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Introduction

By Adrian Ionita

In 2008, an unexpected visit to my studio in Chicago marked a transformation in my relationship with the
Arts. A friend of mine, Rupert Glimm, who I have known for more than 20 years, stopped by for a visit. He
brought along Johnny Payphone, who I was meeting for the first time. We spent the afternoon in the
courtyard discussing bicycles, Burning Man and what turned out to be my introduction to Steampunk. At the
time, I could never have imagined that in less than two months I would be caught in the middle of the most
exciting community of artists, thinkers, activists, craftsmen and philosophers; moreover, that I would soon
be writing about them.

[Rupert Glimm and Johnny Payphone with a branch of Romanian Lovage (Leuştean), © 2008 photo by Adrian Ioniţă]

The decision to start writing about Steampunk came when I did a search using Romanian's Google. You can
try it for yourself. Enter “Kinetic Steam Works”, and you will not find many sites. So I made up my mind to
change this and I called Sean Orlando, the co-founder of the Kinetic Steam Works Group. He is the creator
of a magnificent project, The Steampunk Tree House. I strongly believe that if you will read “We aim to be,
rather than to seem”, the interview granted by Sean to Egophobia, you will recognize in his ideas a real
manifesto of the Steampunk phenomenon.

Shannon and Kathy O’Hare are the creators of the famous Neverwas Haul, a 3-story Victorian Mansion on
Wheels. EgoPHobia received an exclusive report of their experience at Burning Man 2008. It is the first
material of this kind ever written for a Romanian audience and we hope that other artists and writers
interested in building a cultural bridge will follow their example.

The development of Steampunk photography has been moved forward by two talented artists, RA Friedman
from Philadelphia, PA and Nicu Ilfoveanu from Bucharest, Romania. Both of them are using outdated
photographic materials and sophisticated techniques to produce rich and enigmatic images. Mr. Friedman is
also the author of “On Becoming Unmanageable” an article about the condition of the artist in America.

Nimrods is the name of a unique theatre production company from New York City. The actor Joe Rosato
founded it. Like many other unaware Steam Punks, he does not perceive himself as a Steampunk artist, and
our interview is a moment of rediscovery, not only for him, but for many of us as well.

The same thing is true of Pierre Matter, a French mathematician who has become a very successful sculptor.
He was intrigued by the fact that he is considered a Steampunk artist. A look at his breathtaking creations
will give you the key to many answers regarding the philosophy and the artistic expressions used in
Steampunk.

Steampunk is more that just working with the mechanical symbols of the Victorian era. It also is an effort to
advance technology while still preserving traditional values. A perfect example is Uri Hofi, an Israeli creator
who is considered by many to be a phenomenon in the craft of traditional and modern blacksmithing.

In his keynote address to the California Steampunk Convention 2008, Mr. Jake von Slatt said, "If you want
something done right, do it yourself." It is what we fully understood here at Egophobia, and it paid off. This
special edition brings along with articles written by established steampunk figures or critics as Mr. Jake von
Slatt, G.D Falksen, Duncan Lawie or Vicente Gutierrez, articles and interviews with people who several
months ago never thought that steampunk would reach the shores of Romania.

It is the case of the flamboyant Dr ASI, (Dr. Adrian-Silvan Ionescu) an eccentric presence in the past 35 years
on the streets of Bucharest, who is also an experienced scholar and world wide expert in the 19th century
Romanian history, and a true aficionado of the spirit defined by the Steampunk movement. He graciously
offered me an interview in Chicago while traveling as a guest and lecturer of the International Museum of
Photography and Film from Rochester, New York, and also sent us in exclusivity a wonderful and rare
research paper about the fashion in the Romanian Lands between 1711-1950.

For those who may think that I am not „ steampunk enough” in the way in which I conduct this exploration, I
want to tell that unveiling steampunk is first of all a process of offering information about crafts and the 19-
th century, a real platform on which people can identify with the phenomenon:

„ I find myself embracing Steampunk to my bosom, and ardently hope that it will coalesce into a real
movement with a coherent philosophy and lasting effect. I think we need the notions of craftsmanship,
pride in one's work, the desire to sail off the edge of the world a'la Monty Python's pirate ship, the sense of
adventure and play -- anything to counteract the deadening corporate ideology, the plastic pre-packaged
news, the meaningless grayness spread by the truly insane notion that our emotions, our lives, our very
world can be expanded by the movement of little green pieces of paper...”

This incredible statement belongs to one of my guests, Arnon Kartmazov, who is a blacksmith from Portland,
Oregon, and does not work directly with steam like Sean Orlando, nor dresses in steampunk style, like Dr
ASI, but identifies himself with the movement through a vision for a life liberated by corporate greed and
dependency to “locked in a box” technology. To me, his urge to save and nurture the traditional
craftsmanship reflects a pure and healthy steampunk attitude. Steampunk is also about recycling resources,
respect for our nature and environment, about the lost sense of respect for the past.

In a highly emotional interview, New York artist Eric Lindveit recounts childhood memories of his father
and grandfather who, with a high regard towards tools and restorative spirit, made things with their own
hands because „it just made sense” to do it so. Eric lives in a world, which erased merciless entire blocks of
beautiful 19th century architecture and hundred years old trees, to replace them with insipid cubicles
designed for the generic man of the future. His breathtaking monumental sculptures with bark simulacra
done from recycled paper reflect the symbolic reaction of a diseased and amputated environment.

British artist Stephen Rothwell came to my attention through a note written in Folderol, one of my favorite
steampunk media websites. Like Eric Lindveit, he is fascinated by old books and ephemera and is
reconstructing fragments of an imagined Victorian time through collage, photographic materials and mixed
media. Since he is working directly with automatons, mutants and Victorian settings, his work has the
unmistakable flavor of the steampunk art. Interestingly enough, as in our interview with Pierre Materr, he
does not perceive himself as a steampunk artist. The interview was conducted by Alina Roşu, a young and
talented student in foreign languages and literature from the University of Bucharest, who makes with us her
debut as a writer and also translator of an interview done by Vicente Gutierrez with Japanese steampunk
watchmaker Haruo Suekichi. Ruxandra Meriluca Georgescu, the youngest collaborator of this edition,
translated the French version of Alina Roşu’s interview with Stephen Rothwell. Ruxee, graduated in 2008
the English Department of Political Sciences at the University of Bucharest.

A great presence in this issue is Mr. Florin Pitea, a highly successful science fiction writer from Romania,
who wrote critical articles about steampunk and cyberpunk in Academic and who's blog Ţesătorul, is a great
resource about steampunk for the Romanian audience. Mr. Pitea wrote Legiune, the first steampunk novel
in the Romanian literary space.

I wish to thank Mr. Jake von Slatt, Mr. Duncan Lawie and Mr.Vicente Gutierrez for their kind permission to
let us translate their articles. Special thanks to Mr. G.D Falksen, who wrote an article in exclusivity for
Egophobia and the Romanian audience, and also to the editors of PingMag and Strange Horizons who kindly
gave us permission to republish and translate articles from their magazines. We hope that in the future,
more and more writers, editors, artists and photographers will send us articles, reviews or materials to be
translated and reprinted in our pages.

As always, I do a short presentation of the people I am working with, and today I will bring to your attention
Cristina Anghel from Dijon, France who is the author of a review about the movie „La Cité des enfants
perdus”. Cristina is highly proficient in English and French, is currently working on her master thesis in
Communication and Media Studies at the Université de Bourgogne, France and is Egotrans coordinator of
the French translations for Egophobia. She has a genuine interest in steampunk and is also artistic director
of a very young independent theater company named Compagnie des Faux-Fuyants where she directed an
adaptation of Bram Stoker's Dracula and a radio adaptation of the first part of George Orwell's Down and
Out in Paris and in London.

This edition is marking also the debut of Oana Romanescu who did the French translation of Mr. Jake von
Slatt’s article, and also the debut of Flavia Darva and Alina-Olimpia Miron. Flavia Darva graduated in
English Journalism with Universitatea de Vest from the city of Timisoara, Romania, and attends a master in
English Contemporary Literary Text Translations with the University of Bucharest. She wrote a short and
informative essay about Charles Babbage and did the techno editing in the Romanian language of Mr. Jake
von Slatt keynote address. Alina-Olimpia Miron started a very challenging project with the translation of
Robert Henry Thurston’s History of the Steam Engine. This is probably the most ambitious project
published in this edition, being the first translation in the Romanian language of such an important work.
She also did the French translation of Mr. G.D Falksen's article about steampunk fashion.

Mr. Duncan Lawie’s article about the recently published steampunk anthologies was translated by Irina
Stănescu with whom I worked in the past at the interview with the Romanian photographer Nicu Ilfoveanu.
Irina Stănescu, graduated The Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literature at the University of Bucharest
and is currently attending the Law School at the “Dimitrie Cantemir” University of Bucharest. Her hard
working and diligent translation style is born for critical reviews. A very difficult translation in Romanian
was my interview with Eric Lindveit. To my surprise, Ioana Baciu, a graduate in philosophy with the
University of Iaşi, Romania, overcame all the difficulties and did an excellent job. With Ioana I worked also
at one of the most exciting interviews published so far by Egophobia, the interview with Sean Orlando, the
author of the Steampunk Tree House.

Most of the people who worked with me at this edition are very young. Between them, you will notice the
name of Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia who graduated The Faculty for American Studies and International
Relations at the Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj, Romania, and is currently a PhD candidate in English and
American Literature at the same university. She is an overachiever, a real phenom who translated several
interviews, wrote a beautiful article about Dandyism and is managing Egotrans, a growing group of over 30
translators dedicated to bring Steampunk to the attention of the Romanian public. Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia
is without doubts the steam engine of this group. Her power to focus is remarkable and without her
friendship, and unconditional support, my job would have been impossible.

Love, Peace and Happiness in 2009!


The California Steampunk Convention 2008 - Keynote
By Jake von Slatt

Published with Mr. Jake von Slatt’s permission.

cliquez pour la version française

click pentru versiunea română

[The Wimshurst Machine © 2008 Jake von Slatt]

Hi Everyone! I'm in Seattle now hang'n with rockstars and anarchists for a couple of days of
decompression post Steampowered Con in San Jose. Steampowered turned out to be a really great event
with lots of fascinating people of an even broader spectrum then the already broad spectrum I
expected. My flight was delayed and as a result I was exhausted and a bit shakey when I arrived to give
my keynote with only minutes to spare. The room was at capacity and the crowd quickly made me feel at
home. I gave my prepared speech and then unveiled the Wimshurst Machine which I built for an article
that will appear in Make Magazine early next year. Then I brought Jeff VanderMeer up and we announced
the fact that on Monday we signed with Artisan Books to write a book on Steampunk! The book will be
highly visual and project oriented and will draw from and highlight all corners of the community. I'm
really excited about this project and really, really happy to be working with Jeff who is a consummate
professional and really nice guy. It was also kind of neat that we shared the announcement, and in fact
our first meeting in the flesh, with a thousand or so attendees at the Con!

The following is the complete text of my keynote - it's un-copyedited or proofed so please ignore the
typos!You should also have a look at Alex Soojung-Kim Pang's Reflection on Tinkering from which I
borrowed liberally for the speech as it was increably relevant to the ideas I wanted to convey that night.
Steampunk Keynote
What sort of future were you promised? When I was young they told me I'd have robotic servants to tend to
my every need, cars that would drive themselves while I read the newspaper and vacations in orbiting space
hotels. When I was a bit older they promised me ecologically friendly communities where we would all live
together in geodesic domes in our white jump suits.

But by the time I had reached High School they had stopped promising the future. We were all sure that we
would grow up into a post-apocalyptic tomorrow where we would be roaming a desert landscape in our jury-
rigged vehicles and punk rock haircuts in search of the next gallon of gasoline.

When things started to look up again our future remained dark, we'd be human flash drives with data jacked
into our skulls and our destinies determined by mysterious and shadowy entities that may or may not be
human, or even ”alive”.

Today, the only future we are promised is the one in development in the corporate R&D labs of the world.
We are shown glimpses of the next generation of cell phones, laptops, or MP3 players. Magazines that use to
attempt to show us how we would be living in 50 or a 100 years now only speculate over the new surround
sound standard for your home theater or whether next year's luxury sedan will have Bluetooth as standard
equipment.

What do you do when you are promised no future beyond the next Steve Jobs keynote address or summer
blockbuster movie? What do you do when your present consists of going to work, paying the bills, and trying
to make ends meet? Our society would have you put your head down, work a little longer, try a little harder,
and maybe order that 50-inch wide screen TV from Amazon.com.

"If you want something done right, do it yourself." Haven't heard that much lately have you? Except perhaps
from people who want to sell you home improvement supplies. But everything else is labeled "no user
serviceable parts inside" including your future.

Is it any wonder, then, that some of us have decided to take a step sideways? A step out of the corporate time
stream and into one we have made for ourselves? A step into a world of adventure and romance where we
each seek out our own futures on our own terms without having to wait for it to go on sale? A step sideways
into a past that never was and a future that still could be.

Good evening ladies and gentlemen, my name is Jake von Slatt and I simply cannot express how happy it
makes me to be with you here tonight.

I'm going to start off by talking a little about what I do and why I do it and where I think Steampunk is
headed. Then we'll get the the unveiling.

"Maker" describes what I do and "Steampunk" describes the style in which I most commonly work. Thus
calling me a Steampunk Maker is roughly equivalent to calling someone a "Jazz" "musician."

Being a Maker is sort of like being an artist, but I have no training in the arts. It's also sort of like being a
craftsman, but I don't make things for sale - though Makers other do. Tinkerer is also a good colloquial
description of what I am and what I do. I make things for the shear joy of creation. I also really enjoy sharing
the things I make and the tools and techniques I use with other people.
Recently the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, an independent policy and research
center, held a conference called

"Tinkering as a Mode of Knowledge: Production in the Digital Age." One of the attendees, Alex Soojung-Kim
Pang - a research director at the Institute for the Future - talked about the conference in his blog.

He wrote:

What is Tinkering? You can define tinkering in part in contrast to other activities. Mitch Resnick, for
example, talks about how traditional technology-related planning is top-down, linear, structured, abstract,
and rules-based, while tinkering is bottom-up, iterative, experimental, concrete, and object-oriented.

Anne Balsamo and Perry Hoberman have looked at a wide variety of tinkering activities, ranging from circuit
bending to paper prototyping to open source to blogging. They argue that these varied activities are unified
by a common set of principles or practices. (The following are just highlights.)

Tinkerers improvise, iterate, and improve constantly.

Tinkerers use materials at hand, combining heterogeneous parts and components (e.g., raw and finished
materials, handmade and industrial objects, customized and personalized consumer products) in ways that
push beyond the boundaries of their original contexts. As a result, tinkered objects tend to be collages,
appropriations, and montages. Tinkering is bricolage.

Tinkerers are also social animals. Their success depends in part on being able to tap into porous and ad-hoc
communities. For most of what they do the manual is useless; other tinkerers are the only ones who are
likely to have the information you need.

Tinkering isn't so much a specific set of technical skills: there tends to be a pretty instrumental view of
knowledge. You pick up just enough knowledge about electronics, textiles, metals, programming, or paper-
folding to figure out how to do what you want. It certainly respects skill, but skills are a means, not an end:
mastery isn't the point, as it is for professionals. Competence and completion are.

How cool is that, eh? Academics are studying tinkering and whats more, they totally get it.

Alex goes to say some more things about Tinkering that I feel are eerily applicable to Steampunk - and here
I've taken some of the things he said slightly out of context to emphasize that point and I've also trimmed
some of his citations:

He wrote:

One of the things I talked with several people . . . about was how historically specific tinkering is. The deeper
question is, is this just a flash in the pan, a trendy name without any substance underneath? The answer we
came up with is that this is like a musical style, both the product of specific historical forces, and an
expression of something deeper and more fundamental.

The counterculture. Around here, countercultural attitudes towards technology . . . are still very strong,
and the assumption that technologies should be used by people for personal empowerment. Tinkering bears
a family resemblance to the activities embodied in the Whole Earth Catalog.

The EULA rebellion. The fact that you're forbidden from opening a box, that some software companies
insist that you're just renting their products, and that hardware makers intentionally cripple their devices, is
a challenge to hackers and tinkerers. Tinkering is defined in part in terms of a resistance to consumer culture
and the restrictive policies of corporations.
Users as Innovators. The fundamental assumption that users can do cool, worthwhile, inspiring,
innovative things is a huge driver. Tinkering is partly an answer to the traditional assumption that people
who buy things are "consumers"-- passive, thoughtless, and reactive, people whose needs are not only served
by companies, but are defined by them as well. When you tinker, you don't just take control of your stuff; you
begin to take control of yourself.

Open source. Pretty obvious. This is an ideological inspiration, and a social one: open source software
development is a highly collective process that has created some interesting mechanisms for incorporating
individual work into a larger system, while still providing credit and social capital for developers.

The shift from means to meaning. This is a term that my Innovation Lab friends came up with a few
years ago. Tinkering is a way of investing new meanings in things, or creating objects that mean something:
by putting yourself into a device, or customizing it to better suit your needs, you're making that thing more
meaningful.

From manual labor to manual leisure. Finally, I wouldn't discount the fact that you can see breaking
open devices as a leisure activity, rather than something you do out of economic necessity, as influencing the
movement. Two hundred years ago, tinkering as a social activity-- as something that you did as an act of
resistance, curiosity, participation in a social movement, expression of a desire to invest things with
meaning-- just didn't exist: it's what you did with stuff in order to survive the winter. Even fifty years ago,
there was an assumption that "working with your hands" defined you as lower class: "My son won't work
with his hands" was an aspiration declaration. Today, though, when many of us work in offices or stores, and
lift things or run for leisure, manual labor can become a form of entertainment.

**

Wow, this really echoes some of the things I've been thinking about in the last couple of months for a new
project I'll talk about in a little bit.

I've long felt that making is therapy. Knowing how to create some of the things you rely on in daily life
reduces the mystery, and thus the fear, of technology in general. And with each new thing you make, each
idea you absorb, each tool you learn how to use you gain power. By understanding how things work you also
learn to think critically about technology in the wider world. You’ll be able to tell when our leaders or
candidates for office understand the technology policy they are backing or are just repeating the party line.

Furthermore, the tools and techniques with roots in the 19th Century are often more appropriate for the
individual craftsperson or small collective who does not have the resources to make huge capital investments
in equipment and facilities.

So just what are we laying the ground work for here?

From a DIY technology perspective, Steampunk is a romanticized cousin to the Maker movement—and the
Maker movement is the hardware-based offspring of the hugely successful and important Open Source
software revolution.

The advent of cheap personal computers spawned a society of programmers and hackers who write
computer programs for their own use and distribute the source code, the program's core instructions, for
free to anyone that's interested. Over time, these hackers have coalesced into groups and organizations that
are capable of rivaling the skill and ability of huge corporations when it comes to the production of computer
programs and particularly computer operating systems.

