Archive for the ‘criticism’ Category

In the upcoming issue of Egophobia Sean Orlando responds to some of the issues raised by Mr. Randy Nakamura’s article about Steampunk in the Design Observer. It seems that this debate isn’t over yet. I believe that both of them have valid arguments even though are expressed with a lot of steam.

One of the objections I have  Mr. Nakamura’s criticism is related to the concept of style and  deconstruction.  Here is an excerpt from the article:

Conversely, there seems to be a distinct fascination with exposing mechanisms, peering inside the shells of things. This is a popular, almost hackneyed post-modernist trope, an idea about dismantling received structures and conventions that have run rampant through every conceivable medium over the last half century: the turning of buildings inside-out to expose ductwork and utilitarian structures once hidden; the meta-fictional narrative where the conventions of the narrative structure are continually exposed and corrupted; clothing that bares every seam, stitch and piece of fabric, etc., ad nauseam.

In my opinion, his argument is highly debatable because these ideas about the artistic means used by Steam Punks can be traced in many  -isms. But I’ll keep my horses waiting the article from Egophobia’s Experiment section.


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So, here it comes. Randy Nakamura a designer from Los Angeles , writes an article in the Design Observer titled “Randy Nakamura: Steampunk’d, Or Humbug by Design” and incites  a lot of responses  from the Steampunk community

His first blow;

“Humbug is a term infrequently used in design. It is an archaism straight out of the 19th century, meaning hoax or nonsense. The word has strong associations with Dickens’ Scrooge and the ultimate showman and hoaxer himself, P.T. Barnum. In this time of cultural recycling, it is a word perhaps best used to describe Steampunk, a subculture supposedly born out of a mash-up of DIY (do-it-yourself), Victoriana, punk, science fiction, Japanese anime and the urge to re-skin one’s computer as 19th century bric-a-brac. If the number of recent articles in the mainstream press is any reliable barometer (The New York Times, Boston Globe, Paper, and Printall have featured the movement in the past year), Steampunk is the next big thing. “

My first reaction posted in the Design Observer:

Pedantry bordering on the pathological?

Tzzzz, Tzzzz, Tzzz , this a no-no Mr. Nacamura, and I think that you are making a terrible choice of words . It reminds me (even though he was talking in another context) about F.W Ruckstull, an obscure name (today) in the history of art criticism. After a great dedication to “the true, the good and the beautiful” on the first page, Mr Ruckstull gets down to business and starts his book “Great works of Art”, (1926) with two pages of examples in sub-cultural expression. The first on his list was Constantin Brancusi, a Romanian sculptor who was living in Paris at the time. Under the photo of Miss Pogani, a sculpture carved in marble by Brancusi, Mr Ruckstull wrote the words, “an example of insane, symbolic sadism in art”. and than, he continues his demolishing job with a sculpture representing a nude woman, signed by Matisse, “deformation of the form with a vengeance, un insult to intelligence”. To make the things worst, he returns to Brancusi and writes about his bronze “Princess Bonaparte”, the words “an insolent piece of abstract symbolism, an lechery in art”, to conclude triumphantly in the front of a portrait done by Picasso “looks like a coal-chute in Mauch Chunk”. By this time, Mr. Nacamura, I believe that we laugh together. The first think you need, in order to apreciate and understand Steampunk, is love for culture and art, which I assume you have, but then, you need pacience and vision, which I’m afraid you lack.

 Mauch Chunk. Should I play with the word through the flour of your brilliant ideas? It sits like a mint on the tip of my tong, but I will let Bruce do it.

Darla Davion

Just for the sake of accuracy and statistics, lets add the fact that the article  is 1491 words long, while  the comments,  in less than two days, are gathering 12403 words. It seems that Mr. Nacamura touched some nerves, even Bruce Sterling came out from the clouds to respond:

“Man, this is priceless. The backlash has begun!”  

When we talk steam, we talk pressure, and that has to go out somewhere, otherwise the whole damn thing will explode. Is what we like about steam, after all.

visit the place of the crime The Nakamura Files

I’ll be back

Darla Davion

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Past-Future- Imagism?   Dumbfounded to hear the  word, Google plowed all the dictionaries and ended up giving Adrian Ionita the credit to coin it in a critical review recently published in Egophobia. Steampunk is viewed by many as a sub sub-genre condemned to be an extention of Cyberpunk. Not anymore. This article takes a bird’s eye view over the phenomenon and gives Steampunk a larger historical context.

A translation of the article in English, Romanian and French, is published  by the Romanian magazine Egophobia Below we got permission to post the English version: 

Marc Bernier/Studio Museum in Harlem

Marc Bernier/Studio Museum in Harlem


 During an interview I had with Johnny Payphone about Dr. Evermore’s FOREVERTRON,  the contraption designed to propel a gigantic egg in the air, I recalled an event which took place about a year ago when the “Studio Museum in Harlem” presented the Philosophy of Time Travel  an installation made by several artists from Los Angeles. The contraption, envisions  Constantin Brancusi’s  “Endless Column” as if it had been launched like a missile from its home in Tirgu -Jiu, Romania, crossed the Atlantic, and crashed through the roof of the Studio Museum’s exhibition space in Harlem. No custom fees or taxes.  

