Friday, January 11, 2008

Techno Victoriana

The Japanese are in on this steampunk thing. Keep up!

The steampunk raptop
The steampunk desktop

Funny. Some of the delight in mechanical detail reminds me of a book I read about the Mavo artists in early 20th Century Tokyo. They often used mechanical environments and aggressive abstract shapes suggestive of riveted steel. But they were very different, the exact opposite in fact: they were all about the future - ripping apart the past and present to smash themselves into futurist reality in which man and mechanism could be reconciled.

Now, it seems, those unsettling industrial and mechanical objects and environments have become reassuring. Steampunk has its roots in long established tendencies in science fiction, comics and anime films but I think the mechanisms it fetishises definitely have a partly nostalgic appeal. This attraction seems oddly connected with neo-Arts and Crafts yearnings like this. Strange really: the mechanisation and industrialism that worried the Arts and Crafters has become part of the same sort of alienated yearning for something solid and meaningful in the past. As Arts and Crafts showed, nostalgia like this can be very fertile soil for creativity. As fertile as futurism?

Okada Tatsuo in the "Gate and Moving Ticket-Selling Machine", 1925
from "Mavo" by Gennifer Weisenfeld

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