Furthermore, the Open Source movement seeks to protect the free and open nature of what they have
wrought with tools like the GNU Public License that require subsequent users and modifiers of their work to
make those modifications freely available to everyone under the same terms. Today you can, and many do,
run even the largest businesses on what is essentially free software.
What a nightmare for software and operating system companies that their chief competition comes from
groups of passionate hackers who produce their programs for the sheer joy of Making and then distribute
them for free!

Over the next couple of decades we will see swift advances in rapid prototyping and desktop fabrication.
Already there are so-called 3D printers that can produce basic housewares such as hair combs and salt
shakers. In the very near future these machines will be able to produce all manner of things rapidly, cheaply,
and on demand.

Self-manufacturing really isn’t too far away. We'll have 3D printers or "fabricators" in our homes that can
"print" objects just as we have 2D printers attached to our computers now.

The advent of personal computers has opened up digital and machine assisted graphics design to a wide
community of artists, desktop manufacturing will open up product design to hobbyists and enthusiasts that
will design for fun rather then profit.

What a nightmare for manufacturers that their chief competition might come from Makers who produce
designs that anyone can manufacture on demand. Makers that would produce those designs for the shear joy
of creation and would give them away for free.

Steampunk preserves the notion that we can do it ourselves, that we can not only assemble kits and flat
packs from IKEA but that we can design things ourselves.

Just as cheap personal computers spawned the revolution that is Open Source software, these fabricators
will be the platform for the next Industrial Revolution - and this time it's personal.

Finally, where Steampunk sub-culture headed?

Unlike past, and I'm going to use the word "sub-culture" just as a convenience, unlike past sub-culture
Steampunk seems to have formed from the merger of multiple interests that contain within them a common
thread – and that is some attachment or passion for history, for understanding the origins of technology, and
perhaps a desire for the perceived romance of a bygone era.

How else do you explain a sub-culture that brings together people of such divergent experience? Why in the
very room I'll bet we have writers, costumers, electronic hobbyists, live steam enthusiasts, corset makers,
artists, blacksmiths, scrap bookers, photographers, musicians, and people who engage in every other creative
endeavor you can imagine!

And Steampunk continues to attract more people. Recent coverage in the New York Times, Newsweek, and
on MTV have introduced new people to our little hobby. Some of you may be here tonight because you
spotted one of these stories and were entranced. Welcome!

But as Steampunk expands it will exhibit all of the characteristic of past movements and sub-cultures. Sub-
cultures do have a natural life cycle.

Some of you will likely find this irritating but it is natural, to be expected, and best ignored. There is no way
that someone else can ruin the thing that you are passionate about by liking it too!

But as this occurs, do keep in mind the legacy that Steampunk will leave in main-stream culture. Will
Steampunk be like Goth, a largely artistic and non-political sub-culture? or will it more closely resemble
Punk rock culture with it's desire for radical change?

For my part, I would like to see a Steampunk sub-culture that was more like the cultural movements of the
late nineteen sixties and early seventies. A movement based on humanistic values and a desire to inject some
excitement, romance and peace into our busy lives as well as a recognition that our actions have a great
impact on the global environment.

We don our top hats and goggles to show the world we're different. Fashion is often the flag of a sub-culture
and the most visual aspect of Steampunk is certainly its fashion. But years from now, when all is said and
done and Steampunk is historical footnote, I hope that I will look back and feel that the Steampunk
somehow made a difference too.

***
Charles Babbage and the Difference Engine
An Alternative History

by Florin Pitea

[The Difference Engine published by Bantam Books]

In 1990, two American authors who up to that time had been remarked for novels where they extrapolated
contemporary trends and technologies and built possible near futures published a book entitled The
Difference Engine, translated by Nemira Publishing House under the title Machina diferenţială. The two
authors, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, surprised the reading public with the fact that they explored the
opposite direction, imagining an alternative past rather than a possible future.

The novel under discussion explores facets of a Victorian world not as it was, but as it might have been if the
mathematician Charles Babbage had completed his projects to build a mechanical computer, the so-called
Analytical Engine. In fact, between 1820-1822 Babbage built a calculating machine with which he generated
logarithmic tables for astronomy and navigation, then designed a Difference Engine with punched cards.
Unfortunately, before achieving this project, Babbage imagined a much more powerful computing device,
the Analytical Engine, which he never completed because, before finishing a prototype he would design new
methods for its extension improvement. The project was also extremely difficult because Babbage was forced
by the time’s technology to use mechanical means. Later on, halfway through the twentieth century,
mathematicians such as Alan Turing used Babbage’s plans and designs in order to build the first computers
with the help of the new electric and electronic technologies.

In Gibson and Sterling’s novel, however, under Ada Byron’s influence, Charles Babbage has built the
Difference Engine, and the information revolution has arrived a century earlier. In an interview, Bruce
Sterling has motivated the choice, saying that the Victorian age is a laboratory model for the twentieth century,
since on a historical scale one can see the social shocks of a technological revolution. Therefore, in order to
emphasize the dramatic changes of contemporary society triggered by information and telecommunication
technologies, Gibson and Sterling placed these technologies in an imaginary nineteenth century. The result is
a very special alternative history.

In order to write this book, the two authors used an impressive range of historical, literary and technological
detail. The historical context is the year 1855, in a period of relative internal stability immediately after the
Crimean War. This stability was based on a series of political and social reforms, resulting from a wish to avoid
conflicts such as those in the so-called Time of Troubles.

As a possible result of these social conflicts in the 1830s, Gibson and Sterling imagined a revolution triggered
by a Radical Party, led by Lord George Gordon Byron, based on Babbage’s mechanical calculator and on the
concept of meritocracy. In this alternative Victorian age, access to the House of Lords is granted on the basis of
scientific merit, and it is reserved to people such as the biologists Charles Darwin and Thomas Henry Huxley
or the mathematician Ada Byron.

The stability of Prime Minister Byron’s regime, however, relies not on social reforms as much as on a vast
oppressive system oriented towards population surveillance, files of data on citizens in the Police computers,
and, in the case of dissidents such as the atheist Percy Bysshe Shelley, secret assassination and destruction of
the corpses. When such oppressive methods get to be used by political adventurers for personal profit, their
initiator, already in the grip of doubt and guilt, finds himself in danger and takes desperate measures.

As a primary literary source, the American authors used Sybil or The Two Nations(1845) by Benjamin
Disraeli. Characters from the aforementioned novel, such as Sybil Gerard, Charles Egremont and Mick Radley,
also appear in The Difference Engine, except this time, by a method that Jorge Luis Borges called „partial
magic”, these characters as just as real as the „ghostwriter” Benjamin Disraeli. Their destinies intersect those
of diplomatic personalities, such as Laurence Oliphant, or artistic ones, such as John Keats.

Another literary source is The French Lieutenant’s Woman(1967) by John Fowles. The Difference Engine is
closely related with this novel in point of narrative technique, as the plot and characters represent a pretext for
the profusion of quotations and allusions on each page. If Fowles’s novel brought a liberated female character,
typical for the twentieth century, into a nineteenth-century context, Gibson and Sterling transferred into the
same context a whole information revolution, accompanied by plausible social consequences. As an
acknowledgement of the influence exerted by the British author, one of the iterations in The Difference
Engine, „Seven Curses”, features two alternative endings.

Last, but not least, William Gibson and Bruce Sterling’s novel shows the influence of the USA (1930-1936)
trilogy by John Dos Passos. The Difference Engine deals not with a protagonist, but with several characters
who intersect one another repeatedly, and at the same time the book creates the impression of a cyclic
social evolution from chaos to order and then back to chaos along several decades. In order to bring
homage to this literary influence, the novel ends with a section entitled "Modus" that puts together, in Joh
Dos Passos’ characteristic style, fragments of articles, memoirs, poems, letters, theatre posters. Although
apparently chaotic, the fragments contain information which completes this imaginary world’s mosaic,
rounding off each character’s destiny.

As regards technology, Gibson and Sterling reverted a literary method that they had used frequently in
previous novels. In the cyberpunk literary genre which they made famous, technologies that in actual reality
are either a design or a prototype are described as ubiquitous and already obsolete in a possible near future.
In the case of The Difference Engine, the two authors performed a minute research on nineteenth-century
and early-twentieth-century artifacts and technologies and described them as last-minute novelties. Good
examples in this respect could be the puched cards for mechanical computers, the bicycle, or the streamlined
motor vehicle.

Along the same line, Gibson and Sterling imagined mechanical equivalents of contemporary technologies,
amongst which the most frequent to occur is "kinotropy", an imaginary ancestor of computer animation. The
combined impact of these technologies is enormous. The oppressive regime instituted by Lord Byron’s
Radical Party is made possible by the huge Difference Engines of the Police. The American states are kept in
a permanent division thanks to the smuggled British repetition rifles. John Keats, after many decades of
kinotropy, regards with mild contempt the fact that he used to "versify" as a young man. And a program
conceived by Ada Byron leads to the emergence of the first artificial intelligence.

Up to this point, the Difference Engine may have seemed a vast mosaic of elements that do not fit too well
with one another and do not form a seamless whole. On the first reading, the novel creates exactly this
impression of fragmentariness, rather than unity. The unifying factor exists, except that, as the plot unfolds,
this factor is present at an almost subliminal level and becomes manifest only on the last pages.

The Difference Engine follows the emergence of the first artificial intelligence, and it is this non-human
entity who, by using ancient information preserved in a fragmentary form, seeks to put together the story of
its own origin. The human characters appear only insofar as their existence was linked to the creation,
transportation and running of the initiating program. In this respect, the novel runs against the readers’
horizon of expectation. The Difference Engine is an alternative history in more ways than one. It is not only
another social, cultural, political and technological history, different from the real one but at the same time
eerily similar in places. It is another history also because it represents the story of an artificial intelligent
entity, and the history’s strangeness reflects this non-human presence extremely suggestively.

Bibliography:

1) Jorge Luis Borges, “Partial Magic in Don Quijote”, Other Investigations, in Opere 3, translation by
Cristina Hăulică, Univers, Bucharest, 2000;

2) Benjamin Disraeli, Sybil or The Two Nations, Wordsworth Classics, London, 1996;

3) John Dos Passos, USA, The 42nd Parallel, Houghton Mifflin Company, Boston, 1963;

4) John Fowles, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, Jonathan Cape Ltd., London, 1969;

5) William Gibson & Bruce Sterling, The Difference Engine, Vista Books, London, 1996.

6) Thomas Myer, "SF Site at LoneStarCon 2", 29 august 1997, http://www.sfsite.com/09a/bru16.htm,


30.01.2110 (top)
American Steampunk, Bicycles and Activism
An interview with American Steam Punk activist Johnny Payphone.

by Adrian Ioniţă

click pentru versiunea română

[Johnny Payphone and the Pennyfakething ©2008 Johnny Payphone]

Two guys are sneaking in the back alley of my building. Lola Chicago and Johnny Payphone. They found
out that I have the largest steam boiler in Chicago, and are planning to dig a hole in the wall. I watch and
hear them through my miniature version of Paul St George's Telectroscope and wonder how in the world
can they hire in La Villita a Bagger 288 without being noticed

Lola, who works as a carpenter by day, is a cross-dresser and punk cabaret singer by night. She has a
6000 square ft. studio around the corner of my place, filled with the most incredible stuff on earth.

Johnny is the quintesence of a steam punk activist, member of the Chicago Rat Patrol, cultural ambasador
to Ghana through Sister Cities International, and Minister of Public Works for New Zealand’s regional of
the Burning Man. Or something like that.

Before they’ll knock down the wall, I’ll better let them inside, sacrifice some of my illegal Cuban cigars,
open a bottle of 16 year old smoky Lagavulin Scotch whisky, chew some fresh lovage, and talk about Steam
Punk. Lola, who will be featured in our next number at Egophobia took the photos, while Johnny
introduced himself naturally, without any suggestions:
Johnny Payphone: My name is Johnny Payphone, that’s my assumed name, or professional name. I think
that is important to understand that I am a product of a very humble family, farmers on both sides, a family
with a deep appreciation for the past and simplicity in life. As a child, I was not given as many toys or
material possessions as other children, instead my parents invested in experiences for me, making sure I
went to camp and the great outdoors and that sort of things, for example, they will give me a pair of stilts
before they will give me some little toy car which will break over the time, because they felt that the physical
and the symbol are more important in your life than possessions.

Adrian Ioniţă: A philosophy of life so challenging today when it seems that we live in a different world.
How do you feel affected by change?

Johnny Payphone: In the 30 years that I have grown up, the world has become a horribly consumerist
place, or at least, America has, so everything I do is a sort of backlash against that. I try to remind people
that the important things in our life are our friends, good food, the time we spend with people we love,
activities that we enjoy creating things with our hands, and not at all, what the American people tend to
desire, which is a flashy car, the latest large screen television, various electronic devices, that I feel, only
served to separate us from our life., on a cell phone or texting on a thing, or watching a television show about
some guys who were making motorcycles, when they themselves could be on there, making and riding them.
People were lured from the immediacy of their real life.

Adrian Ioniţă: How do you reconcile these conflicting feelings of living in a highly consumerist society and
the escapist desire to find a refuge in the past?

Johnny Payphone: It appears on the surface that I am a technophobe, that I don’t like the technology at
all, but that’s not it, in fact many steam punks are obsessed with technology, is just that we wish to return to
a time when everything was user serviceable and immediately available to understanding by the common
person. The reason steam punk has settled on this sort of 1890 timeframe, is because it was the last period in
human history when a high school graduate could be expected to grasp the fundamental principles behind all
of human knowledge, and so, if you got a radio or a tractor or a phonograph, you would be able to
understand it inside and out, look at the pieces and know how they work, and also be able to repair it, if
necessary.

Adrian Ioniţă: I always wondered, why this fixation with the Victorian era?

Johnny Payphone: You can kind of look at it in terms of the class structure of the Victorian age, where you
had a peasant class and a craftsman class and you had an upper class, and the upper class consumed the
product of the craftsmen. In the Steam Punk world were a lot of people obsessed with making very shinny,
very pretty covers for their computers or flat screen televisions, but, within that scene, were also a lot of
people interested in reviving technology, not letting it die, getting steam power machines running, and
running new art, also using old photographic techniques that are in danger of dying out. There is also
another element to it - just returning to a time, when people had manners - when people dressed up to go
out, when they took some care to their appearance.

Adrian Ioniţă: You chose today an industrial blue working uniform ...

Johnny Payphone: I came prepared for the boiler room... No, it is not to say that you shouldn’t have the
freedom to look or appear however you want, I myself have many tattoos and piercing that cause me to be
some of a reject for modern society, but I will still say “how do you do” to someone who is passing me on the
street, and they may look at me as a toughie and not even acknowledge me or say hello, and so, that’s the sort
of thing. There used to be a human connection between people. Part of it was that, if you lived in a
neighborhood or a town small enough, you had to know someone else, and this sort of worked as a social
reinforcement and control on crimes that we have today with psychopaths, child molesters and people who
rub old ladies; that happened in the old days as well, but now is much easier to get away with not knowing
your neighbors and not knowing what are they up to, and than, not knowing what are you up to, and that
sort of things. Unfortunately, I think, what happens, as a result of this disconnection from our lives that
technology brings us, is, allows people to become more and more lonely, and the way you generate a killer or
a psychopath, is to deny them human compassion. When someone shows signs of mental trouble, they
should have compassion extended to them and we should help that person. What happens in our society
now, they continue to receive benefits from the government and never leave their apartment, none in their
own world, that’s when the mental illness gets worse.

[Johnny Payphone ©2008 Adrian Ioniţă]

Adrian Ioniţă: Please tell me something about your objects.

Johnny Payphone: I tell you, I am a guy who has a hard time creating art that is not functional. I looked
into nomadic societies like “American Indians Move’ who never had a permanent home base. They could not
afford to carry around useless objects, so they worked art in everything they did. That’s another thing that
the craftsman of the Victorian era did, whereas, the objects that come to us today from overseas, are
anonymous, and we have no connection what so ever to the person who made them. In the old days you may
had only one chair but it was a very nice chair, and you knew who made that chair and that person’s
grandfather also made chairs, and that sort of things. We had a connection to our lives. My grandfather was
a farmer but he fixed all his machineries and had a welding shop. It is were I learned to weld. Lately I have
worked with Butler Street Foundry from Bridgeport.

Adrian Ioniţă: How do you blend your personality in the fabric of the object?

Johnny Payphone: Everything I make is functional in some way, even if the result is a parody and is quite
nonfunctional by what it is. In a sense, I can take functional objects and make them less functional but I
have a very hard time expressing myself in a purely artistic way. I always want to make on a blacksmith’s
forge, a very nice fork or spoon or something that I can give someone that may be able to use it. Regarding
the sort of art that is just a shapeless hunk of metal in a gallery, I believe that a lot of the value of that kind of
art is based on the perception of the art community. At the end of the day, something I make may not have
much of an artistic value, but it still has its use, so, I make bicycles, contraptions, trinkets and things for
everyday life.

Adrian Ioniţă: How important is the use of materials in Steampunk?

Johnny Payphone: Steam Punk is not limited by material or dimension at all. I know many people who
make clothing, which is very creative. Small is easy to do in your basement hobby shop. Large takes money,
but than, we have examples as the Neverwas Haul, which is a moving Victorian mansion on wheels, or the
world’s largest scrap steel sculpture, the FOREVERTRON a tremendous contraption designed by Dr
Evermore to propel a copper egg into the ether. Kinetic Steam Works is a group of artists that runs actual
steam traction engines to power kinetic art such as a Merry- Go–Round, or an impressive Steam Punk Tree
House, presented the last year at the Burning Man event in Black Rock City, California...

Adrian Ioniţă: Are you working with any galleries or museums?

Johnny Payphone: I put some of my machines in the galleries before, but we have this term of Outsider
Art, or Folk Art, which is sort of an insult because it implies that if you are not educated in an artistic
institution or, you are not shown in galleries, than you are not really an artist, you are just a sort of
whimsical, foxy, exocentric, who happens to create art. The media these days, the New York Times for
example, is very eager to focus on a product that steam punks may produce, such as a modification for your
computer that allows it to look more old fashion, but the true expression is in your lifestyle, you make
choices in your life to, I will say, enrich it, by taking the best parts of a period of time and also consumptively
editing out the worst parts.

Adrian Ioniţă: I’d like to hear more from you, about Steam Punk and lifestyle.

Johnny Payphone: I would say that I was a steam punk before I even heard about that term.
For me Steam Punk is very much an expression of my lifestyle. There are examples of people from now, like
Dr. ASI, (Dr. Adrian Silvan Ionescu from Romania) extending back into the eighteen hundreds, who just sort
of said, this is the time I was meant to be born, and this is how I will behave. And then is Dr. Evermore in
Wisconsin, who is a scrap artist, who always made things and sign 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.

