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Steampunk Hero

June 19, 2007

Retro is a constant in our culture. We are always looking to the past to make sense of the present. Usually, though, trends run in 20 year cycles, with ideas from the late 80s currently (and traumatically in the case of the return of the puffball skirt) recycling themselves back into our daily lives today.

It feels like the 80s have been here forever so I feel particularly excited these days when someone becomes interested in resurrecting ideas from completely different eras. On stage, I appreciate local actor-writer Sean Owens' interest in Victorian mannerisms. Now I have a new hero in the visual art/design world in the shape of Jake Von Slatt.

Von Slatt makes 21st century devices look like objects dreamed up by H. G. Wells or Jules Verne. It sounds horribly kitsch -- like a Jeff Koons statuette in porcelain and gold leaf. But the artist-engineer's brass-encrusted, be-levered computer consoles, kerosene lamps and other gadgets are things of beauty. In an era of ugly plastic boxes (not even design-minded Apple can get away from the essential dullness of a modern computer console) Von Slatt merges modern technology with a Victorian aesthetic to create new objects that are familiar yet strange.

Von Slatt, according to a story in Wired, is becoming something of a hero in the Steampunk world, an environment which harks back to the Industrial Revolution for inspiration. Von Slatt's Steampunk Workshop churns out beautiful devices. His website is full of information and blueprints concerning how to create your own archania like telegraph sounders for RSS feeds and flat-panel screens with a Victorian twist.

I'd like to meet Von Slatt. It's not the artist's real name. I wonder if he looks and acts like a quintessential mad scientist out of an Victorian novel?

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