You might have noticed things have been quiet around here this week. Not for me – I’ve been busy … a whole new level of busy. This past weekend I spent the day helping my friend Jaimee, of Cog and Compass, run her stall at AetherCon, the first annual NZ Steampunk Convention.
What is Steampunk? Steampunk is a re imagining of the past, present or future where steam technology (usually 18th or 19th century) is the dominant force. It imagines a world of rebellion, revolution and adventure mixed with industrial innovation, upper class manners, and cool gadgets. There’s often magic or fantasy elements – There’s a great definition on Steampunk.com.
20-30 years ago, steampunk was a word floating around in literary circles, and it referred to a certain subset of speculative fiction (fantasy, science fiction, horror) written during the “punk” era that dealt with steam technology, and ideas of rebellion and revolution against the evil machines. Hence, the term steampunk.
In more recent years, steampunk has been adopted by popular culture and, for better or worse, has become a subculture all of its own – with steampunk fashion, movies, bands, video games and decor. A huge part of the movement is gadgets and “mods” where people take modern devices and add steampunk elements, like clockwork gears or Victorian styling, or take antiques and add modern technology, like adding a scanner to an old organ.
I heard the words “Victorian Imagination” thrown around a lot this weekend, but since steam technology has been around a LOT longer than the Victorian era, and steampunk itself deals with invented histories, I don’t see why there’s not equal emphasis on other eras of history. My primary area of interest is the Georgian period, which is where some of the most interesting steam innovations occurred and when my novels are based, so I’m a bit wary of bottlenecking “steampunk” into specifically Victorian sensibilities. But that’s a discussion for a WHOLE other time.
What is AehterCon? Michael Boyack Hodgson, together with a bunch of volunteers and enthusiasts, and with support from the Omaru Steampunk Society, organised AetherCon to be a gathering of kiwis interested in steampunk. It attracted a range of different people who approach steampunk in different ways – there were writers and historians like me, goths aplenty, LARPers, inventors, artists, S&M folk, and an awful lot of geeks.
Some of you may not know that one of my hobbies is volunteering at MainLine Steam, a local organization dedicated to getting NZ steam locomotives running on the main lines. We have a shed filled with different classes of locomotives, and a few working engines we take out on excursions all over the country, and a steam society that attracts … shall we say … eclectic sorts of people. The correct, industry-standard terms for trainspotters are either “anoraks” or “foamers”. Anoraks, because you always see them loitering around stations in Britain wearing long jackets to keep off that tropical British weather, and foamers because whenever they see a steam train go past they foam at the mouth.
When I think of all the folk I saw enter the doors of AetherCon, the word “foamers” definitely pops to mind. But instead of getting all frothy around the mouth over a bunch of pistons and a boiler, the punk-foamers were after the pretties and the shinys and the ray guns.
The Cog and Compass stall was right next to Lady Animalia’s Creative Creations. Lady Animalia is a wicked chick from the Bay (where I grew up – reprezent!) who happens to be a zoologist when she’s not making hats with real clocks in them. Dressed head-to-toe in ruffles and skulls, Lady Animalia instinctively drew people to her with her bubbly personality and unique creations, (which, since they tended to gravitate our way when they needed to use the mirror, we didn’t mind one bit!)
One of the highlights of the day for me was being able to try on some Gallery Serpentine pieces in person. Gallery Serpentine is a gothic clothing label based in Sydney, Australia, and designer Steph makes some of the highest-quality, luxurious and intricate gothic clothing and corsetry around. I own one GS overbust corset, and this thing is a work of ART. Since many of Steph’s designs are based on Victorian styles, she’s found a whole new set of admirers with the steampunkers. With special AetherCon prices her clothing was flying off the racks. I found a skirt that I wanted, really, really wanted (it was a sage green victorian bustle), but our car needed repairs this week and I refuse to be one of those ladies who spend their emergancy-car-repair-money on clothes …
The tables at Rotorua’s Artful Addiction groaned under the weight of weird glassware, hats and fascinators, and creative sculptures and other goodies.
Both Romance Rewound and Things Unseen did a roaring trade, each selling ranges of one-of-a-kind jewelry made from vintage clockwork and other charms and oddments. This type of jewelry it particularly popular amongst the steampunk crowd, and, although it’s not to my taste (the archaeologist in me blanches at the idea of smashing up old clocks) they certainly were some very nice and creative folk!
Gareth Jensen’s artwork was another highlight for me. If you like giant mech robots and steam technology, check out his art work. He’s got an exhibition coming up in a few weeks, and I’ll be heading along to that for sure.
Two other talented friends, Amy and Kelli, who are training to be costume designers, entered the steampunk fashion competition. Amy, as a traveling botanist, came third, and Kelli, as a medic, came second, and got a free return flight to Omaru for the competition finals.
And then, of course, there’s Jaimee. Her creations perfectly reflect her personality – little and cute, but also hilarious and sometimes slightly dangerous. Jaimee recently had a disagreement with a chair, which ended up with her breaking her elbow in a pretty bad way. Her husband made her this awesome armor to disguise her hospital brace.
All Jaimee’s creations are handmade – she creates all her charms herself from polymar clay, sews up outfits and handcrafts hats. She’s quite a talented lady, especially with a bung elbow.
At 6pm, the stall owners cleaned up and got the hall ready for the ball at 8pm. Because we’d been up since the wee hours with one chair between us and no air flow to speak of, we were too shattered to stick around. I heard it was quite epic, though, with entertainment from Alex the Kid and Plum Green, belly dancing from LadySin Quana and the talented Vivian Masters painting away in a corner.
You can read more about Jaimee’s on her Cog and Compass blog.
What I wore: For those interested I wore a green ruffle skirt from Skingraft, a white H&M shirt, pinstripe Shanton vest, belt from my friend Erin, leather pouch from a medieval market in Germany, jewelry from Egypt (the country) and Cog and Compass, Ankh socks, Alpha Rangers purple boots, top hat from Camden markets and authentic 1920s goggles from Velvet Mechanism.
All photos in this post that aren’t mine are from Neave R Willoughby.