Adrian Ioniţă: Again, Johnny, about your lifestyle...

Johnny Payphone: I don’t watch television, I don’t own a television. I don’t think that it is a particularly
rewarding or acceptable way to pass your time. You are given how many years on this Earth as a human
being, and you’re going to spend it watching trash television? This leaves us with challenges to overcome. I
am living the life of a nomad working out festivals around the world. I just came back from Australia,
everything I have, has to be functional and my possessions are pared down to a very small number of trunks.
I travel by train rather then flying. I feel that it is such more a dignifying way to travel. There are
compromises we have to make, I use a bicycle to get around, and I don’t use an automobile. I never owned an
automobile in my life, but I will consider a big old truck that I could live in, or something like a utility truck
or motorcycle with good mileage or something that may ran on grease. A friend of mine in San Francisco,
Chicken John, has converted his truck to run on coffee grounds using a gasifier. He noticed that the coffee
shop throw out a barrel of used coffee grounds everyday and he looked up stories of world time farmers
converting their trucks over the gasifiers, basically burning corn shocks, stocks of weed or whatever. This is
very simple to do, all you need to do, you have a device that gets it to a high enough temperature and this
produces a flammable gas that you can stick directly into your carburetor; it does not require to modify your
engine. For me it is a statement about what’s going on in this world and how we got this global conspiracy to
keep us addicted to oil, and we continuously kill people to maintain that. Its horrible, energy falls free from
the sky.

Adrian Ioniţă: Global conspiracy?

Johnny Payphone: I trace this all back to the period of eighteen nineties and the beginnings of the global
colonial superstructures, were companies like Standard Oil or Proctor &Gamble conspired to develop what
we call Banana Republics in the Third World, subject those people in order to extract their natural resources
and set up a consumer society in United States. As a result, we used to have trees and parks and we will go to
square dances, have bonfires and now we have endless miles of shopping centers, we cut down our trees, we
replaced them with parking lots and gun stores, liquor store, gun store, liquor store. Is our life that much
better? Is the human suffering any less or more? I would say that I see everyday, poverty, illiteracy and
malnutrition in our own cities and we are supposed to be the greatest country on Earth, the leader of the
Free World and have the best quality of life in the world. Is not true at all. Shame on America for not taking
care of itself, for spending so much money to get involved in other people’s conflicts, when we haven’t even
taking care of our own. This is why, when that bridge fell down in Minneapolis last year, we were all so
shocked, because we have bridges falling down, while we are spending unprecedented amounts of money in
wars for oil on the other side of the world.
It is terrifying, you can’t even trust the street anymore.

[Johnny Payphone ©2008 Lola Chicago]

Adrian Ioniţă: Is anybody in particular who influenced your steam punk vision?

Johnny Payphone: My grandparents had a tremendous influence on me, other craftsman and
metalworkers who were creating the things that they had in their dream world, like Dr. Evermore or Jean
Tingley, who makes kinetic sculptures or contraptions that destroy themselves at the end. I like that kind of
irreverence in art, were you have something that is art, but renders itself useless and invaluable at the end of
the show.

Adrian Ioniţă: What about Hollywood?

Johnny Payphone: Well, Hollywood picked up on some trends and popularized it among younger kids.
Steam Punk movies in Hollywood who are expressing retro-futurism are notoriously bad, like “Wild, Wild
West’ (1999) for example. “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang “(1968) is pretty good. The Jules Verne Victorian era
science fiction influenced a lot of us and Disney, certainly put that into pictures, but I think that people tend
to reject popular media whenthey have this kind of lifestyle.

Adrian Ioniţă: You are an active member of the Rat Patrol Organization from Chicago.
Johnny Payphone: I do kids programs in the ghetto with poor black kids, and we go bicycles. These are
children without positive male role models in their life. We teach them to fix bicycles, but what we really are
teaching them is to resolve conflicts as a man, which is to say - face to face - with words, rather than fighting
or shooting. We teach them that, the path of drugs and crack is not one that will make you successful in the
world and we try to give them inspiration were they can get out of the ghetto and hopefully come back and
bring something in return to it.

Adrian Ioniţă: Please tell our readers something about your trip to Ghana.

Johnny Payphone: It turns out that Accra, the capital of Ghana is a sister city to Chicago, so I met a man
who was set by the Ghanaian government to figure out a way to make cargo bicycles for the Ghanaian
farmers. They have jungle trails that lead to very wealthy natural resources but have a very hard time
transporting those crops to market because of the petrol prices. We shipped over a container of bicycles and
started a school for cargo bike modifications and design. It was done through the cultural exchange of Sisters
City Program. That’s why Ghana. Now, this could be done in any number of developing world countries and
it is done. I still try to send volunteers and bicycles to Ghana. I have a container that should be shipped in
August and I try to raise funds to send another volunteer to run the school and teach people how to make
cargo bikes.

Adrian Ioniţă: How was received the program in Ghana?

Johnny Payphone: A bicycle can change your range from walking distance to 20 miles so that you can get
a job much further. Now, when you got a bunch of crops that you have to take through the jungle, that’s done
on people heads and so, you can increase someone’s capacity tremendously. The program was very well
received and I was treated very well by the government who also payed the Center to do cargo bikes. They
are forward thinking, they don’t want to be as oil dependent as we are.

Adrian Ioniţă: Any thoughts about China?

Johnny Payphone: The fact that Asia loves the bicycle so much also means that they have already a bicycle
based ingenuity going on. We had the same issue in South America. Nothing that I can come up with, as a
pedal power device, like a pump or corn mill, had not been already invented in Guatemala as a part of a
program called “bicimaquinas” of Maya Pedal. China right now is looking to get more cars. They have a
technology-based solution to their problems and try to modernize basically, whereas the Dutch have
preserved their windmills, because this is something that they cherish as part of their culture. They could
easily knock them all down and replace them with modern electric power corn grills, but they haven’t chosen
to do that because it is something special about them. The government of Ghana is saying, we are not going
to pave over our jungle, what we are trying to do is to get jungle based bicycle pedal power transportation.

Adrian Ioniţă: Where do you see yourself ten years from know?

Johnny Payphone: In general I don’t think that simplicity is the direction our culture is going. I think that
the Steam Punk movement will lead to a lifestyle of a section of people just like you have punks today, or
hippies, afro-enthusiasts, red necks, metal heads or punk rock, it will lead also to a section of the society
which pays a lot more money to have everything in their life. I think that Steam Punk probably only has a
good ten, fifteen years in it and after that, the true aficionados will remain behind, while the trend is gone.
My career is having me heading right now as a world traveler, as I work out all this festivals around the
world, were I see other inventors and what are they up to.

Adrian Ioniţă: Johnny, it was such a pleasure having you for this exclusive interview. On behalf of our
readers from Egophobia I wish to thank you.

Johnny Payphone: No sweat, it was my pleasure too.

***
Steampunk Fashion
by G.D Falksen

click pentru versiunea romana

cliquez pour la version francaise

[GD Falksen © photo by RA Friedman]

One of the most striking features about steampunk is its capacity for diversity. Built upon countless different
themes and points of historical reference, the steampunk genre is able to take advantage of the whole range
of unique and often conflicting aesthetics and ideologies of the 19th and early 20th centuries. This is
especially true in the area of fashion, where steampunk finds one of its greatest points of interest. The
richness and complexity of steampunk fashion is truly astounding, for it combines countless styles and
colors from across an entire century of history, whereas most other fashion trends are forced to content
themselves with a decade or two at most.

Steampunk is the science fiction of the steam age, which even in a conservative estimate encompasses the
entire Victorian Era from 1837 to 1901: more than sixty years of rapid technological innovation and changing
fashion trends, when steam power was truly the dominant energy source. More liberal views may stretch the
period of steampunk's historical inspiration to the very beginning of the 19th century, when the first
steamships, steam locomotives, and even steam automobiles were invented. While the 20th century saw the
rapid rise of petroleum fuel as an alternative to steam power in daily life, one can also argue that the
fundamental mindset of the 19th century and its dream of benevolent technology and progressive reason did
not meet its end until the horrors of the First World War, further extending the period in question to around
1918-1919. In all, nearly one hundred and twenty years of dynamic history can be regarded as inspiration for
steampunk, and let there be no doubt that fashion enthusiasts make full use of the options set before them.

While it serves a range of roles, steampunk fashion is essentially an attempt to take the clothes and styles
found in steampunk fiction and recreate them in real life. Naturally, this allows for a great deal of diversity,
as steampunk outfits can easily range from the clothes of romantic adventurers (19th century mad scientists,
pioneering explorers and aviators, courageous soldiers, or mysterious spies) to those of "ordinary people"
(such as engineers, bankers, clerks, doctors, seamstresses, or politicians). A steampunk outfit may be based
on the clothes of the highest aristocrat or industrialist, or the lowliest hard-working factory worker with
equal validity. In fact, it is often difficult to distinguish between a "steampunk outfit" and an outfit that
copies 19th century fashion; this situation has inspired the adage "when in doubt, start period and then add."
Many steampunk outfits include technological accessories or embellishments, but these are not at all
mandatory.

One of the most striking features of steampunk fashion is the fact that anyone looks good wearing it. Being
derived primarily from Victorian styles, "steampunk clothing" is meant to compliment the wearer regardless
of the wearer's body type. Note that this does not in any way imply the existence of "good" or "bad" body
types; however, as many people will note, 20th century clothes have almost universally been designed to look
attractive on a fairly narrow range of body types, particularly very slender women and tall, broad-shouldered
men. In contrast, the Victorian and Edwardian clothes are extremely versatile, looking equally good on
people who are tall or short, narrow or broad, thin or portly, or anything in between.

Steampunk fashion also serves as a form of liberation from prevailing clothing trends that repress
individuality. Modern styles are generally driven by a very powerful and insidious "cult of the casual," which
has transformed the late 20th century's interest in casual attire from a means of liberation and self-
expression into another version of conformity. Where once the tee-shirt and jeans or button down shirt and
slacks offered release from the confines of the mainstream, now those styles have become the new standard.
Far from being freed from structure, modern styles have denied us the right to enjoy it. Steampunk fashion
rejects the belief that formal or elaborate clothing is somehow not enjoyable. Whether dressed casually in
explorer gear, a sack suit, or a shirtwaist dress, or more formally in an elegant gown or morning suit,
steampunk enthusiasts often find liberation and self-expression in period clothes that are regarded as being
very formal by modern standards. Because steampunk fashion allows for a fusion of period clothing with the
wearer's imagination, it creates an outfit that is both unique and expressive.

Color and texture are very important aspects of steampunk fashion, just as they were very important aspects
of Victorian fashion. Due to the sepia-tone coloring of early photographs, many people do not realize that the
19th century was a period of extremely vibrant color for both men and women. Especially as the 19th century
progressed, the introduction of chemical dyes provided brighter, longer-lasting colors than did earlier
vegetable dyes. While now elaborate clothes and sharp colors are commonly associated with female fashion
alone, men were extremely colorful as well for much of the 19th century. In addition, advances in sewing
technology made elaborate clothes much quicker to make, while lace-making machines transformed an
expensive commodity into something that could be mass-produced. Historically, the result was a visual
spectacle that can still be seen in paintings from the era. In steampunk, where fashion is inspired by a
Victorian period gifted with even more advanced technology, the result is an array of possibilities capable of
delighting even the most jaded of senses. In steampunk fashion, colors may be bright or subdued, tasteful or
garish, drab or cheerful, but they are always a very enjoyable option. An added bonus to the level of
presumed technology present in steampunk is the fact that steampunk enthusiasts have every excuse to use
modern materials and sewing machines to make their outfits.

Although steampunk fashion is inspired by history, there is enough material for it to remain fresh and
exciting through countless period outfits, even before modifications or accessories are added. Again, the
advantage of having a century's worth of fashions available as inspiration is clear to see. The base garments
for steampunk dresses may range from the wide hoop skirts commonly associated with America's Civil War
period through the elaborate elegant bustles associated with the late 19th century, and finally to the narrow
skirts of the early 1900s. Steampunk suits may range from the formal dinner jacket and morning coat,
through frock coats and casual sack suits, and into the sporty Norfolk jacket. Headwear finds expression in
all manner of forms: the top hat, the bowler, and the bonnet to name only a few. There are a great many
possibilities available where European civilian clothes are concerned, but that need not be an end to it.

The dream of adventure was a strong one during the period of 19th century colonialism, and it remains a
potent theme in steampunk as well. The khaki explorer's clothes, often paired with the iconic pith helmet,
are a staple for many steampunk enthusiasts. Similarly, military uniforms based on various nationalities are
as popular with modern steampunk fans as they were during the 19th century. Many steampunk military
clothes are done in the style of engineering or artillery units, steamship officers, or even fanciful air force
divisions, all the better to capitalize on the advanced technologies of both steampunk and the historical
steam age. Not surprisingly, vintage sunglasses, goggles, and various tools are extremely popular accessories,
especially for more technically inclined outfits.

It should also be noted that there is much more to steampunk than simply Britain and America. The entire
diverse pageant of steam age Europe, from Portugal to Russia and from Scandinavia to Sicily, is available for
inspiration. Beyond Europe, the entire world is open to be explored, examined, and respectfully enjoyed. The
transportation revolution made possible an incredible exchange of cultures and ideas. While historically this
was often detrimental to the non-imperial cultures, in terms of steampunk fashion it provides an excellent
opportunity to blend non-Western styles and philosophies with the more classical image of steampunk as
literally Victorian. The availability of Japanese silks and Chinese brocade offers even more colors and
textures to the already expansive palette of steampunk. Conversely, while historically "modernization" for
Asia meant "Westernization," there is no reason why traditional Asian clothing could not be used as the base
for steampunk clothing, with European accessories added on as "exotic" trinkets. The cultural clash between
the West and native peoples across Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa all offer opportunities to explore such
combinations.

Technological accessories are often familiar pieces of steampunk, and it would be impossible to explore every
last possible gadget or wearable invention. Briefly, however, it is important to remember that, as in all
things, the purpose of steampunk fashion is to create an outfit that delights the senses and entertains the
wearer. Steampunk accessories can be as simple as a pocket watch, vintage spectacles, or a doctor's medical
bag; they can be as complex as a portable telescope, a backpack wireless telegraph, or a mechanized
prosthetic arm. The key purpose of steampunk fashion is to have fun, and to explore a the countless options
for self-expression that the bygone steam age still has to offer modern society.

***
Steampunk and Past-Future-Imagism
by Adrian Ioniţă

click pentru versiunea română


clic pour la version française

During the 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 Brâncuşi's “Endless Column” as if it had been
launched like a missile from its home in Târgu–Jiu, Romania, crossed the Atlantic, and crashed through the
roof of the Studio Museum’s exhibition space in Harlem. No custom fees or taxes.

[©2007 The Philosophy of Time Travel]

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
Brâncuşi 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 “ Brâncuşi 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. Brâncuşi 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 will make us to believe that it 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.

Brâncusi’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 Newerwas 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.

***
We aim to be rather than to seem
An interview with American Artist Sean Orlando

by Adrian Ioniţă

cliquez pour la version française


click pentru versiunea română

As a living thing, the Steampunk Tree House (SPTH) creates an experience that is as varied and
mysterious as the people who interact with it. It creates thoughtful nostalgia, it encourages play, to
imagine another time, place and reality. It is an artistic representation of the human drive to re-create,
industrial inventiveness and how we strive to mimic nature’s design while at the same time, destroying it.
It is a place where fantasy intersects with reality. The steam calliope plays music, the potbelly woodstove is
functional, and the clockwork vulture flaps its wings. We use real live steam produced by working steam
engines to power the Tree and to provide steam effects for the branches and trunk. Even though its reality
alludes to a very dream like state, nothing is false in its existence...
[Sean Orlando]

[The Stempunk Tree House © drawing by Shane Washburn]


Click on the picture to see a Quicktime movie
Adrian Ioniţă: Sean Orlando, you are L'enfant Terrible of a project that, since its inception in 2007, is
burning in the imaginations of many artists and art lovers around the world. Tell me a bit about the piece
and its creation.

Sean Orlando: First, I will give credit where it’s due, there were in fact many “creators” of the Tree House.
I conceived the Tree House project, acted as Artistic Director and “drove the bus” as it were… but there were
many contributors, artists, design engineers, structural engineers, barnyard engineers, scientists, computer
programmers, software developers, carpenters, visionaries, fabricators, industrial designers, geeks, dorks,
writers, and at least one wild-child. Many people contributed to the Tree House on so many different levels,
which is why it is such a magical piece and why I think it affects people the way it does. What is truly special
about it are the people who worked on it with me. Because of this project, a lot of amazing friendships and
relationships were forged. The creative process is what motivates me the most… the act of making something
and why… the manifestation of an idea or concept or message, to make a thought tangible… to share it with
other people, allowing them to cooperatively create their own experience around it. It can be challenging to
work with so many personalities on large projects.. An unexpected by-product that came out of this project
was a sense of collaboration, artistic invention, and creative problem solving.

[Sean Orlando © photo by John Curley]

Adrian Ioniţă: Is there a connection between your life experience and the Tree House project?

Sean Orlando: I grew up in New York State, a geographical region that contains both Manhattan on one
end and acre upon acre of countryside on the other. My parents had a plot of land and there were many trees
on the property. They divorced when I was very young, which was very hard on me and on my younger sister,
a time of transition, so I have very stained memories of my father from that time. I remember… he built a
tree house and zip-line in the back yard. It was a typical kid’s tree house made of 2x4 lumber and plywood.
At the time, it seemed tremendously spacious and elaborate in its design. It stretched between three trees
and gave me a special “secret place” of my own that to a kid felt timeless, free of transition and conflict. I feel
a strong connection with my father and have faint memories of many father/son projects that we worked on
together when I was young. These are definitely a part of that bond and childhood memory. As an adult, I am
a working Industrial Artist, Artistic Director, and Project Manager. I would like to think part of who I am and
what I do commemorates the good in my relationship with my dad. Really, a tree house is a place to escape
to, a safe haven where you go and...

Adrian Ioniţă: …and dream.

Sean Orlando: Yes, you go to dream, and you are inspired to get away from the nonsense of life, to refresh.
When I was 18 and graduated from high school, I wanted to explore and see the world. I had never traveled
very much even within my own country, so I went to France and backpacked around Western Europe for
three months. When I returned, I worked for a while to save up money and then traveled cross-country on a
motorcycle until I found the San Francisco Bay area. It is where America’s hopes and dreams run into the
Pacific Ocean, sort of the furthest West the American spirit drives you if you still want to be around people
and part of the world. I settled here and ended up at University of California at Berkeley, where I studied fine
art, art history, performance, and site-specific installation. It was an incredible and challenging academic
experience that I will always value.
I then discovered The Crucible, a non-profit industrial arts school and education center that serves both the
local community and the broader arts and crafts community. I was hired to teach adults and children metal
fabrication techniques and how to truly shape and define what they wanted to do artistically. We have a
machine shop, full welding shop, foundry, smithy and a kinetics department… we work in glass, wood,
ceramics and jewelry. It’s a great place that really helped to motivate and inspire me to work within a
community of artists. It’s a non-competitive artistic environment where we encourage people to just create,
learn, and have fun. We are also teaching local underprivileged kids how to weld, blacksmith, work on
bicycles and explore their creativity in a positive way in a safe environment. On the other hand, there are so
many resources here for artists of my type, who work with steam power.

