In the current issue of SNAG’s Metalsmith magazine [Vol. 31, No. 3] there is an interesting article by Karen Christians, Steampunk: Future Past. Initially an alternative genre that encompasses jewelry and crafty (in the true meaning of craft) constructions, art, fashion, fiction, and film alike, Steampunk has definately crossed into common grounds in 3 decades. The term was coined in the 1980s by science fiction writer K.W. Jeter and comes from the idea of appropriating (usually) mechanical or industrial elements from the industrial revolution from an era powered by steam that began in the Vitorian age in the UK of the 1890s.
Because we are finding our modern world flying full-steam ahead in the digital age, the appropriators of Steampunk are attempting to marry low tech with high tech, combining historical technology with the future, fabricating a new composition. Christians describes the creative concept of Steampunk as “time, motion, disassembly, and reassembly […] transforming what is now digital and minimal back into an ornamental functionalism.”
I didn’t even know what Steampunk was until a couple of years ago when I realized that some of my jewelry work falls into the genre. I noticed others creating with similar materials (watch parts, gears, mechanical pieces) were being tagged as Steampunk, but it wasn’t immediately clear to me what it had to do with either steam or punk (other than it seems to be a take off the term cyberpunk).
In my own work, the use of these found objects began as collections of tiny curious elements that grew from digging through flea market bins in the US and Europe. Any small found object with jewelry potential appealed to me, but especially vintage watch parts and antique mechanical pieces. Watch faces are beautiful examples of graphic compositions combined with the practicality of their function, that although generally possessing the same concept and use can vary greatly in form and design. By presenting watch faces with their time-telling hands removed, I am metaphorically suggesting that time should have less importance as we live it with an alarming pace in this contemporary age, that the important moments of life are timeless and merit a pause to remember them.
Inside the watch, the movements are amazingly beautiful constructions of mechanisms perfectly synchronized, historically the hidden, secret heart of the watch of which tells time, giving us a point of reference in life, worn near the users’ pulse. (See more about watches on my previous post.) It has recently become fashionable, especially in the high-end watch market, to showcase these mechanisms with their ruby jewels in transparent housing, revealing the functional parts. Now, many watches have cheaper, digital or plastic elements that should just as well remain hidden.
I also like to consider other functional found elements such as levels, rulers, and hardware as materials made valuable by placing them in a new context, giving them a new life as a “jewel” worn on the body. With these parts and with others I use (maps, text, photos, game pieces, etc.) I am repurposing their traditional roles, giving them new meaning, appreciating them in their detail and intimate scale. It is important for me to hold onto elements from the past, to be reminiscent and be reminded, even by a small fragment recontexturalized and reassembled for modern use as simple pieces of jewelry.
Here are some examples of my work featuring watch parts with sterling silver and resin: