Steampunk and the Bruegel-Bosch Bus

Jennifer Mei’s work displays a sense of both grace and whimsy. Here she puts a decidedly steampunk twist on Jacques-Louis David’s famous Napoleon Crossing the Alps

I have been wondering about steampunk influences in literature and art. If Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz are included, as well as Jules Verne and H.G.Wells, would Bradbury? And what about the Hunger Games trilogy? I think the film Hugo definitely would be, but what about some of our other favourites? I have seen steampunk described as retro-futuristic; certainly it is always anachronistic in its combination of social setting and technology.

So I have been online, checking this out. Another time I will share the book lists and some of the other art I have found. Here are some definitions:

Dystopian From Wikipedia:
is, in literature, an often futuristic society that has degraded into a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian. Dystopian literature has underlying cautionary tones, warning society that if we continue to live how we do, this will be the consequence. A dystopia, thus, is regarded as a sort of negative utopia and is often characterized by an authoritarian or totalitarian form of government. Dystopias usually feature different kinds of repressive social control systems, a lack or total absence of individual freedoms and expressions and constant states of warfare or violence. Dystopias often explore the concept of humans abusing technology and how humans individually and collectively cope with technology that has evolved too quickly. A dystopian society is also often characterized by widespread poverty and brutal political controls such as a large military-like police.

Steampunk From Wikipedia:
is a sub-genre of science fiction, alternate history, and speculative fiction that came into prominence during the 1980s and early 1990s. Specifically, steampunk involves an era or world where steam power is still widely used—usually the 19th century and often Victorian era Britain—that incorporates prominent elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology or futuristic innovations as Victorians may have envisioned them; in other words, based on a Victorian perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, art, etc. This technology may include such fictional machines as those found in the works of H. G. Wells and Jules Verne or real technologies like the computer but developed earlier in an alternate history.

Elsewhere I read that steampunk  gets its “punk” not in its dystopian view of the world or even in its gritty edge. The “punk” in “steampunk” comes from going against convention that, through creativity and declaration of one’s individuality be it through style, gadgets, or attitude, sets one apart. 

Would this permanent art installation at the Art Gallery of Hamilton be considered steampunk? The initial reaction may be to ask what that pile of junk is doing in an art gallery, but the more you look, the more you see, and the ironic juxtapositions and playful adaptations are really interesting and thought-provoking. Here are notes about it from a brochure.

Breughel-Bosch Bus from The Art Gallery of Hamilton

Repeatedly in his work, Canadian artist Kim Adams explores the patterns of a mobile society, creating works of art that are eccentric hybrids of the ready-made. Blending humour, satire and seriousness, he builds “worlds” as a means of social critique. Adams’ installations have existed comfortably in the space that divides life and art and the carnival aspect of Adams’ work comes alive when experienced first-hand. Bruegel-Bosch Bus is a magnificent work consisting of a 1960 Volkswagen van that has been transformed and appears to pull a post-industrial universe displaying a cornucopia of fantastic and seductive worlds that

Bruegel-Bosch Bus from The Art Gallery of Hamilton

play with our senses. This futuristic diorama is a post-apocalyptic civilization on wheels – a model of the next whole world picture in which reality and unreality, logic and fantasy, banality and sublimation of existence form an inexplicable unity. This ‘bus’, a Kubrick-esque megalopolis made of icons symptomatic in present day life, drawing upon urban fantasies, phantasmagoric, post-apocalyptic landscapes, a plethora of different times and cultures with buildings from epochs aligned side by side, where space becomes an imaginary territory, where instead of causal organization, pastiche prevails. A work in progress that defies a linear perception of time, the Bruegel-Bosch Bus is a culture-scape that displays a mixed layering of time in which centuries collide – a dialectical vehicle leading into the future.

And just look at this! I think we should clean out the garage and make a sculpture along the new fence!  Both the shapes and their shadows are so elegant!

Andrew Smith crafts unusually complex and colourful kinetic sculptures. This one is called; “driving force”

Is there a machine anywhere as functional and beautiful as  a circular saw blade, a wheel, a hubcap, or a bicycle, especially one of the ancient penny farthing bicycles?

Form and function developed to perfection!

Similarly, my husband thinks his grand piano has been engineered to the peak of perfection, with anything ornate or distracting stripped away, and the simple mechanical movement of keys striking strings under tension, unchanged and unchanging. Of course he prefers anything that does not require batteries or plugging in.

On the other hand, the calliope.... The steam calliope is a musical instrument that resembles a piano or organ, but produces sound by sending steam through whistles. When each key is pressed, it opens a valve that allows pressurized steam from the boiler to escape through a corresponding whistle, producing a specific tone.

Do you have a favourite novel or image that seems to fit the definition of steampunk without ambiguity?

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7 Responses to Steampunk and the Bruegel-Bosch Bus

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