["Steaming Branches”, the Fire Arts Festival in Oakland © 2008 photo by Joy Busse]

Adrian Ioniţă: Why steam power?

Sean Orlando: I think that there are a lot of people out there who are simply dissatisfied with throwaway
bottle-fed art and consumption artifacts that have been forced upon us by sheer repetition and rote
consumption. So, as an antidote, we look to a time when care, design and artistry were applied to the
everyday life in a more lasting way. We are appealing to a different non-dominant ideology. Modern design
can be very cold and rectangular, so hidden as to be aesthetically unreachable, smooth, a zipless
totalitarianism. Our society has become wholly reliant on internal combustion and oil, to the point that we’ve
depleted our natural resources and destroyed the environment. The social contract is not as it should be,
between people and communities, but between large business concerns and the excesses of consumption.
Steam power ruled the day for many, many years and played a big part in industry and the private sector. I
am NOT saying that steam is the answer, it’s a metaphor. It’s a cautionary tale. It works nostalgically by
reminding people of a supposedly “simpler” or “purer” time when invention, progress, and discovery were
the driving force, a source of hope… not money, power and convenience. Of course, this nostalgia only works
if people forget the Industrial Revolution and its terrible social and environmental discontents. The
cleverness of art, like steam, is that it can do two things at once even if they’re opposed.

Adrian Ioniţă: Many are blaming consumerism for our alienation in the modern society.

Sean Orlando: I wouldn’t disagree. For instance, in the States, big chain stores are sprouting up
everywhere; you can buy “everything you need at an affordable price”… We don’t need to know how to make
anything anymore or fix anything anymore… we can just go to the store and buy it… It’s an empty ecstasy of
ideal forms, people trap themselves in a land of plenty, the ultimate consumption fantasy. Moreover, these
bountiful goods are often made in a country with cheaper production costs under conditions that do not
favor the workers, it is cheap and affordable in the short term. If it breaks, we just throw it out and replace it
with another. We are losing the value in things because they are all mass-produced and not made to last. I’m
afraid that with the current path that we’re on, we’re going to lose the ability to take care of ourselves. If I’m
hungry, I don’t need to cook anymore, I can just throw a pre-made food-log into the microwave and 3
minutes later, I’ve got a full meal. Who grew the food? Who packaged it? Where does all my garbage go?
Where does my water come from and where does it go? Where do all our clothes, toys, and household goods
get made? Most people don’t care to know. We lose the value of things when the humanity of the people that
made them is obscured. As consumers, to be estranged from our own productive power is to be alienated
from our own creative power. In a relatively homogenous society, it’s not surprising that some people are
looking for an alternative way of living their lives. Large, collaborative art projects can go a long way in re-
connecting people with people; this is the promise of interactive art.

[KSW at the Edwardian Ball, San Francisco 2008 © photo by Heather Smith]
Adrian Ioniţă: I understand that all this passion for steam started with Kinetic Steam Works (KSW).

Sean Orlando: I helped establish Kinetic Steam Works in 2005. We started out with one enormous 9-ton
(8,165 kg) steam engine and, with the exception of Zachary Rukstela and his experience on the Jeremiah
O’Brien (one of only two currently operational WWII Liberty ships), none of us were familiar with the
mechanics, operation, or function of steam engines! However, we figured it out. There is a lot of kinetic
motion within a steam engine’s myriad of moving parts, all of which needed to be oiled and maintained.
Water boils and builds up pressure, and under the right conditions, you can harness the power of
pressurized steam to operate equipment, pumps, machinery, or in our case… kinetic art.
There is an organization in Northern California called Roots of Motive Power. They’re a non-profit group
that does steam education and historic preservation of steam equipment used in California, from
locomotives to 1880’s logging engines. We try and go up several times a year to volunteer and to take an
annual steam operation and safety class with certification. It is a two-day class that we all attend to maintain
our familiarity with steam power, best practices, and to also learn from the old timers who have worked with
steam all their lives. Steam engines are functional and powerful, but within that functionality there is
incorporated a beautiful aesthetic.

[The Steampunk Tree House at the Burning Man 2007 © photo by Zachary Wasserman]
Adrian Ioniţă: In his controversial Design Observer article, “Steampunk'd, Or Humbug by Design,” Randy
Nakamura’s critique of Steampunk quotes you and mentions KSW, suggesting that the Steampunk
movement as a whole and your own fascination with steam power in particular is naive and uncritical. Please
tell me something about the development of the Steampunk phenomenon.

Sean Orlando: It moves on different fronts. There are people who are creating artwork that is aesthetically
beautiful, intentionally made with a particular look and feel, using Steampunk tropes like wood, brass and
rivets, modding contemporary devices like computers, guitars or bicycles, and making them look
“steampunk” or “old fashioned” in a way that appeals to techno-savvy hipsters. On the Steampunk
continuum there are also a number of artists who are working with recycled/scavenged and reused
materials, boilers, steam, kinetics, figuring out how things move, and building creative communities. Keep in
mind that Steampunk exists as a social movement NOW rather than at some other time due to wider
historically specific social forces. I think it’s a response to car culture, peak oil, environmental calamity, de-
humanizing labor and production conditions in a global economy, and the hyper-proliferation of commodity
forms.
I read Randy Nakamura’s article and thought “right on.” There hasn’t been enough critical interest in the
movement. Without critical interest, the movement can’t grow. Critique furthers the discussion, motivates it.
It keeps creativity honest even if the source of the critique is disingenuous. For those who haven’t checked
out his article, if I may paraphrase his elitist critique: the steampunk movement is another petite-evil of
some Culture Machine, a crass consumption pattern turning into a brand, a sort of unoriginal “bad” post-
modern artifact that eats its young and forgets its historical referents, it’s false consciousness masquerading
as liberating aesthetic practice, artists are dupes without agency, etc. In his own words, “Steampunk is
humbug design, scrap-booking masquerading as the avant-garde.”
Mr. Nakamura’s resume indicates that he’s a graphic designer by trade, with experience in branding and
marketing. As a freelancer for Ogilvy & Mather’s Brand Integration Group, he credits himself with having
worked on a brand identity campaign for a “laser skin treatment” company. It’s not difficult to throw stones
in a glass house of mirrors, except that he neglects to hit himself too. Given his own position in the
ideological apparatus of the culture industry, it’s not surprising that his critique comes off as hostile to a
movement that questions mass production! In my work I connect people to people and people to art, he
connects people to… laser hair removal.

Adrian Ioniţă: I invited him on EgoPHobia for an open talk, but I did not received yet a confirmation.

Sean Orlando: Here’s his publicly viewable resume: RANDY NAKAMURA.

His fox in the henhouse positioning aside, I found the critique to be one sided. I give both artists and
“common” cultural forms more credit and more agency. The DIY (do it yourself) movement is broad, from
solar power, to electric cars, to clothing, housing, transportation, and food… it can be very empowering and
liberating to create things yourself and connect with other people doing the same thing. Eventually creative
communities form that transcend what brought them together. In terms of steampunk, or good art for that
matter, if you can imagine a different world, it can fuel positive social change.
Steampunk is still outsider art, not mainstream design, despite the mainstream coverage, it hasn’t really
been co-opted yet. Last I checked, McDonald’s wasn’t trying to sell a “McMutton Chops with cheese” and
Coca-Cola hadn’t started laser-etching gears into the top of their cans, Barack Obama isn’t (yet) wearing a
stovepipe hat and brass goggles. The steampunk aesthetic lends itself to pre-existing industrial arts creative
practices, including creative recycling, scavenging, and reuse. It takes detritus, mass produced throwaways
and plays with it, sometimes parodying its origins.
Randy Nakamura cited me speaking about how interesting it is to be able to follow the path of steam from
the fire to the boiler, through the pipes to the gears to the final kinetic moment, etc. His response, I’m
paraphrasing again, was that anything could be fascinating on that level if you knew enough to understand
the technology or underlying processes. And therein lies the rub, circuit boards (his example) are alien to
most people. Like combustion engines or brands, they’re hidden inside technology that people feel
disempowered by.
His best point is certainly that the steampunk movement can be woefully ignorant of history. This is
something we’ve tried to combat in our own work. The Tree House’s back-story is that it exists in a dystopic
eco-disaster future where there are no trees anymore and people have no living memory of trees. Instead
they take the idea of a tree and construct it as best they can from scrap. While this could be seen as tragedy,
it’s absolutely not intended that way! It was designed to be joyful, exuberant, connecting, interactive,
thoughtful, regenerative… and if you experienced the piece directly, that’s probably what you felt. Neither is
KSW ignorant of history, we understand the irony in promoting, say, a 1920 steam powered farm traction
engine as a tool of connection. We do not hide the proverbial “blood on the plough” that steam powered
farming methods wrought through displacing indigenous North American peoples from their land. We don’t
cover up the railroad’s role in America’s westward expansion and “manifest destiny.” Nor are we unfamiliar
with the Industrial Revolution and British Empire.
Being the consummate outsider artist, I’d say the people involved with KSW are more accurately identifiable
as “Steamdorks” rather than “steampunks”… we’re just kind of dorky about it… we like old technology and
how beautiful it is… we appreciate the engineering that went into designing these monstrous industrial
instruments and are having a lot of fun devising and inventing new ways of harnessing and playing with
them. We’re artists and mechanics. We own our own agency. There are some amazing “Steampunk Artists”
out there, and I’m happy to see that this new genre has gotten the recent attention that it has… Wow, that
was a long answer!

Adrian Ioniţă: How was the Steampunk Tree House project started?

Sean Orlando: I have been going to The Burning Man desert arts festival for 5 years. At its best, Burning
Man is a marvelous celebration of outsider art and culture, a place, a state of mind where you really can have
unique experiences. It remains one of the best venues to experience original, interactive, participatory art.
Art that incorporates fire has been huge out there. We got together and joked that we should do fire one
better. Serendipity came a’ knocking and we acquired our first steam engine in 2006 and we thought, “how
cool would it be to be the first steam engine on the Playa?!” So, we started talking with the Burning Man
people at their headquarters in San Francisco about what we would need to do to make this happen. They
were extremely supportive and the first steam engine landed in Black Rock City in 2006.
I have a number of friends who had proposed and made pieces for Burning Man in the past, Michael
Christian, Orion Fredericks, Greg Jones, to name a few. I’ve also worked on many other people’s projects
over the years. I saw what they had done and what hard work it was, but also how satisfying it was. So I had
this idea of my own for a tree house, inspired in part by Burning Man’s 2007 Green Man theme. I started to
sketch out and draw what I thought it would look like. I put together a funding proposal with my friend John
Manyjohns (also a founder of KSW) and we submitted it to The Burning Man staff and grant selection
committee, they approved it, and we ended up getting funding to make it happen.

Adrian Ioniţă: I imagine the excitement after you found out that the proposal was approved! Please tell me
something about the philosophical idea that connects the SPTH to the Green Man theme.

Sean Orlando: I was inspired to create the Tree House as a reaction against the things that I find most
distasteful in this world and by the things that make this society and reality… ugly. I’ve touched on a lot of
this over the course of the interview. In America, tree houses are very iconographic, they are a place to hide-
away, they allow space for a different perspective on the world, and they remind us of a more innocent and
simpler time. They’re considered to be regenerative. The Green Man is a reoccurring representation of a
benevolent forest deity found throughout European history and pre-history. This entity is often depicted as a
smiling, leafy, green anthropomorphic face. This is the deity that connects you to that which feeds you, cares
for you, loves you, and looks out for you on a planetary level. While the SPTH wasn’t quite intended as a
temple for the Green Man, it was intended to inculcate those feelings in participants, and it was obviously
intended as a statement on how people find connection and humanity in the face of destruction and
adversity.
On the other hand, we were confronted with more pragmatic issues, like structural engineering! We are
talking about a Tree House that weighed 25,000 lbs (11,340 kg) and was over 40’ (12+ meters) tall, so safety
was one of our biggest concerns. When you build a tree, people really want to climb it, like it’s in their blood.
I worked with Corbett Griffith at Instinct Engineering to come up with engineered drawings of the structural
elements, and with the help of other friends who are design engineers, mechanical and structural engineers,
we figured out what we needed to do to pull this off…
[Detail inside the SPTH© 2008 photo by Joy Busse]

Adrian Ioniţă: Talking about climbing, please describe the ins and outs of your project.

Sean Orlando: You enter through a door in the trunk and climb up rungs, up through the floor and into the
house itself. The Steampunk Tree House is not only a structure, object or thing. With the incorporation of
live steam effects, the SPTH became a changeable, living work of art that came alive through your experience
of it.
The whole tree was hooked up to a steam engine and it incorporated a maze-work of steam pipes and valves
that were designed to open and close various junctions on the tree. Each of the branches had steam lines
running through them, so that when a valve is opened, it would send steam through the branches and into
the atmosphere. On another manifold, a custom steam calliope (designed & fabricated by Nathaniel Taylor,
one of the artists working on the project) had an interface to release steam into nine whistles installed on the
branches, so that you could be inside the house pushing these levers, which opened the valves to release
steam into the whistles, and play music. On the roof we installed a larger whistle (loaned to us from my
friend Bob Hofmann) about 36 inches tall with a 6-inch bell (it formerly signaled shift changes in a factory),
which made variable guttural resonance sounds. It really engaged people to play music using steam. On one
of the branches, we had a vulture made by another member of the crew, Max Chen. Its geared wings flapped
by pulling on a lever on one of the balconies. We had many innovations fulfilled in this project and all were
done within a particular aesthetic. As Artistic Director, it was challenging to get this many people, not
necessarily to conform to it, but to appreciate and understand how to blend all the parts together
harmoniously.

[Steampunk Tree House transportation © photo by Alan Rorie]

Adrian Ioniţă: How did you do the transportation, assembly and disassembly of the piece?

Sean Orlando: Traditional sculptures, or works of art of this type, usually go into a permanent installation,
but we had to figure out, along with designing it structurally and aesthetically, how would it come apart in
pieces such that it could be re-assembled very easily, efficiently, and safely. Then, there is the transportation.
It is heavy, requiring two 18-wheeler semi-trucks to move, 10-ton cranes to assemble, forklifts, many
logistics... We’ve installed it three times so far.
We built it in two different locations because it is so big, none of the West Oakland arts’ production
warehouses that we have access to, were big enough to accommodate the entire structure as we were
building it. The house and the trunk and the roots were built in one warehouse with me and my crew (the
now defunct NIMBY), while the branches and the upper section of the trunk were built in another warehouse
with Steve Valdez and his crew. Steve is an amazing fabricator and designer and we wouldn’t have branches
on our Tree without his dedication to the project. We never actually had it fully assembled until we got up to
Burning Man. Even with an excellent crew and great planning there were a few nervous moments. I thought
about our main sponsor, our donors… all the time, effort and goodwill of so many people were on the line... I
will tell you, we were VERY happy when the moment of truth came and we matched the pieces together and
everything fit as it should.

Adrian Ioniţă: Did you use paint to achieve the overall look of the sculpture?

Sean Orlando: The trunk and exterior walls have this amazing, rusty patina. When we started, we used
brand new sheet metal and everything looked bright, shiny, and silver, almost like stainless steel, kind of a
Terminator look. We used a cold patina technique, and treated these surfaces to make it look like they’d been
corroded under the elements for a very long time. The Tree’s back-story was that is existed 1,000 years
hence, after the petrol-economy had collapsed. In the desert setting, it really did look like it had been there
for a millennium. The fact that the branches are without bark, skin, or foliage adds to this feeling of
weathering and decay. However, what the steam does is to create a kind of “living” foliage around the
branches. A very interesting effect achieved with colored lights powered by solar panels and white milky
steam, filtered with red and blue and green lights. Very dramatic. During the day, the tree was stark and
naked, dusty, and during the night, with the steam engine providing steam for the branches, the whole tree
blossomed with moist imagery, hallucinogenic foliage that you might see only in some alternative realities or
a dream.

[SPTH at Burning Man © 2008 photo by Fred von Lohmann]


Adrian Ioniţă: The atmosphere around the Steam Punk Tree House is just Mind blowing. It is like an
object descended from a dreamscape.

Sean Orlando: Caro & Jeunet’s The City of Lost Children is one of my favorite movies, and was a
significant inspiration. One thing that sticks with us and with me, is a phrase that I use repeatedly: “We aim
to be rather than to seem.” Even though we were creating this atmosphere in this environment, nothing is
false, it’s all a reality alluding to a very dream like state. We have the reality of all the moving parts and the
steam engine, the kinetic elements of the tree and nothing was built falsely. Of course it’s not “real,” the tree
isn’t 1,000 years old, but neither did we want it to be an endless L.A. like surface without substance.
Substance lies in the manner of consumption. I have a strong distaste for many architectural elements or
building techniques that you see out in the world today, which are built falsely. Things like drop ceilings,
faux wood paneling, florescent lighting, cubicles, strip malls, prefab and mass produced architectural
elements, plastic, blinky lights, Styrofoam, and so on. Things that are constructed to look like something but
are nothing more than a sham.
The Tree House is all steel, angle iron and flat bar. The main trunk is a 2-foot diameter structural pipe, the
main three branches that hold the house up are all made of 8-inch diameter structural pipe that is ten feet
long. We tried to build everything to be real and solid, as opposed to hollow and false, and I think that this
feeling really came across. At The Burning Man opening ceremony, we had about 45 people up there; Arm in
arm with each other, all the people that worked at the project. Normally, the house can accommodate 20
people and the trunk about 10. When we installed the house in Southern California at the Coachella &
Stagecoach Music Festivals, we had 20 people in there at one time, and that was comfortable.

Adrian Ioniţă: What was the reaction of the art world after The Burning Man?

Sean Orlando: I had a lot of people approach me about the sculpture, interested in what I was planning on
doing with it and how much it would cost to install the piece. I was in negotiations to possibly install it at the
Google headquarters, and also had a good reaction from people involved in galleries and museums, but the
biggest concern, given the fact that the piece is interactive and has a large dimension and weight, is liability,
especially in litigious America. Right now it is in storage and we are working very hard to find a good home
for it.

[The Lumbering Contraption © photo by Alan Rorie]


Adrian Ioniţă: What are the most recent and/or future projects that you are working on?