 The installation could have been better fitted for a display in Central Park, New York, or on the shores of Lake Michigan in Chicago, where in 1956, the Romanian artist intended to erect a 400-meter tall stainless-steel skyscraper as an axis mundi and “one of the wonders of the world”. Beyond the intention of the artists, the  “Philosophy of Time Travel,given its subject, the grandiose vision and impact on our imagination, epitomizes a perfect example of PFI.

 Past-Future-Imagism seems to be the right term to describe this installation which otherwise could fall into any other alternative artistic genre including Steampunk. Such an association may raise some eyebrows, a reason good enough to travel in the lofts of my mind around the history of object representation in art.

 In 1926 the photographer Edward Steichen imported to United States, Bird in Space, a sculpture created by Brancusi in Paris. The custom officials of the time taxed the shiny bronze sculpture as a piece of manufactured kitchen utensil, ordaining the controversy to the famous ” Brancusi vs. United States” trial. In their defense, The Customs Court invoked a 1916 decision according to which sculptures are distinguished as artwork, only if are imitations of natural objects.  Brancusi won the trial and marked through his victory a shift in our perception about the boundaries of artistic representation in art. Even though, his series of mysterious birds and abstract sculptures goes back in time as far as 1908, it was his friend Marchel Duchamp, who in 1917 confronted us directly and provocatively with the more challenging idea of accepting a found object as art. He named them “tout fait”, or Readymades in English. One of his most cited works by critics is  “Fountain“, a porcelain urinal submitted in 1917 to the Society of Independent Artists exhibit from New York.

I received  recently a  message from Radu Stern, the director of education at the Musée d’Elysée in Lausanne, Switzerland,  which amazed me and deepened my research about past-future-imagism and  Steampunk. Radu pointed my direction to a material published by Art & Academe Vol. 10, No. 1 (Fall 1997) under the long title “Marcel Duchamp’s Impossible Bed and Other “Not” Readymade Objects: A Possible Route of Influence From Art To Science”. ( ImpossibleBed )

 The article written by Rhonda Roland Shearer, the wife of late Stephen Jay Gould  is a detective investigation behind Duchamp’s provocative objects.  According to her, many of the readymades done by Duchamp, including his ” Fountain” and Roue de bicyclette  (Bicycle Wheel, 1913/1964) are not found objects. Duchamp signed his urinal with the name Mutt, the name of an existing company at his time, but Rhonda Roland Shearer could not find any model in the Mutt catalog to fit exactly the details of the urinal, raising the suspicion that he did not “find” his readymades, but actually constructed them dal capo al fine

 In other words, this is as if today a steampunk artist is constructing the simulacra of an object that looks so convincingly real as a found object, that it make us to believe that  is just a simple mumbo-jumbo of screws and gears, a mutant of cannibalized flea market finds artistically assembled as a contraption, when in fact it is an object created by traditional means.  This late discovery just shows us one more time, how deceiving can be our perception about the artistic object, and encourages us to find Steampunk roots beyond the efforts of K. W. Jeter or Michael Moorcock, not to mention William Gibson and Bruce Sterling‘s  The Difference Engine  who opened our eyelids of awareness about this phenomenon. 

 In his description of Dr. Evermore,  “who always made things and signed them with false states from eighteen hundreds, and the objects, as you looked at them, looked like it could be that old, but then also, they looked too futuristic, producing steam punk expressions you don’t quiet know if are hundred years in the future or in the past, or a combination of both“, Johnny Payphone sees the magic around Steampunk, not only as a nostalgia or fascination for the past, but also as a voyage produced in the deepest  corners of our consciousness  by the inquietude to find, on the threshold between  past and future, our  lost  identity.

 Brancusi’s endless column crossed the ocean to crash in our showrooms, Dr. Evemore is prepared to launch his copper egg from Wisconsin to London, while the Neverwas Haul fell on la playa of the Burning Man.  and Paul St George’s Telectroscope  is guideing us through the halucinanting theatre of dreams steamed by the past-future-imagists who never accepted a border between imagination and reality.

 Steampunk is finaly here. To understand it, we may have to restore, as Payphone defines, the good things from our past, and exclude all the causes which lured us today from the immedacy of our real life

 Adrian Ionita




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audio interview on BBC radio4 with sociologist Richard Sennett



Richard Sennett

Laurie Taylor is joined by sociologist Richard Sennett, author of a new work entitled The Craftsman, and Grayson Perry Turner Prize winning artist and craftsman-potter. They discuss the meaning of ‘true’ skill, of craftsmanship – of the lifelong engagement with a particular skill or craft. Is there still a need for the craftsman’s ethic in our computer-driven, factory-made society where strings to our bows count for so much more than a way with wood?

listen the interview on BBC radio4:




Professor Richard Sennett is professor of sociology at New York University and at The London School of Economics. He is the author of The Craftsman (Allen Lane, 2008) and his previous books include The Corrosion of Character:The Personal Consequences of Work in the New Capitalism, The Fall of Public Man, Respect in a World of Inequality, and The Culture of New Capitalism, the last published by Yale University Press. He lives in New York and London.

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