Friday, January 25, 2008

Are you an Alchemist?

I was struck by Dylan Kehde Roelofs saying he was an alchemist -- a word that we don't use much anymore, even if we have the chops to back it up. It made me start thinking that perhaps I'm an alchemist, too!

Let's look at some examples that happen in my house:
  • turning milk into cheese
  • turning water and grain into beer
  • apple juice into hard cider

{I wonder -- does turning electricity into light count? }

It may not be as romantic as turning lead into gold, but I definitely think these sorts of projects qualify as alchemy.

Why am I even thinking about this? Steampunk is the intersection of the Maker movement with science fiction aesthetic and a revival of interest in the Victorian. Would it have gotten off the ground, and be gaining speed as quickly as it is, without physical goods made by hand by people like Jake von Slatt or Datamancer? Those first steampunk pieces thrilled us -- made us say "I want to be part of this! I want this to be part of my life." -- but without them we may not even of known that this thing called steampunk exists.

The struggle for me is in finding some level of "authenticity" within the steampunk home -- if all we do is buy stuff that looks good that's not exactly the spirit of steampunk (although patronizing artists is a noble cause not to be overlooked). Figuring out what you can make (or what lead you can turn into gold) -- with or without a neoVictorian spin -- can help inform your personal steampunk style. Into sewing? Why don't you make a desk from an old sewing machine table, or find some old sewing machine parts to use in a mantel still life or incorporate into a lamp or clock. If coffee is your thing, why not build a brass vacuum brewer? If it's something you have a passion for, you'll find learning about how people used to do it, and understanding the antique objects used to do it, brings a level of satisfaction and a depth of understanding that truly makes your home interesting and unique. (Our friends who visit only rarely always want a tour of our "Garage of Wonders" to get a glimpse into what the current projects and passions are -- and we love showing off our interests and indulging our love of lecturing.)

In our steampunk home, this means our interests tend toward the electrical or the alchemical. The electrical because we're both software engineers -- at it's most elemental the blinking of electrical signals and the moving around of ideas through the aether of the mind -- so gauges for the fridge that were used for measuring milliamperes and microamperes on some old piece of equipment brings a frisson of delight every time we look at them or the building of a mad scientist light reminds us of just how electrical circuits work.

This is a bit of a lecture laden departure from my normal sort of post, but at best it will give you something to ruminate on, and at worst you can just ignore it.

5 comments:

LoopdiLou said...

I just want to say Thank You! I've been ruminating on this for a while, because I'm a total wannabe Steampunk. I don't live the lifestyle, I'm merely drawn to it. I don't even wear the clothes! The closest my home gets to "steampunk" is some faux dark wood bookcases and a faux bronze mini Rodin! However, I envy the creators - the true Steam Punks, like yourself.. and I think part of my fascination with the culture is my desire to be a creator too, even though I lack any discernible skills. Alchemists are world builders, not just gadget inventors and that's just cool.

Anyway, well said and thank you for saying it because you said it better than I could have.

Donovan Design said...

Thank you for your thoughts, Sara. That was a wonderful and thoughtful essay.

Dr. Rafael Fabre said...

Dear Sara,
Madam - I'm quite glad to read your article and can't agree with you more. Part of the joy (ideally) is in taking a "diamond in the rough" and not only making useful and a piece of beauty one can admire, but the satisfaction of knowing that your efforts salavged (or at least represent) a bit of the past.
v/r,
Rafael Fabre

EnGauged said...

You, as far as I know, are the first Steampunk I have "met". Like Loopdilou, I have been ruminating. The brain candy that I have has been there for years whenever I see the merge of the Victorian way with the technology of today. Alchemy was not just the combination of metals to achieve gold but also combining elements of chemistry, metallurgy, physics, medicine, astrology, semiotics, mysticism, spiritualism, and art. I can see that Steampunk itself is much like the alchemy of the past. I look forward to the challenge of creating objects that have their design roots in the Victorian era. I embrace the challenge of working with metals, chemicals, physics and the mystery of the imagination. I would be untruthful if I stated that I did not feel something spiritual about this.

Ms. Angelica Boron said...

Dear author,

I came across your pages and really enjoyed them. I've posted a link to your works at my journal. I'm new to these electronic aethers.

Sincerely,
Angelica Boron
steampunkalchemist.blogspot.com

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