Sean Orlando: The project I am working right now is a human powered vehicle, a gigantic hamster wheel
that's run on train tracks, powered by people inside the wheel. We call it the Lumbering Contraption. It was
conceived for The Great West End and Railroad Square Handcar Regatta, held on September 28th, 2008. A
very simple mechanism, designed with a pilot section that is very ornate. It has a certain function and
ornaments that are also very beautiful. It’s going to get a cowcatcher in the front, not that it needs it, but that
is a part of the humor and combinations of beauty within function. The majority of the crew working on it
also worked on the Tree House.
Kinetic Steam Works has spent the past spring and summer restoring a 40' long steam powered Scripps style
stern paddlewheel boat. The Wilhelmina is powered by a water tube boiler and two steam engines. The fuel
that we use to fire the boiler is atomized bio-diesel. We use atomized fuel to create a fire in the firebox, which
heats up water in the boiler tubes, which creates steam under pressure. The steam is controlled by a series of
valves and pipes that run all throughout the ship. This complicated series of valves, pumps, and plumbing
allows us to easily release steam to the port and starboard steam engines. The engines are in sync with each
other and are both eccentrically connected to the paddle wheel at the stern of the boat. The power that we
create from our onboard steam system is what propels the boat forward... quietly and gracefully. The boat is
currently in NYC, having gone down the Hudson River on a 3-week trip in August 2008.

[Floating sculptures © 2008 Nathaniel Brooks]


Click on the picture to see a slideshow done by The New York Times

Adrian Ioniţă: Why New York?

Sean Orlando: KSW has hooked up with a New York based artist by the name of Swoon, as well as many
other artists from New York to San Francisco. We were part of a floating artistic armada that went down the
Hudson River from Troy to Long Island City (NY) along with 7 other custom engineered and constructed
boats and rafts, all powered by alternative energy propulsion systems. The project was called, “The
Swimming Cities of Switchback Sea.”
The boat was donated to KSW and was in serious disrepair when we got it. The crew worked tirelessly to
restore it in time to take it overland from Oakland, California to Troy, New York. Sections of the steel hull
were taken out and replaced by us. The boiler was removed and repaired and modified to spray bio-diesel All
the plumbing is new and re-designed by Stephen Rademaker, Andrew O’Keefe and Greg Jones. The paddle
and engines were rebuilt. It's a completely new boat. I had the unique experience of being a passenger of the
fleet from Kingston to Verplunck, NY, it was a lot of hard work, but it was an experience that I will always
treasure. I fired the boiler, stood at the helm, greased the engines, set anchors, and tied off spring-lines. We
camped on the river, sleeping on the boat and camping on islands. We explored an island with
an abandoned castle on it... It’s the closest a Yanqui can get to the Mark Twain idyll.

Adrian Ioniţă: Have you ever been to Eastern Europe?

Sean Orlando: I’ve never traveled in that area, but I’d like to. I’d like to learn more about Romanian
culture and see what’s going on in that part of the world; It seems like a very interesting place to visit. Some
of the artifacts we talked about before this interview, like the beautiful iron tree from the city of Timisoara,
or traditional folk art forms or castles from Transylvania are really fascinating. It would be great to meet
Romanian artists and work on some artistic projects with them.

Adrian Ioniţă: EgoPHobia is building that bridge in this very moment. Sean Orlando, thank you for
sharing your thoughts with our readers. Special Thanks to John Manyjohns for his help with this interview
and to Drea Roemer for her love & support.

***
DARK GENIUS
An interview with British artist Stephen Rothwell

by Alina Roşu

cliquez pour la version française

click pentru versiunea română

For me the world is becoming ever more fragmented and overlapping in terms of creative movements and
ideas. There's certainly a lot of cross-pollination going on. From a personal point of view I see the world as
one huge and ever changing collage!
Stephen Rothwell

[Request © Stephen Rothwell]

Alina Roşu: Stephen, let’s start our interview with some details about the geography, social and cultural
context in which you grew up and their influence on your artwork. Were there significant historic events
that have left a mark upon your artistic vision?

Stephen Rothwell: I grew up in North West England in the 1960's. The area was originally at the heart of
the industrial revolution and particularly the cotton industry. It was an area of stark contrasts between the
natural world, with its bleak windswept hills and moorlands and valleys full of chimneystacks and factories
and the workers who came to work there. A great deal of poverty, poor working conditions and exploitation.
In the post war period the industry was very much in decline but the stark remnants were still very much
visible and scarred the landscape.
I was born just as the "clean air act" was coming into force but the effects of the heavy use of coal to power
the factories of this revolution and its domestic use in thousands of workers' houses was still very much
evident.

As a child, I thought that the buildings around me where all made of black stone until my father told me that
they were made of granite, a light sandy colored stone, and that the black coloring was the effect of year upon
year of pollution from domestic fires and factory chimneys. In fact during the industrial revolution the whole
area was known as 'The Chimney of the World' which gives a vivid image of just how polluted, acrid and
sulfurous the atmosphere was. The effects of acid rain were first observed by Robert Angus Smith in
Lancashire in 1852.

I would often go walking with my father in the hills above the towns and villages and remember him telling
me about the history of the area, pointing out places he used to play as a boy and how, even during his youth
if you looked down, you couldn't see the valley bottoms for the smoke. These images made a deep and
indelible impression on me. The history of this area, the dereliction, and the combination of nature and
heavy industry in decline had its effect on my childhood imagination and underpins in some way my
development as an artist.

Through out my youth, I would go walking in these hills. I was very much a loner, an observer and outsider
and these windswept moors with their ruined farmhouses were the perfect place for me to escape to. A place
for idle wandering and reflection on life.

Alina Roşu: You seem to have been very much influenced and guided by your father in your childhood.
How prominent was the father figure in your life? Was he the one that inspired you with this passion for
montage?

Stephen Rothwell: Certainly my father had an integral part to play in my first use of montage as a creative
medium. He worked as a color mixer and paper tester in a paper mill. During school holidays, as both he and
my mother worked, I would either spend the day in and around the rather strange house of a great aunt up
on the moors or with him at the factory. The mill used a lot of recycled paper as part of the pulp making
process and there was a huge yard full of bales of old newspapers, magazines and comic books waiting to be
pulped up and turned back into paper. To keep me occupied so he could get on with his job he would let me
go through these bales for comic books and magazines to find things to read. A treasure trove for a small
boy! I would sit in the corner of his workroom surrounded by this treasure.

Now here is something significant. English comic books at the time were numerous and they would often
serialize adventure stories, probably with the idea that in order to follow the story you would have to keep
buying the comic book each week. Clearly, I didn't have to spend my pocket money on comics, I had a whole
yard full to read, but I would very rarely have a complete story. If a story had 7 episodes I might only ever
find episodes 3 and 5 and then some episodes from a completely different story and often with no beginning
or end. This disjointedness rather than being a frustration was a fascination to me and a spur to my
imagination and I think explains in some way the disjointed broken narrative aspect of what I do now.

Alina Roşu: You mentioned a great aunt and the strange house she lived in. Tell me more about this house.

Stephen Rothwell: Oh yes, that brings back some memories. The house was set on a moorland road and
built of the smoke blackened stone I spoke of. It was originally two houses, a combination of what we call a
"back to back" house, very characteristic of the industrial North of England and a "back to earth" house.
"Back to back" houses shared a common back wall and my great aunt had originally owned one of these. The
other house became available in the 1930s so she bought it and put a door through this common wall to
create a much larger house. A "back to earth" house simply means that it was built onto a hillside and so,
what looked like a small two storey house at the front, was a four story house at the back, with sweeping
views over the bleak Pennine Moors.
[Gallery © Stephen Rothwell]

This house and the land around it was a constant source of fascination and adventure for me. At road level,
the two houses mirrored each other to some extent, so that, when the houses were made into one, this had
certain redundant features; I particularly remember a dark stone staircase leading at the top to nothing but a
stonewall. I was convinced there was a hidden entrance to another world there if only I could find it, and I
spent a lot of time searching for the hidden lock that would surely open the door into this world.

There were dusty attic rooms full of ancient furniture, trunks of old clothes and a couple of old tailor's
dummies that I would dress up from the clothes trunks. I suppose you could say these were my first
Darkhouse characters!

Below the house were cellars and below those an old disused abattoir, a particularly dark and strange place.
To reach, this you had to walk down the iron fenced stone walkways at the back of the house and down into
the yard. The abattoir had a huge old oak door with iron strap hinges, big iron bolts and an enormous lock
that needed an equally enormous iron key to open it. Of course, at the time, I didn't really understand the
purpose of an abattoir. My aunt just told me that the local farmer had once kept his sheep in there from time
to time. I expect she thought it would upset me to know what it was really used for and so I had no idea that
the sheep walked in but never came out again. In my mind of course these had to be the dungeons of the
house, or perhaps the smugglers secret store or the highwaymen's hideout. There was very little light down
there, just one cobweb covered window, the light from the open door and one small light bulb that seemed to
make everything darker still if you switched it on. Very much a place of shadows, half hidden mythical
creatures and lots of old, rusting farm machinery!
Alina Roşu: When and where did you begin to make montage? Did you start making montage just for the
fun of it?

Stephen Rothwell: It was in this factory in the corner of my father's work room that I first began to make
montage. I must have been at a loose end one day so to keep me quiet and knowing already that I had artistic
leanings, he sat me down with scissors and "size", a kind of glue used in paper making, and colored dyes
from the paper making process and I set about making collages from the comics, magazines and newspapers.
They were very basic and crudely made, though even then quite surreal. Sometimes I made them in strip
form and sometimes as single images. This was the beginning of my love of montage. There is no other
explanation!

Alina Roşu: What about your education? Did you study in school the art of montage-making or did you
practice this art on your own?

Stephen Rothwell: My early school years were very happy ones, but my secondary school years were not
and I spent a lot of time on my own wandering in the hills and through the derelict and empty remains of
factories. I was always on an adventure and living in my imagination, an escapist from reality I suppose.

I left school at the first possible opportunity and went off to Art College, where I studied everything from
drawing and painting, printing and photography, and lots of other subjects. I immersed myself in the art
history that interested me, particularly at that time the surrealists, in art and in poetry, Max Ernst, Tristan
Tzara, Hugo Ball, also Kurt Schwitters and Joseph Cornell and many others.

Interestingly I didn't do much montage work during this time, but when I left college I set up a small
painting studio with the intention of continuing to study painting. The studio was quite a long walk from my
home, down a major road through the countryside, and along the way I found myself collecting interesting
pieces of ephemera, detritus from the road side, discarded from passing cars and lorries. Back in my studio I
spent more time making collage from this material than I did painting!

[Darkhouse © Stephen Rothwell]


Alina Roşu: Why were you so interested in these pieces of ephemera? Were they particular? What was it
about them that appealed to you most?

Stephen Rothwell: I have always been a collector of ephemera. Just about anything that catches my eye
that has qualities that appeal to me will usually end up in my pocket or my bag. I collect a lot of photographs
from flea markets and in particular photographs from the Victorian age through to the nineteen thirties. The
one thing above all that has always fascinated me about these photographs is the chronological distance and
anonymity of the subjects. Apart from small visual clues about relative status, and without written
documentation, one is left with little or no idea beyond imagination about the lives of the people in the
photographs or the myriad possible connections between the random images. They stare out blindly, they
can say nothing, they have long been struck dumb by death.

Alina Roşu: How do you use these photographs in your work? Do you use them as such or do you
Photoshop them? What inspires you, how do you relate them?

Stephen Rothwell: In the mid nineties I bought a second hand computer and scanner and started to teach
myself digital manipulation using whatever came to hand from my collection of ephemera. Though each
image was a separate piece, they seemed to be related in some way. They reminded me of film stills, frames
from the cutting room floor. They gave the impression that each image was part of a larger hidden story.

I'm fascinated by depictions of dystopian and utopian worlds and felt that the images and the people in them
needed a world of their own to inhabit, which in turn would give me a frame work and an environment to
explore.

[Darkhouse Quarter © Stephen Rothwell]

Alina Roşu: You are a creator of worlds, you created this imaginary realm and you named it "Darkhouse
Quarter". What is the story of this name?
Stephen Rothwell: Reading through an old dictionary of slang and unconventional English one night I
stumbled across the term 'darkhouse', ca 1600-1850, which was a colloquial term for a "darkroom"- one in
which madmen were kept, and of course its other meaning is a place where photographs are developed and
printed. It seemed the perfect imagined world to develop and contain my images. For some reason I have
always loved the idea of the quarter in terms of a city quarter, so I put the two terms together and Darkhouse
Quarter was born.

Alina Roşu: How important is the use of Victorian settings in your paintings? Do you think that they will be
different if, let's say, we eliminate some of the Steampunk symbols, as gears and pipes or steam?

Stephen Rothwell: I think what is important to me in terms of settings is the feeling of distance over time
between the viewers, initially me and then whoever sees the images. The images to me are like fragments of a
dream or a film clipped into its individual frames and then blown away into the wind. Like an archaeologist
I'm rediscovering fragments of an imagined forgotten time and slowly reassembling them in the order I find
them, trying to make sense based on very little information. The images appear to be frozen moments in a
story or perhaps several, there might be a narrative but this is by no means certain. I use some Victorian
imagery and settings as a starting point because they are distant from my own experience, they are before my
time and so they become 'other', a world to explore. I first came across Victorian images as a child looking
through family photo albums and the old reference books and encyclopedias my grandfather had on his book
shelf . They fascinated me because they were windows into another very unfamiliar world. I was a child of
the 1960s, not the 1860s, and so the scenes and people were so far distant from my own experience they
really intrigued me. From a very young age though I was an artist and not an historian, I wasn't interested in
the images in the context of the actual world they were set in, I was interested in the worlds they created in
my imagination. I'd look at a picture and be thinking "what happens next, what's around that corner, who is
this woman, where might she be going next?"Victorian" meant nothing to me at the time, they were just
fascinating photographs.

[Journeyman © Stephen Rothwell]


Alina Roşu: There is an intense oneiric atmosphere in your artwork and elements that seem to loom up out
of the mists of a dream. Are these images coming to you in a dream, or they are elaborated according to an
idea?

Stephen Rothwell: I have always paid a lot of attention to my dreams and experimented with sleep and
lucid dreaming. Sleep and dreaming are very much part of the creative process of making my images. I often
take catnaps when I'm working and very often I'm somewhere between being awake and asleep when I'm
working. I think perhaps this is a common experience for many artists. My mind often seems to fall into a
trance like state of concentration, which can be overwhelming at times, and I often find myself falling asleep
at the wheel so to speak. As for dreaming itself, it's hard to know which came first. I'm not sure at times if my
montages are full of my dreams or my dreams are full of my montages! I do have very good recall of my
dreams and they are very much populated by the relatives of the people and creatures that appear in my
work. The atmospheres too are very reminiscent of my dreams. To analyze a little further, given what I've
said about my childhood, I'd have to say that, in some way, the images are a combination of my memories of
the past, my imagination and the dreams that float out of my subconscious. I think it was Leonardo da Vinci
who said that there is little difference between memory and imagination. A great observation that really
struck a chord with me when I first heard it.

Alina Roşu: How do you begin an image, do you start with a definite idea based on preliminary drawings
and separate studies or is your method more open than that, more in the moment? I'm curious too, how long
does it usually take you to complete a piece?

Stephen Rothwell: I do have times when I make a lot of sketchbook drawings, and I keep notebooks of
thoughts and observations, but I don't make preliminary sketches specifically for an image. It's all very much
in the moment. I just begin, perhaps in a similar way to how some authors start writing without knowing
what happens next. I like the not knowing, I'd get bored very quickly if I knew what was going to happen,
how a piece was going to look before I started. I prefer the mystery.

My working method is to surround myself with images from my archive and just start. I tend to put down
some scanned painted stains and washes just to break up the canvas so to speak, and then gaze into it for a
while as if I were looking through a fog or mist and see what comes to me. I'll rotate this basic image to see if
I feel inspired to work in portrait or landscape format and then perhaps decide on interior or exterior, but it's
all very vague at this point. Then I'll sit down for a while and spread pieces of archived material around me
and start to pick out things that seem to relate to each other. Again this is very vague. It's very a
subconscious process and very hard to really describe. I'll build up a pile of material and then start to scan it
into the mac. Photoshop is my main program for this.

Basically once I have a few things scanned I start to drag things on to the main canvas and move them
around and let them find their natural scale and how they relate to what I've already laid down. It's not just a
matter of resizing things. For me anyway it just doesn't work like that. Things seem to have a natural scale
and this dictates the distance from the viewer in the frame of the image and also the perspective. From there
on I just let things build. Often an image can have a hundred or more layers and adjustment layers too. I do a
lot of painting in masks to add atmospheres and bring out highlights and shadows. Basically, it is what ever
works.

It's hard to tell how long it takes to complete a piece. I tend to lose track of time and I'm quite obsessive.
Often one collage can give birth to others too and I'll often work on several at the same time. All in all I'd say
perhaps it takes about a week, sometimes two, though often I will go back several months later and add to it.
Again, that's something that creates a distance, you see an image almost for the first time again if it's left to
ferment for a while. They often take me quite by surprise when I see them again after a few months.

I have a large collection of my own photographs and one of found ephemera and photographs from the
1850s through to the 1930s. I tend to carry a digital camera wherever I go and take photographs of whatever
catches my interest. I rarely take photographs for their own sake; rather I collect images of things in the
world based on my gut feeling about them whether this is in terms of color, texture or form. I see things in
terms of what they might become within a collage not necessarily for what they actually are, but I don't seem
to take photographs with anything specific in mind. Rather I seem to just collect images on a gut feeling. It is
often very much the psychic atmosphere of an object, be it man made or natural. If I get that feeling from
something I'll photograph it. From experience I know very well that if I don't photograph something when I
see it, it won't be there when I go back the next day! That can be very frustrating! So, yes! A camera always.

[Drawing Room © Stephen Rothwell]

Alina Roşu: Do you identify yourself as a Steampunk artist? Most of the people who have seen your
artwork, including me, believe so.

Stephen Rothwell: Actually, not at all. Until very recently I hadn't heard of Steampunk. Of course I can
see why people identify me as such and of course there are parallels between my imagery and Steampunk but
they developed independently from my own background and interests. Although, that said, I've read a little
about the Steampunk movement since I've had interest in my work from that quarter and taken part in a
couple of Steampunk themed exhibitions and will be co-operating in some joint projects with people I've met
through the movement. But no, I don't identify myself as a Steampunk artist, just as an artist exploring my
own interests. The "steam" elements in my work stem from my childhood, my visits to the factory my father
worked in the 1960s, lots of steam, pipes, boilers and gears, coal, oil and grime.
Alina Roşu: Do you dress Steampunk? Do you have a Steampunk lifestyle?

Stephen Rothwell: No, again not at all! I do like my clothes but if anything I lean more towards the 1930s
esthetic than the Victorian one.

Alina Roşu: Do you think that our lifestyle can change the way we think, or the opposite?

