe-inspiring. Alchemy is turning base matter into gold and that has clearly happened here.

Erno Berkovics Sanders migrated to Australia in 1956 from Budapest worked as builder for most of his life and this is the first exhibition from this “reclusive mature artist”. (Dare I call him an ‘outsider artist’? This ambiguous term has been abandoned in art-speak for almost a decade.) It is evident that Sanders did not waste his time as a builder obviously adding many skills and collecting much of the recycled, found and re-purposed materials in this exhibition.

Alchemy at Synergy Gallery

Alchemy at Synergy Gallery

Synergy at CERES, environmental park is a small works gallery in the Red Train. The 100-year-old red rattler carriage is a wonderful setting for this exhibition. The carriage has been refurbished with some of the sections of seats removed, track lighting installed but the old wood panels, mirrors and pressed tin ceilings have been preserved.

The old train carriage reminded me that there almost was a steampunk Melbourne. The cutting edge technology of brass tubes and cables of the steampunk world was here in “marvellous Melbourne”. There was a steampunk future for the city complete with the longest pneumatic power and communications system in the world. But it was a future that never was, due the Australian banking crisis of 1893 and the end of the gold mining boom.

Steampunk Melbourne would have been an odd kind of future city where there were telephones before there were sewers. And where parts of the public transport system was degraded before it was expanded. Melbourne could have had two rail loops, north and south of the Yarra, but they were both scrapped in favour of a spoked pattern radiating from the city. (I didn’t use public transport to get to Ceres; I am continuing to ride my bike to exhibitions. Melbourne’s poor public transport is damaging to its culture.)


Clockwork Butterfly

Steampunk is a fictional retrospective, futuristic design style that exists in movies, role-playing games and books more than it does, or ever did, in reality. But the image of anarchic inventors in a steam-powered automobile with precision ocular devices is too good to just ignore.

Clockwork Butterfly” described itself as a “steampunk extravaganza” combining musical hall vaudeville, burlesque and a fashion show. Miss Ixia, the mistress of ceremonies and graphic designer, had the extensive lexicological vocabulary of the musical hall. The acts were enjoyable especially the illusions and prestidigitations of Madotti and Vega, Missy’s pole dancing, Antonia belly dancing, and Sarina Del Fuego’s “time in motion” burlesque act was the perfect end for a clockwork butterfly.

Miss Ixia introducing the Clockwork Butterfly

Miss Ixia introducing the Clockwork Butterfly

Interspacing the acts were parades of fashion. The clothes started with daywear and beachwear (something that you would never see at a goth fashion show) and moved on into eveningwear. Alex Chambers, assisted by Courtney Webber, designed all the clothes including the costumes of the performers, which give the spectacle consistency. The models showed great personality and professionalism. The whole show was a bit like I imagine an Alexander McQueen fashion show would have been like, a beautiful, visual circus of theatrical clothes.

The venue of the Thornbury Theatre provided an excellent backdrop to the “Clockwork Butterfly” with its arched ceiling complete with chandelier and gilded Victorian plasterwork.

Steampunk, for Alex Chambers, is like a neo-Victorian version of goth fashion with a different colour palette and different accessories. Toffee, caramel and umber replace the black, emerald green and ruby of the goth palette. Goggles, parasols and top hats replace the gauntlets, chains and studs of the goth world. Brass replaces chrome steel. And button-up boots with Louis heels replace platform boots. Cotton, linen and leather replace PVC.

The fantasy of steampunk style in constructing a futuristic Victorian era is informed by the time lags in history where people can live in the past, the present or the future. And every era creates its versions of the past, present and future.


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