Stephen Rothwell: Difficult to say, it's a chicken and egg question. For me the world is becoming ever
more fragmented and overlapping in terms of creative movements and ideas. There's certainly a lot of cross-
pollination going on. From a personal point of view I see the world as one huge and ever changing collage!
To take that further, what is the human mind if not a collage?

Of course, adopting a particular "alternative" lifestyle can allow one to study the themes associated with it in
depth, but on the other hand it can give a tendency to reject other thoughts, aesthetics and ideas that lay
across some imagined border of what is or is not acceptable within a lifestyle. I don't like the feeling of
restriction in ideas around creativity.

[Insomnia © Stephen Rothwell]


Alina Roşu: For many, your imagery is a point of reference in the Steampunk world. How did success affect
your evolution; did you expand, or you focus on paintings and themes favorite to the critics, collectors or the
public eye?

Stephen Rothwell: No, I think that would be folly. Being identified with the Steampunk movement is a
very recent thing for me. I don't have a problem with that, it's a pleasure to get a response from people
whoever they are, but if I were to just pander to the Steampunk esthetic I think my work would become a
pastiche of itself. That would be very depressing. I'm really unsure to be honest if my work is a point of
reference in the Steampunk world. If anything I'd see myself as being on the peripheries with my work
having coincidental parallels. I don't read a great deal these days . I can't seem to find the time, too busy
making images, but I did recently discover China Mieville's Perdido Street Station and The Scar and really
related to his work. I read recently somewhere that he describes his work as New Weird. So, if I had to place
myself somewhere it would be somewhere between New Weird and Steampunk, but as I say I don't really
like the thought of restrictions and labels in art.

Alina Roşu: Do you think that Steampunk is a social movement or just an artistic trend?

Stephen Rothwell: I don't feel at all qualified to comment on this as much as I'd like to. I haven't read
enough to know. I love the craft aspect of it and there are people out there making amazing things inspired
by the Steampunk esthetic, sculpture, clothing and images and completely immersing themselves in it and I
have a great deal of respect and admiration for that, for people just doing what they love to do whatever that
is, it moves the world on. Altogether the movement seems to attract some brilliant and judging by the ones
I've met some very cool and friendly people.

Alina Roşu: Which are the classical artists you respect more?

Stephen Rothwell: Oh there are so many! Just to name a few in no particular order: Hieronymous Bosch,
Bruegel the Elder, Hogarth, Piranesi de Chirico, Max Ernst, Gustave Dore, Francois de Nome, Kurt
Schwitters, Joseph Cornell. A very few of a very long list.

[Specimen © Stephen Rothwell]


Alina Roşu: Some of your artwork is frightening, mysterious, enigmatic and dark, but in some images I feel
a sour and dark humor, especially when you construct automaton type of creatures, mutants, and retro-
futuristic settings. Are these creatures following a personal story? I mean, how biographical are some of your
creations?

Stephen Rothwell: This is in many ways very difficult question to answer. I don't set out deliberately to
create images with those qualities. As I've said, I just begin and see what happens. Clearly I'm drawn
subconsciously to those kinds of atmospheres and to the kinds of source materials that are the beginnings of
the images I make. That said, although I'd agree a lot of my work appears mysterious, enigmatic and dark, I
don't personally find them frightening and it isn't my intention to evoke that feeling in the viewer. I'd like to
think they would be drawn in to the images as if they were having a lucid dreaming. Perhaps they might feel
a little unsettled by the unfamiliarity of their new environment as they explore and although I really don't
like to interpret too much as I'd much rather the viewer make their own interpretation, I will say that my
feeling is that although we can see the inhabitants of this strange world, they perhaps cannot see us. Perhaps
if they can see us at all it is only fleetingly, as if we are ghosts in their world.

You ask about a biographical aspect to the work in relation to the automatons, mutants and the settings. I'll
try to explain but it isn't going to be easy. In the sense that everyone's past makes up whom they are and
depending how they interpret that and use it creatively in their lives then yes, there's a lot of autobiography
coming through in the images.
When I'm creating an image I'm completely immersed in it, sensing the atmosphere, the colours and
textures, the smells, the tastes, the atmospheric conditions. All my senses come into play. I walk through it,
fly through it or perhaps just sit down on a rock and quietly observe it. I drink it in, I relish the sensations. It
all very much stems from my past, my formative years. Even at a very young age, I could have been no more
than seven or eight, I would steal away out of the house in the middle of the night and go walking alone on
the moors, like a wild thing, a creature of the night, a shape shifter, a wanderer. At those times the world was
mine and mine alone. I was one with it. I think perhaps that in the Darkhouse images I'm trying to find that
world again.

Alina Roşu: Any future projects? Where do you see yourself ten years from now?

Stephen Rothwell: In my mind's eye The Darkhouse Quarter is a vast place. It's a fragmented archive of
ever shifting images, a window into a dystopian or perhaps even a utopian landscape.

In a sense I'm like an explorer, an archaeologist, an anthropologist, a dreamer trying to piece together these
fragments, constantly unearthing more and adding them, trying to make a whole. It's as if I'm expecting one
day to discover that one last precious fragment, that final clue and say to myself "Ah, so that was what it was
all about, now finally I understand!" Of course that's impossible, it can never be complete and that's what
drives me. There will always be more to discover, more fragments to unearth and add to the greater picture.
It's a collage of collages, it can never be complete!

Sometimes I look at The Quarter as having parallels with the world we live in now with its layers upon layers
of past and future history and perhaps too as a skewed reflection of it, but most of all it is a place to escape
to, an entirely 'other' world. There are so many avenues and places yet to be discovered there that I could go
on forever.

In ten years, who knows! Who was it who said that life is what happens when you are making plans. One day
for sure I will just be another photograph found in a box in a second hand market, I'll be long dead and gone,
and maybe someone will look at me and think I might just put him into a collage one day and drop me in
their pocket. I do hope so, it would amuse me no end if they did!

Alina Roşu: Stephen Rothwell, you are right, we are living in an ever-changing world, an ever-changing
collage. Thank you for the interview.

***
Magic Matter
An interview with the French sculptor Pierre Matter

by Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia & Adrian Ioniţă

cliquez pour la version française


click pentru versiunea română

[Self-portrait © Pierre Matter]


Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: Your official biography speaks of a “mystical” childhood. Could you share with
our readers some events in your childhood that influenced your artistic vision later in your career?

Pierre Matter: During my childhood, I bathed in the mystical and religious ambiance given by my parents.
But soon after being crushed by a car and narrowly escaped death, I realized that their God does not protect
against car violence. Therefore, my first experience with mechanics has been painful, since the same time it
made me doubt my family beliefs. I still retained some essential values such as generosity. I think we should
be generous, and than, sooner or later life will return our gift.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: Have you had a favorite hero in your childhood? A hero who could mark a
development of your artistic creations?

Pierre Matter: There may be Black and Mortimer (comics characters) who have led at an early time my
imagination into the future, science fiction and so on... There was also, Albert Schweitzer, although I am not
sure that he influenced in any way my artistic work.

[Pink Phantasm © Pierre Matter]

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: What other styles have you experienced before reaching the stage of defining
yourself as an artist? What kinds of other materials you have worked with, before resorting to metal? And
why did you choose the metal in the end?

Pierre Matter: I really started with the comic strips in 1988-1989. The project called "The horses Ladoga",
had a political-fantasy theme, and unfortunately ended in failure. Then, for almost 10 years I explored the
field of mineral, mainly Basso-relief, before returning to metal and finally to tri-dimensional work. I would
say that, if you have the right means, through metal, you could push far enough, in theory, the limits of size
and shape. Perhaps there is also, the influence of my father, who was locksmith and let me access his
workshop from an early age.
[atelier © Pierre Matter]

Adrian Ioniţă: Many people see an association between your sculpture and Steampunk. What do you think
in this regard? Could you define Steampunk? What would you say if one day your sculptures would be
considered as an outstanding representation of this movement?

Pierre Matter: I am quite unaware of what the Steampunk movement represents. I do not know if there is
a form of nostalgia in this movement. The Jules Verne angle inspires me enormously, especially in its
dimension offered towards the reflection on future, rather than its now, a bit outdated, plastic
representation. What I know for sure is that I'm not trying to be part of a particular movement.

[Spermship Hp 2022 © Pierre Matter]

Adrian Ioniţă: Anyway, the subjects of your art work are pure Steampunk, Where from all this interest?

Pierre Matter: The passion for boats, floating monsters, ghost towns, popular ghosts of the abyss after
sinking, all of them a potential Titanic, all comes straight from my childhood dreams. The journey, the
mystery of the Bermuda Triangle, Jules Verne, Herman Melville, and sperm whales, sharks and submarines,
all this has come to mix in my dream factory. There is also the danger, drama, the war, immersion, the
supertankers, the extinction of fish as species, a host of topics of inspiration that, as soon as I soaked them in
the waters of the Blue Sea, were trapped in the nets of my imagination.
[Hommage à Kubrick © Pierre Matter]

Adrian Ioniţă: „Hommage à Kubrick” brings up many interogations. Would you tell me something about
the idea of the piece?

Pierre Matter: The self-portrait in which I wear my own head under the arm, and whose head is replaced
by a TV screen, it’s a way to question myself about our times, in the same vain of "A Space Odyssey" movie,
in which the machine eventually ends up annihilating humans. The latest version of the global financial
crisis tends to corroborate the idea of the urgency for man to take back control on machines, not the
opposite.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: Your way of human representation inspired, at least in my case, a certain fear
of machineries, of human “mechanization” and the way the “machine” disturbs the self-perception of man.
Do you think that the postmodern world will ever go beyond the anxiety produced by the "mechanical man"?
Some of your works reminded me of "The Mechanical Bride" of Marshal Mc Luhan. Does your "Mechanical
Women" reflect the social and cultural constraints placed on the female body and the concept of femininity?
How would you define today, the concept of "femininity"?

Pierre Matter: Yes, there always resides an anxiety. Remove the trucks and you do not eat after a period of
2-3 days. If we outline ourselves in situations, which in fact are not so extreme as that, our lives may be
completely shattered because of a detail. Not even talking about the A-bomb, another machine that holds in
its power the human destiny. Since we became mechanical- men, the fact that the extensions are external
(cars etc) or integrated (prostheses, nano technologies applied to medical) does not change anything. And
hence, women are not spared either. In fact, the woman has always been a "cog" in the industrial and now
post-industrial world, to the point where today she joins the man to the same rank in the system’s slavery.
Today, she has the same constraints of time, labor, transportation, like the man, putting aside the
constraints inherent to the status of woman, as maternity for example, which is often delayed because of
social pressures related to career or simple economic needs. The liberation of women has also led to put in a
position to exercise trades historically devoted to men, either because of the harsh physical or psychological
as in the case of the exercise of power. And I think that unfortunately, women who, for example, are faced
with the exercise of power, become less sensitive as men in the same situation, and they often lose some of
their femininity, that part of kindness, aspiration to peace, love and solidarity that humanity needs to
survive. The woman is the future of man...

[Freud’s Horse © Pierre Matter]

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: Your work was compared by many to those of HR Giger. Do you think that
there is some resemblance between Ginger’s methods of artistic expression, and your sculpture?

Pierre Matter: There is a clear correlation in my view, which is in harmony between human beings and
materials. My work is less morbid than Giger’s, whose dark side is quite obvious.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: I note that one of your major themes in your work is the fear of man, seen as a
mixture of human and mechanism, the mixture of machine and the beast. Critics define your work as
biomechanics. Does your work fall under this definition? What is your opinion on the representation of man
as mechanical object or animal?

Pierre Matter: It is clear that biomechanics is at the heart of my thinking. There is so little more than
gestures made by man himself in the technological world. Almost everything we do is delegated to the
machine. Just try to count the number of mini food processors that may be there in a house of the twenty-
first century. If all the machines disappeared over night, we would be totally lost... They amplify our means,
but make us totally dependent. We therefore became cyborgs in its own right, even if the machines
integrated as prostheses into our bodies are still rare. All others are also extensions of our fingers, our eyes,
ears, legs...
[Hommage à Ader © Pierre Matter]

Adrian Ioniţă: “Tribute to Ader”, dedicated to an inventor who managed to fly with the help of a steam
engine, seems to suggest the nostalgia for the times when we used to dream with open eyes. Please tell me
something about the idea of flight in your sculptures.

Pierre Matter: Our inability to fly must have been one of our oldest frustrations. The child in me is still in
blissful admiration in front of a flying machine, especially the first ones, those of those pioneers. Before
them, of course, have been Icarus, Pegasus, the entire mythology and the idea before the Incarnation. Today
everything has become so commonplace, most people fly as we take a train, without feeling that the mere rise
in the air was magical, without being aware that the flying machine is inherently one that allowed the man to
exceed his own condition.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: What do you see at the core of the relationship between nature and machine?
How are affected our notions about environment, world and humanity by this interconnection?

Pierre Matter: I think the nature of this relationship depends in fact by the order of the natural evolution,
in the sense that it is born from the millenary human evolution. It is not artificial, it derives directly from the
sequence of events that made the man what he is now and that since the dawn of time. The man is in nature
and interacts with it at this time mainly by destroying it. In this sense he it is not outside nature, but a part it.
In the same way, the machines are not external to humanity, they arise from it. The definition of the
individual, his relationship to the world, is evolving therefore along with his inventions. The man is not an
isolated and frozen individual, he consists of all the relationships it has with its environment. In this sense,
he becomes cyborg (cybernetic organism).
[Satin pink love story © Pierre Matter]

Adrian Ioniţă: Some of your works, as “satin pink love story” are highly humorous.

Pierre Matter: Ben Harper said once at France Inter radio: In the morning when I wake up, half of me
wants to conquer the world and the other half does not want to get out of bed." I have the impression that us,
all of us, have today this side of "wanting to be anything other than what we are", which is both an awareness
that life is not static, we can evolve - but equally - is something very difficult, hard to bear if we try to live that
way, because it is an existential challenge which inflicts on ourselves.... That is what this, would be pink,
Black Panther represents in “satin pink love story”.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: Could you name some significant cultural aspects of today's world that have
influenced your work?
Pierre Matter: I can quote people like Jodorowsky, Giger, Enki Bilal, Gimenez, some science fiction
movies, philosophers like Jacques Ellul, Paul Virillio, but also Jean-François Kahn, reflection on evolution in
general, Hubert Reeves, too. In a way, everything related to the quest for understanding of what we are, what
is the universe in which we live and to which we belong.

[Birth © Pierre Matter]

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: Is femininity today a question of biomechanics, as your work may suggest?
How would you evaluate the influence of postmodern mass culture, advertising or film on changes in self
perception suffered by individuals?

Pierre Matter: No, femininity is not a question of biomechanics, the breast implants are not "femininity".
In my work, femininity is to be found in the gentle curves that remain after we remove the mechanical part.
Advertising and marketing are constantly removing the man from himself. The perception he has about
himself is increasingly made through standards and norms. The Post-modern individual, dreams to be paced
into a Brad Pitt canon of beauty. From this point of view, the man joined the woman by wanting to strive for
physical perfection the way advertisements promote sales for creams and silicone. I think that the post-
modern man is more in denial of what he really is, an animal by instinct and a sensitive being who is
suffering some not just a picture dream by others for us.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: Your animal sculptures represent a mixture of natural and industrial. Does
nature itself become a controllable "robotic" element?
Pierre Matter: In any case it is subservient to man. The truly wild nature is so over. The ground, any
animal, has become a tool of production, or food, of proteins, glue and even affection in the case of pets. The
intervention of genetic manipulation in the balance of nature is actually leaning towards Robotization.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: Which of your artistic projects love you the most? Do you have a favorite
work? Is there a sculpture that you like over others, who represent something special for you?

Pierre Matter : I need years to understand whether a particular piece is more powerful or deeper or more
harmonious than another. My eyes need decanting, like wine... When immersed in the development of a
work for weeks, even months, and the play is over, it is almost impossible to have the necessary detachment
to apprehend or make judgments about it.
Very few times, when you reexamine a sculpture after a few years, and you say to yourself "Woow!" than you
really feel exultance.
[Vaisseau © Pierre Matter]

BLITZ

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: How would you describe yourself in three simple words?

Pierre Matter: Simple, complex, stubborn.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: What other passions define Pierre Matter outside the artist?

Pierre Matter: The meetings, travel, observation and criticism of the world as it is, the model ships of the
nineteenth century.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: I understand that you have studied mathematics. What would be the part of
your art to be influenced by these studies?

Pierre Matter: The precision of gesture, the proportions of a sculpture, the overall harmony of a piece, at
times- geometry, mastering the temperature control of welding or casting bronze, etc…

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: Where do you find your inspiration for your projects?

Pierre Matter: Everywhere. The world, environment, reading, everything. The process of maturation of an
element, of a project, is quite difficult to grasp with words. That is why I express myself through sculpture.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: Would you define yourself as "lone wolf", a solitary artist or you have
employees helping you give a final shape to your art projects?

Pierre Matter: Sometimes I work in collaboration, while taking about “the lone wolf” I’ll rather quote
Cocteau who said that the artist is a prison while his works are the evaders!...

***
Burning Man 2008
A brief report on our experience in 2008 at the Burning Man Festival

by Shannon & Kathy O'Hare

cliquez pour la version française


click pentru versiunea română

[Burning Man 2008 © photo by Zachary Wasserman]

Burning Man started in San Francisco in 1986 when a number of artists built an effigy of a man out of
packing crate material and burned it on Baker Beach. Since then, it has grown to over 48,000 participants
and is held in the Black Rock Desert northeast of Reno, Nevada. A monolithic wooden man is constructed
every year for the traditional Saturday night bonfire and fireworks display. Burning Man is much more than
an art festival, much more than a bonfire. It is an intentional community that comes together to
express itself through art, music, dance, and freedom of expression. Everyone who attends this event ends
up participating as that is the nature of this once a year gathering.

[Gathering for Critical Tits, BM 2008 © photo by Ignacy Zulawski]


Each year, a theme is decided by Larry Harvey, one of the founders and the current executive director, and
the Burning Man staff. When I first became involved in 2005, the theme was the Psyche, so many of the art
pieces reflected the journey into one's mind and the outcome of that journey. In 2006, it was Hope and
Fear: the Future. That year, we built a self-propelled, 3-story Victorian house on wheels based on the
writings of Jules Verne, in keeping with the theme of a Victorian science fiction future.

[Mechabolic by Jim Mason 2007 © photo by solarlab]

In 2007, we celebrated the Green Man and many of the art pieces featured alternative power and green
technology, including Mechabolic by Jim Mason, a 100-foot long gasified powered vehicle that looked like a
slug. The most spectacular burn, though, was the 100' tall oil derrick called Crude Awakenings by Dan
Dasmann and Karen Cusolito which to this day was the largest display of propane fire which can be seen on
YouTube in a variety of different recordings.

[Rustang © 2008 phpto by Mutoid Waste Company]

This year, the theme was the American Dream and we saw a lot of art and art cars that were semi-patriotic as
well as dealing with the American West and frontier times. One of the more spectacular pieces in this
genre was the Rustang built by the Mutoid Waste Company which was a horse made from old truck parts
towing an over-sized Conestoga wagon. The highlight of the art installations, though, had to be from the
Flaming Lotus Girls. Their piece was called Mutopia and featured colored flames and had kinetic movement
driven by the gas pressure of the propane, a unique feature to this creation.

[Mutopia © photo by John Curley]

Another truly wonderous piece and perfect for this year's theme was a piece by Peter Hudson called
Tantalus, which followed the myth of Tantalus reaching for the apple that he could never achieve. Peter's
piece was lit at night and looked like an Uncle Sam hat until it began to move and spin around with a strobe
light that created an animation of a figure reaching for the golden apple.

[Basura Sagrada Temple © photo by Zachary Wasserman]

The Temple always is a spectacular piece and this year was no different and was exquisitely created and
burned by this year's team - Shrine, Tuktuk and the Basura Sagrade Collaboratory. Although there were
many good pieces this year, it did not seem like there was as much as in previous years. And getting around
the Playa was definitely an adventure. The combination of lack of rain and years of BM is why this year's
event was so dusty. One of the obstacles turned out to be the fence line from the previous year since the Man
has moved and expanded to accommodate the growing numbers.

[LB&O Trolley with Lady Impetuous © Neverwas Trolley]

Next year's theme is Evolution - does this mean that Burning Man is evolving? It is always changing and it is
always new, so this may prove interesting because as we all know, change is inevitable, but is it always for the
better?

Yours truly,
Major Catastrophe and Lady Impetuous (aka Shannon & Kathy O'Hare)

***
The Golden Hammer
An interview with Israeli blacksmith phenomenon, Uri Hofi

by Adrian Ioniţă

click pentru versiunea română

Just as I was about to leave for Japan to continue my studies there, someone gave me Hofi's business card,
so I hopped on my motorbike and rode out to his shop and spent a few hours talking to him. "You know",
he said, after I informed him about my impending trip overseas "I know what you are looking for, but you
will find it not in Japan or on the top of the Himalayas or the bottom of the ocean, but right here in my
shop. I wish you luck!" After 12 years in Japan, after being apprenticed to a sword maker and a knife
maker, after studying in numerous shops in Japan and United States, I know that he was right. The truth
is often right next to you, but you have to walk an awfully long road to understand this.
[Arnon Kartmazov]

[© Uri Hofi]

Adrian Ioniţă: Before we talk about your blacksmithing career, I’d like to start with a question about your
name. Should I call you Uri, or Hofi?

Uri Hofi Let me tell you something, when I was a child in the kindergarten, were 5 boys with the name of
Uri. To solve the dilemma, everybody was called by his family name. Since then, till now, everybody calls me
Hofi.

Adrian Ioniţă: What means Uri in Hebrew?

Uri Hofi: Uri means light, “my light”, while Hofi means “my beach”. This is how you find out things in life.
Ce mai faci, Adrian? (“How are you doing, Adrian?)

Adrian Ioniţă: This is unreal. Do you speak Romanian?

Uri Hofi: Before I joined Kibbutz Ein-Shemer in 1957, I came from a kibbutz where the founder was
Romanian, so I picked up the language, you know, starting with, as always happens, bad words, like "F... D-
zeii mă-tii"…but then, I was exposed also to the good things related to the Romanian language and culture,
like the wonderful Romanian music and art. I consider Brâncuşi one of the finest sculptors of the last
century. Of course, I won’t forget, the Romanian “mămăligă” and the pickled red watermelons.
Adrian Ioniţă: It is good to hear that Brâncuşi was Romanian; still, there are people who believe that he
was a French artist. Please tell me something about Ein-Shemer.

Uri Hofi: Ein-Shemer is a half way between Haifa and Tel- Aviv. In the kibbutz the population is around
700 people, we have 1550 acres of land, we have avocado and oranges plantation, cotton wheat and maze
fields, rubber and plastic injection molding factories and we all live in a communal life system. It is the place
where I founded in 1988 The Hofi Forge School. It is a big school, equipped with eleven stations and since its
inauguration I had more than 2200 students who followed the courses, many of them coming here, from
countries with a strong tradition in blacksmithing. Counting the great interest and attendance during the
years, I can say that The Hofi Forge School in Ein-Shemer is one of the largest private schools in the world. I
make this distinction because there are also some other great schools, especially in community colleges in
United States or occupational or trade schools in Germany where they teach traditional blacksmithing.

[Uri Hofi with the family @ Uri Hofi]

Adrian Ioniţă: Please, tell me something about your family and the tradition of blacksmithing in Israel at
the time when you founded the school.

Uri Hofi: My father was a stonemason. During the years, I did a lot of things, pottery, ceramic, stone
masonry and sculpture, tool making, working with leather, jewelry, shoes, my children worn the shoes I
made… I have three children and four grandchildren. In older times, every village in Israel had a
blacksmithing shop because it was the place where agricultural machineries were repaired, but when I joined
Kibbutz Ein-Shemer, they had no blacksmithing at all. For 17 years I was in charge with all the field activities
related to agricultural work, and managing director of three factories, a rubber, plastic and magnet factory. I
started blacksmithing when I was 53 and now I am 73 years old.

Adrian Ioniţă: This is amazing, here is a 73 years old blacksmith who is considered by many, one of the
most innovative minds of the contemporary blacksmithing, responsible of bringing back to life the passion
for an almost extinct craft, and he is a Jew? The general perception about Jewish people is that they exceed
mostly in the art of law and finances, are brilliant doctors, actors or writers, but blacksmiths?

Uri Hofi: Adrian, I have to tell you something. The Jewish people are competing in any field. It is in our
nature. For instance, one of the most important figures in the American blacksmithing history was a fellow
by the name of Samuel Yellin. He was a Jew. Yellin was a master blacksmith from Philadelphia and his art is
considered a climax at the beginning of the 20th-century wrought iron design in America. Even though he
died young, when he was 43 years old, he managed to do the largest forging company in the world. Only in
one project, the ''Federal Reserve Bank'' from downtown New York, he forged in his smithy 625 tones of
steel, the biggest forging work in the world in the modern time. In his smithy he had 60 forges and more
than 270 workers. All the ironwork at the Federal Reserve Bank, the lower part of the tower, the window
grates, the doors, the lamps, everything was done in his smithy. His granddaughter was till a year ago the
president of A.B.A.N.A. There are many Jewish artisans throughout history, not only doctors, lawyers or
professors.

Adrian Ioniţă: Before the interview, I did a research about you and I found out that you worked for a while
in South Africa.

Uri Hofi: This is a long story but I will make it short. I built for more then ten years agricultural machinery
at Ein-Shemer. Then I moved to South Africa, were I managed and developed agricultural farms, a real
turning point in my life, no wonder that I returned three times to Africa and with one occasion, between
1984 and 1985 I founded and managed The Mabatoo Art School from Bophuthatswana. It was also the time
when I studied history at the Tel-Aviv University and art at the Tel-Hai Institute.

Adrian Ioniţă: You traveled a lot and it seems that teaching is an important part of your life.

Uri Hofi: Within, two or three years from the day I decided to become a blacksmith, I opened a school, I
developed the Hofi forging system, the Hofi Hammer, the free form forging with the air hammer, the crown
and combination dies, I co-founded and start teaching in several schools of blacksmithing in the United
States, at The Ozark School of Blacksmithing in Missouri, The Center for Metal Arts in Florida, New York,
The School of the Big Blue, from Morganton, North Carolina, and currently I am opening a school in
Portland Oregon. I’ll add to these, my participation to over 16 international conferences, I did several
demonstrations at A.B.A.N.A conferences in USA, also in Germany, Italy, England, Holland, Japan, I spent
even a month in Mongolia. Teaching became a central part of my activity. The reason for that is my
realization of the fact that passing the knowledge to the future generation is highly important and has to be
done fast, before we loose any traces of it. For me art means teaching and transferring ideas from one’s mind
to another. Not only to preserve the culture. To see the smile on the face of my students, that is my reward.
And I love it!!!!!!!!!!

[Workshop @ Uri Hofi]


Adrian Ioniţă: To reinvent yourself at age 53 and become in such a short time an artist recognized
internationally is quite a great accomplishment. Which are the sources of your inspiration ?

Uri Hofi: I am the type of person who learns all the time, from the most unexpected sources, but I can say
without any doubts that Freddy Habermann triggered my passion for blacksmithing. Freddy, who
unfortunately died in April this year, was a terrific blacksmith from the communist Czechoslovakia, and had
a memorable demonstration at the 1984 A.B.A.N.A conference, where I met him for the first time. Since I
was the only German speaking person at the conference, and Freddy needed a translator, he asked me to
assist him during the demonstration, even though I was not a blacksmith at that time. It was a moment when
I came to the realization and comprehension that something essential and meaningfull came into my life and
I decided to become a blacksmith. It was a very surrealistic moment in my life.

Adrian Ioniţă: You mentioned the word "Hofi System", would you please, tell me something about it?

Uri Hofi: On Iforgeiron.com it’s a section called “blueprints”, where are presented over fifty lectures of
mine. I have also many videos on DVD, and some of them can be found free on You Tube To put it short, the
system is about ergonomics and not only that. A blacksmith is swinging a hammer several thousand times a
day. Is hard on the body. Most of the blacksmiths have problems with their back, the elbows, the wrist, and
this is caused by the fact that they hold the hammer wrong. When you raise the hammer, you bring the wrist
joint to its limit and you damage it, but if you hold the hammer the right way, with the palm of the hand
parallel to the anvil face, there is no limit to the joint and therefore no damage is done. But is not only that;
my hammer is carefully designed and balanced. I use to say to my students: "I am not holding my hammer, I
am guiding it"… For this reason, my system was named by many, “the karate system” of modern
blacksmithing. To move it up or down, we use the internal forces, the internal energies of the hammer.
Through the Hofi System, the process of forging becomes easy, you are not getting tired, and you do not
damage your body. It is all about simplicity, safety, speed, and fun.

Adrian Ioniţă: How came these ideas to your mind?

Uri Hofi: By pure observation. And learning about the human body, physics, the laws of Archimedes and
Newton, and so forth. I didn’t make anything new; all the information was out there for the past 2500 years.
I have seen many craftsmen doing the same mistake just because they were taught that it is the only way to
do it. Well, here I may repeat myself by telling how important it is to pass the knowledge as accurate as you
can, but in the meantime, you have to think out of the box, all the time!!!!!!!! Not to follow blindly.
Blacksmithing is very traditional. The British are working in one way, the French are having their way, the
same with the Germans, and so on, and so on. But I am not coming from there, I am coming from another
place and I am thinking differently. Therefore, I am asking two questions: one, “Why are we doing it this
way? “ and second, “Can we do it better?” and always at the end, I ask myself one more time, “Can we do it
better?” Improvement is a permanent way of thinking. People don't like to question too much, and
somebody may say “If it was good enough for my father, than it is good enough for me” In 1994, at a
conference in England, a fellow from the audience told me, “Mr Hofi, I am the son of a blacksmith, my
grandfather was a blacksmith, 6 generations in my family where blacksmiths, but I never had a lecture about
the hammer”. I looked in his eyes and I said, “ Yes, because you was born with the hammer of your father,
and the hammer was passed from generation to generation and nobody came up with the question, why we
use the hammer, why we use it this way? … You took it for granted and that is the definition of the
Tradition”.

Adrian Ioniţă: Lets say that one day somebody will pick up your hammer and will say, “this hammer can
be done differently” , what would you say?

Uri Hofi: Don’t get me wrong, I have a strong traditional upbringing in the trade; in the meantime, I
question the tradition to a point where many can say that I am an anti-traditionalist. But I am not! Today we
have a completely different deal, completely different steel, tools, completely different understanding of our
body. I am an agent of change, and I want to see the process of change to go on. One day I was working in my
smithy with 5 students and we had a problem. I never told them “Do it this way, or that way, or another
way.” What I told them was “Tomorrow we will speak about it; I want everyone of you to come with his own
solution.” 95 % of the time my solution works better, but one of my students had a better solution and I
accepted it. I love it! If a student is coming one day, and tells me that he invented a new and better hammer I
kiss him. But wait, these days I am experimenting with a complete new hammer, with a better balance. Also,
I designed an anvil and a gas forge, which I’m selling through my smithy. As I told you, I never stop asking,
“Can we do it better?”

[Ball forming © Uri Hofi]

Adrian Ioniţă: What means for Uri Hofi to be an artisan ?

Uri Hofi: You know the story of Israel when they left Egypt and they were 40 years in the desert? God came
to Moses and said “You have to find somebody, its time for us to build a holy place and the Covenant, you
have to find somebody with the wisdom of the heart.” What does this mean? This man has to be a wise man,
he must understand, he must know, and love, and must be able to plan ahead. He also needs another quality.
He must to be an artist. But on the top of all his qualities he has to think while he is working. The Hebrew
language sums this better than other languages - “To have the knowledge of thinking and working together.”
The name of the chosen artisan was Bezaleel. He made also the Menorah, the symbol of ancient Israel. It was
done by beating a single bar of pure gold. He did not cast it, did not use files or chisels, he did it with a
hammer. That means to be an Artisan!

Adrian Ioniţă: The hammer, obviously is one of the most important tools of the blacksmith. Please tell me
something about the way you use it, or handle it.

Uri Hofi: When you forge is not only the power, many people are dealing with the power, but is not the
power, it’s the rhythm, the music, speed=velocity, the internal energy, the using and the saving of the energy,
and all these things together. The result can be seen in the form. The right rhythm will give the right form.
Between rhythm and form it is a very subtle but direct connection. Working too much may spell disaster for
form, too little will give you something blank and unfinished. When I am doing a leaf for example, I am
counting all the time. Every leaf I am doing is done with the same amount of hits. I am counting them. The
form, the rhythm and the time are actually one thing, which cannot be separated. All of these are also
connected with the amount of energy invested in producing a certain form. If all of the three things
mentioned above are right, then the amount of energy invested for it is the minimum necessary for
producing the form.
[The Hofi Hammer © Uri Hofi]

Adrian Ioniţă: Is true that you taught blacksmithing in prisons ?

Uri Hofi: Stories are life. It’s why I was honored with The Order of Excelence of the German Republic,
from the president Horst Kohler. While teaching in Berlin, I had this idea to teach in prison, not in a juvenile
prison, but in a place where are kept some of the worst criminals. So, we built together with Martin Ziegler
from Berlin a smithy in the prison, and I gave a class for five days. The program I initiated was extremely
successful and from occupational point of view, it set into motion a proposal for a compulsory program of
blacksmithing in all the prisons from Germany. In October this year, I will teach again and they will make a
45 minutes documentary movie about the program.

Adrian Ioniţă: I believe that working with a guy who killed his mother or girlfriend or a stranger, is not
easy. How would you transmit compassion, love and hope in such a person?

Uri Hofi: You are right, is not easy. But I am not the judge. I am not God. I accept the people for what they
are. They made a mistake. Something happened to them. Some of them were neo-nazi. For me like a Jew to
meet nazi people of the modern era, was a challenging experience. One of them approached me and said, “
You are a Jew?” I said “Yes, why do you think that I am not a Jew? And he said, “This can not be, Jews look
different, different noses, different ears, they look different.” Till today, not only in Germany, but also all
over the world, anti-Semitism is alive. This does not mean that there is no hope. One day, while teaching in
Berlin I met a young gentleman around 30, who attended my class. At the end of the class, we always sit
together and have a closer conversation about the system, the content of the course, or future projects.
Suddenly I see that this man has tears in his eyes, that he is weeping, and I asked him “What happened to
you?” He was in the front of the other students and told us his story: “I live together with my parents. One
day I told them that I want to study blacksmithing and go to Berlin. Why Berlin? my parents asked. Because
I heard about a very special teacher, and I want to study his system. Who is this teacher? And I said that is a
fellow from Israel. A Jew, are you going to learn from a Jew? Not in our family!” Then he continued his story
and said that his parents are till today members of the Nazi Party. The swastika is hanging on the wall in
their house and his grandfather was a former member of the Gestapo. Despite his parents’ resistance, he
came to the class and that is a sign of change and hope.

Adrian Ioniţă: A real emotional story. It seems to me that blacksmithing became for you a matter of
education in craftsmanship, but also a vehicle for a better understanding of the human spirit and the
problems we face today in the world. I know that in Israel are also many changes and a strugle for peace with
the Palestinians.
Uri Hofi: I am glad you mentioned that.In my school in Israel many Palestinians are coming to study with
me and is no problem at all. I am the author of a monument commissioned by the peace movement with the
Palestinians. The monument is 9,5 meters tall, and weights 7.5 tons. It was built out of heavy plates of steel
incorporated one in another in a very special way, so that if you look at it from the side, resembles praying
hands. Praying for God and praying for peace. The idea of the sculpture was inspired by the way children are
building palaces from playing cards, by building them one upon the other, and they always fell down.The
same thing it happening with the peace. To make peace you have to make it from something solid and strong
like steel. There are 2 plates; one is the Palestinian plate, the other the Israeli plate. Each plate has a little
mark with their flag. Why? Because each one is a nation. You can not melt nations, but that does not mean
that you can not forge them together to live in peace.

[Monument for Peace © Uri Hofi]

Adrian Ioniţă: It is what we all hope. Only peace can bring happiness and freedom in the world. Hofi, tell
me something about your objects. I have seen on your website a beautiful bowl made from a thin sheet of
metal.

Uri Hofi: You are not the only one who likes that piece. It won a 1st price in Italy, at StIA. One piece, no
welding, just forging. I love simplicity. It’s so much power in humbleness. Moreover, is not easy to do it.
Believe me. To make simple things is complicated. I feel repugnancy for pompous things. At Iforgeiron.com
it is a Gallery where are over 500 entries with my works. Many people asked me to put my objects in the
galleries, in Tel Aviv, or Jerusalem, but I refused.
[Wall sculpture © Uri Hofi]

Adrian Ioniţă: Why?

Uri Hofi: In the past I had several exhibitions in the galleries. One of them which opened in Tel Aviv had
the name “ Tools as sculptures and sculptures as tools” The galleries are in a sense commercial places, a kind
of business which exposes the artworks in a cheating light compared to the authentic circumstances in which
are born. This does not mean that there are not fine galleries around, but for now I prefer to stay as closer I
can to my work. A show which was dear to me, because was related to Chillida, an artist I always admired,
was opened in 2oo2 at Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin and was integrated with what happened to be Chillida’s
last show, because he died that year. Out of all the blacksmiths in the world they selected me to show the
tools of the trade, and that meant something to me.

Adrian Ioniţă: I have to agree with you that sometimes, what we see in galeries or museums can be
deceiving.

Uri Hofi: By the way, I read your article about Past -Future -Imagism where you describe the reaction of
the art criticism about Duchamp's ready-mades. I do not think that it is important whether Duchamp had
made the object himself or he found it in the alley and raised it on a pedestal in a show. It makes no
difference, it is just BS. The reality of the object speaks for itself beyond the stories surrounding it. Duchamp
made a declaration of art, a statement. Picasso's "Tete de Toro" which was completed by him in 1943 putting
together bicycle parts is one of the most beautiful sculptures in the world. This unexpected dimension open
to free interpretation is what makes me happy, even if I do not know anything about the making of the
object. The same thing happens when somebody is writing a song, and somebody else is trying to explain the
story of the song, its meaning, or philosophy. What is important is what stays with us, and that is the song
itself. There are so many layers, and if we go and dig and dig and dig, and at the end we dig too much, we
loose the fun of looking with real eyes to a piece of art and say, “This is fantastic!”. For instance Picasso did
324 sketches for his "The Three Graces" and eventually finished his painting differently. Regarding these
sketches and their history, we can talk as long as we want, but what is important is the end result.

[Sculpture dedicated to Tonni Benneton © Uri Hofi]

Adrian Ioniţă:How do you develop your artwork, do you make sketches?

Uri Hofi: Rarely. Usually I develop a design or strategy, mentally. I don't do anything before I finish my
thinking. Sometimes I am thinking about an idea for 2 years and afterwards, when the idea is finished in my
mind I can do it in 20 minutes. Talking about sketches, Sahar (moon in Hebrew) Hofi, my 20 years old
granddaughter, a talented aspiring blacksmith, did the illustrations for my recent book about blacksmithing,
published by Johannes Angele in Germany.

[drawing by Sahar Hofi © Sahar Hofi]

Adrian Ioniţă: Before we wrap up our interview, I know that you are very busy, please tell me something
about your future plans.

Uri Hofi: Several years ago I traveled to Japan and I had a great experience in Sakai city, near Osaka. Sakai
is an industrial city where are active over 540 blade makers and where Ashi Hiroshi a famous Japanese
master blacksmith invited me to present the Hofi system. I intend to go back to Japan, this time for a longer
period, and study Mokume-Gane, a Damascus technique formed with layers of cooper silver and other
metals fused together through heat and pressure. In October I will be again for a demonstration and a
documentary film in Germany, also I will travel to Holland, and United States were I have several courses in
general blacksmithing and the Hofi system, and in general to go on teaching and improving the forms and
the techniques as long as I can!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Adrian Ioniţă: Dear Hofi, thank you very much for the interview.

[Bowl, winner of the 1st prize at StIA © Uri Hofi]

***
The City of Lost Children or Falling Adream
by Cristina Anghel

click pentru versiunea română

cliquez pour la version française

[City of Lost Children © Club d'Investissement Média]

click image to see video preview

It's Christmas Eve, in its most enchanting and tale-like moment. Toys come to life, the image is slightly
blurry as if a winter dream is unwinding. A candy-coated smiling Santa drops in through the chimney
trailed by another Santa and then another one, and another one, until this all too uncanny repetition alters
a possible Nut Cracker-like picture into a symphony of horrors, disturbing a child’s serene dream. So
begins The City Of Lost Children, the last movie created in partnership by Marc Caro and Jean-Pierre
Jeunet.

Although not at all a sensationalism-driven moneymaking feature, The City Of Lost Children managed to
become in 1995, at the time of the release, the most expensive French film, and also one of the most
accomplished in terms of special effects. The great team behind the piquant Délicatessen (1991) pitched a
motion picture variation to Jean Giraud and Philippe Druillet's Métal Hurlant universe : elaborate
photography, macabre characters, and a whole decaying, villainous and still atmosphere.

On the first approach, the plot appears to be reachable, following the classical path of a fairy tale.
A toddler's called Denree kidnapping, sets his adoptive brother and everyday circus freak, One, to his
rescue only to come up against many a hamper. A water-surrounded city is the nerve center to one
scientific-demonic lineup. Doctor Krank is the ultimate stereotyped mad scientist: very strong foreign
accent, expressionist pose, stringy shriveled fingers, a German-flavored meaning ill or morbid kind of
name, sawbones scrubs wearing individual sparked by the fierce desperation of growing old. Himself along
with the monstrous parade of accomplices are the miscarried outcome of a solitary scientist's creative
experiment. The wishful thinking out of this world creation, the scientist's perfect picture unfortunately
gets to be a dreamless man.

Morose and grim like any other ogre in an ivory tower, Krank is also a determined man bound to fight his
dream-related premature aging by seizing and multiplying others' dreams. The test laboratory encloses
some complex transfer machineries for the children's brain flow. Krank's creator or rather what's left of
him – a hyperactive brain, soaking in a greenish liquid, reposes in too. The in situ dream capturing system
is illustrated by a helmet, tube and cables-provided chair.

This modus operandi of cerebral activity, mental control and virtual reality exploration is a recurrent
cinematic imagery in films like Metropolis, Brazil, The Lawnmower Man, 12 Monkeys and The Matrix.
The very last frontier of human independence, the subconscious mental activity has no other escape than
dreaming of utopias like Brazil's Sam Lowry or dismissing their abductors plans by mirroring them in
their nightmares, like in The City Of Lost Children. The only clinical activity recorded by the dream
dealers is unavailability. The film's devised scientific imagery performs on the playground originally used
by cinema to create magic, to design identities, to list dreams, to juggle with alternative realities and
reproduce an imaginary social conveniences system.

The futuristic technological aspects, present in the bio-mechanical make-up of the Cyclops from Krank's
scientific laboratory are far from being enthusiastic descriptions of Jules Verne's scientific reveries, and
seem rather the script of a techno-phobic spirit.

Considering the manicheistic codes of the fairy-tale, the genetic Frankensteinian imagery of Dr. Krank and
his acolytes is perceived as a humanistic parti-pris in which the magic of sub-consciousness and the power
of the hazard prevails over scientific rigor. The whole movie rests under the hazard's magic star which
produces gatherings, incidents and a stampede of events made by the simple fall of a tear drop, situations
which translate dreams or bits of life into alternative reality.

Notwithstanding a certain initial obviousness, Caro and Jeunet's movie is extremely complex due to the
vaguely designed narrative and cinematic difference between reality and imagination.

Even though the dream is the starting point of the movie, it is rapidly transformed in a nightmare and a
gloomy, traumatizing and traumatized world which is unveiled to the public's eye, because the children
have their dreams polluted by a cybernetic and malevolent virtuality, and the mad scientist is lacking the
capacity to dream. This shortage of dreams brings the death closer, both to the children forced in extreme
independence without parental supervision, as well to their predatory hunter. Without intentionally being
an allegory of the modern world which lost its capacity to dream, this movie is rather a tale in the same
vein of those woven by the Grimm Brothers, as the directors themselves stated in the film' synopsis. The
fantastic, magic, irrational and gloomy elements of the movie are scented by Badalamenti's music, which,
with its lyrical notes manages to create a movie endearing in its insensibility. We have leaping moments of
tension staged by a ballet of wax figures, conferring a expressionistic theatricality, a pure optical and
sonorous situation, by Gilles Deleuze's definition. [1]

The visual and sound entity outlines time and space, total myth and cyclical continuity. The entire
narrative mechanism is no longer required for the depiction of the initial story. An open setting and a
continuous image projection to be deciphered by the audience are sufficient storytellers.

The visual cinematic codes used by Caro and Jeunet create a meditative atmosphere. Time stands still and
the natural cycles are muddled. The fairy story seems to take place in a form of cyclical present and past
assorted. The image and the futuristic scenery traces a universe of perpetual dusk, a sun free world, where
light is produced by rather mysterious energetic sources, still unsuccessful at overpowering the blackness
of the turbid coal air. The expressionist ambience gives a Uchronia flavor to the fantastic setting. Above
and beyond the fantastic elements inherent to the story, the visual gets to adumbrate a perpetual
phantasmagoric space, a territory where the unknown pervades the material world.

Gilles Deleuze's research on the continuous interference between reality and virtuality, often two mingled
terms, made him construct an entire theory about this coalescence in the modern cinematographic space.
According to him, the image appears to be split, between a self-releasing movement and a prisoner status
situation. This inherent tension of the image is producing an incapacity to discern between real and
imaginary, between truths and false, eternal and transitory, physical and mental reality. It develops two
fundamental axes– one of the movement-image and the other of the time-image.

While the movement-image is a globalizing one, the image of a logical interconnected universe, the time-
image is utterly disperssive, lacking the senso-motor interconnections of the moving-image. The time-
image initiates in this way an eye-catching cinema, a cinema that invites the viewer in a oneiric universe.
Deleuze describes this type of universe as one in witch the action is floating in a given situation, without
necessarily affecting it. The time-image generates rather an optical and sonorous promenade, which pivots
the axes of time. In this way it becomes an image of memory, of introspection and recounting, a circuit of
synapses. The time-image is not virtual in its shape but enunciates a virtuality, an absolute remembrance.
This fact is manifested through the non-linearity of the cinematographic discourse, which isn't pure
narration anymore. The syncopation, fragmentation, the illogical concatenation of images, the irrationality
of this march of images pulsating between temporal layers, are creating the prerequisite of a participative
rapport between the movie and its observer.

Therefore, the blurry and illogical nature of Caro and Jeunet's movie is exactly what endorses the
audience with the ability to create its own mental odeon, its own representation logic. Time-image is not
merely a pure and simple reproduction of the visible, but rather a new entity mediated by the cinema.

On stage or on the screen everything is for real,[...] and this is why people go to the shows at night [...] to
stare at themselves, avowed Lechy Elbernon of the French drama L'Échange by Paul Claudel. The
imagination-diffused blunt perception has the spectator, turned spect-actor, commit his mind and soul to
a mediated experience. The spectator goes to a movie show for a consented transcending experience,
unpluging reality for a reverie mode. This active, spect-actorial participation emerges from the escapist
exigency of a world where everything is possible. George Méliès, a one of a kind cinemagician, set in
motion "the impossible voyages", and got the audience bewildered by an optical illusions universe that
has techniques and technology bound to show the reality and its subliminal imagination connections.

Two surrealistic-like fantastic artisans, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro devised a film around the idea
of a dystopia, and thus used the visual codes of an apocalyptic universe to create a fairy tale about falling
adream. Their visual philosophy extended the limits of the iconographic and narrative frame of the
fantasy cinema genre.

A film has always been the mirror of a present, past, possible or improbable time age. Like any other
mirror game it exhibits morphing effects, where reality and imagination come together to create new
visions, some of them impeccably clear while others utterly blurry. If one watches a film as if he was taking
a solitary walk through the image mysteries and its different surprising perceptual levels, than, the
hypnotically visual-aural form of The City of Lost Children, creates a unique experience for our senses and
sensibility.

[1] Gilles Deleuze, Cinéma 1. L'image-mouvement, Paris: Les éditions de Minuit, 1983 and Cinéma 2.
L'image-temps, Paris: Les éditions de Minuit, 1985.
Nimrods
An interview with American theater producer, Joe Rosato

by Adrian Ioniţă

click pentru versiunea română

"Once you obtain a certain level of authority you can't let it go, and this is a lesson that I'm slowly
realizing, cause when I try to throw most of it out the window and express to people that I might be really
just as confused as they think they are, that people stop listening to you or communicating with you,
because no one wants to be lining up behind anybody who doesn't at least give you the illusion that they
have a direction..."
[Joe Rosato]

[Self-portrait © 2008 Joe Rosato]

Adrian Ioniţă: I followed your evolution for several years and what always puzzled me was the fact that all
your creativity and fertile ideas are sitting in a private basket. It is as if you decided to be your own public.
For me and the few privileged who entered your world, seemed at the time, a huge waste of energy which
probably never ever will be recovered.. It even crossed my mind that, shying away from the public eye is in
fact an exercise for some sort of accumulation of power and wit for what may become in an after-life, the
feeding of our future spirit. If immortalized, that moments may have been celebrated like avant-garde. I see
it today as an invisible and private process, done without the ambition to change a set of existing values or
rules, but mostly with the humility and awareness that genuine acting is a private moment of interrogations.
In times in which the fabric of our society is so worn down by power, money and consumerism such a work
seems obsolete.

Joe Rosato: To "open new cultural or political pathways" causes a chill to go up my spine. Is the definition
of avant-garde from Wikipedia. I am willing to admit that there might be confusion with the way I unveil my
thoughts, but the slowness is neither spite nor an attempt to be difficult. The idea of avant-garde sounds
willful. Like I'm trying to - for my own purposes - to force the world into a new direction. Wiki tries to
narrow in on what "avant-garde" really means, which tells me that it is a growing definition. But I do not
want to swear allegiance to this symbol, I have no identity with any of those who were part of it. I'm
ambitious I think, but my current slow entry into the theater world is that I do not know how to be authentic
in what seems to me a cutthroat competition for attention, for attentions sake. Everyone is getting on boxes,
certain of what the problem is in the world. I want to address issues, but feel lost in a maze. I think I've been
trying very hard and working in a vacuum.. but that is changing.

[16th century painting of the Babel Tower by Hendrick III van Cleve]

Adrian Ioniţă: If I set aside your acting career, I may say that Nimrod, your newly born theater production
company, broke a long exercise of private interrogations and raised it to a different level. Why now and why
Nimrod?

Joe Rosato: Nimrods means rebellion. Nimrod means idiot. Nimrod was also the king, during the period
when the Tower of Babel was built and I've always liked that story because is so contemporary in many ways.
God punished the people because they used their imaginations to technically improve their existence. Why!?
I think that on a certain level God gets jealous because he likes being the master over people and sees their
actions as a threat to his power. He caused confusion among people by producing in them diverse languages,
so they could not understand one another. Is this not happening today? We are improving our existence on
this earth by leaps and bounds, while at the exact same time indiscriminate bombs are exploding all around
the world. God seems to like factions! God should be grateful for Satan! There is a fear that education levels
are dropping, that the environment is dying, that someone will nuke another out of sheer spite. The wind of
the world is picking up speed, and yet communication and action seem to be on separate paths. Imagination
vs destruction! I could talk for hours but this is a quick overview.

Adrian Ioniţă: The symbolism you just expressed has a flavor of Steampunk, what would you say about
that?

Joe Rosato: Part of me wants to say I don't think so, and that is terrible to state if I am in it. I like avoiding
classification. To define is to kill. The thing is that I don't know... We are in a time of great flux when "the
change is changing" as Heraclitus would say. It is difficult to be able to tell what to focus on. Theater used to
be the primary entertainment. People would go out to see Shakespeare, a play that lasted hours and hours
and this would not faze people. Today with TV and the such, we are inundated with information, while
people want something solid, of worth, if you will, but I don't think anyone knows what that is anymore.
Therefore, there is a certain level of confusion and anomie. Nimrod taps into it, the way Steampunk is trying
to drive us back to times when we used to understand each other, and we lived in a less confusing world. All
of our shows so far are in the late 19th century. To the beginning of a change to industrialization. I'm involved
with communication, not theater. Theater is just the outlet. I don't know right now how it is all going to pan
out in the future. Communication, as in Babel's Tower is crucial. I was raised by TV, and in a very nihilistic
century. I'm looking for the new stuff on the horizon by listening, not shouting, desperately trying to figure
out what those are.. I guess that's a good way of describing it. Simplicity and the return to values that we can
understand and control may put me to a closer definition of Steampunk. But I do not care about going
backwards.. the past is over.

[Nimrod’s logo]

Adrian Ioniţă: You did three pieces with Nimrod. All of them are reenactments of sermons from literary
classics like Melville's "Moby Dick", or Kafka's "A Report to an Academy" and a lecture titled “How goes the
Battle?” by Henry Ward Beecher (HWB) a famous American clergyman from the 19th century. Morality,
violence and faith are very hot issues today. They always had been. Never heard before about HWB, shame
on me, but Melville and Kafka are a great choice for the subject. Not talking strictly about their philosophy,
but about their personal life. I always feel judgmental in the assessment of their work, especially when a
biographical detail slips involuntarily into mind. A mental readjustment of ideas and life even though they
don't coincide.

Joe Rosato: Sometimes they do. Did you ever have something change in your life, something inside of you..
not external stuff like moving to a new apartment.. but a change in the way you perceive the world? Human
beings have very few changes of consciousness during a lifetime. This process of change is very cyclical in
nature, and as one goes into change a vibration begins in ones brain that seems to travel in a loop that gets
tighter and tighter until something gives. The change has occurred. Melville's Father Mapple, misses the
change and falls back into the past, as he says at the end of the sermon "Oh Father.. here I die." Beecher
stands in the midst of change, bridgeing the gap between two worlds.. as his sermon blends religion and
science into a rhapsody. He brings over the positive of the past into a new world. Kafka understands the
change, and his ape RotPeter rises above his animal origins to become the narcissistic vain man that he now
is.. mentioning nothing of God, and ending his lecture by stating.. "I simply report. Even to you, esteemed
gentlemen of the Academy, I have only made a report." Read it a couple of times.. and tell me what he means
by "even to you". I will tell you my view - he is talking to himself, and the audience is insignificant. He stands
in relation to nobody. Alone, and entertaining himself. Sort of what Hamlet does also.. all thought, all
planning, little action in relation to others. But yet you cannot help applauding Hamlet. Why?

Adrian Ioniţă: Please tell me more about Kafka's piece

Joe Rosato: In "A Report to an Academy", an ape is giving a lecture about himself, and how he became a
human being. A very vain monkey that has climbed in power so that he now has servants (a human butler) in
his house. He has become one of Kierkegaard's 'Lecturers', removed from the violence of life, living in their
thoughts, secure in life, and judging himself only by the outcome. Do I even have to mention the word
symbol when talking of Kafka? Forget about bridging gaps, Kafka lives only in symbol. He, in a séance,
bravely admits that his pointers point, and that they are not the thing they point to... or to put it a different
way - the stories we create in our head are just that... did you ever see the statue of Kafka in Prague? What a
symbol! He is sitting on the shoulders of a large domineering male, who is not there.

[Drew Valins in "A Report to an Academy" © 2008 Marc Rosenblatt]

Adrian Ioniţă: I like the sculpture; it looks like an invisible Iron John, carries on his shoulders the little
prince. Who played the monkey?

Joe Rosato: Initially we cast Liza Dickinson, a talented actress who graduated Oberlin College, but she was
too involved at the time with "4th Meal Productions", her own theater group, so she only did a couple of
performances. The role was taken over by Drew Valins, who was originally cast as one of the Beechers at the
time, we had two. He studied at Michael Howard Studios. Scott T Miller, who is a member of Sponsored by
Nobody, was the other Beecher. A man with an amazing memory.. out of the 45 minute speech I think he
got 1 word wrong.
Melville's Moby Dick:the Sermon was acted solely by Rich Kirkwood, for an amaizing 10 month run. A great
actor and friend. Rich also writes and recently had a play produced at Art House Productions called
SeaStory. The Kafka piece is the only show still running... we've recently brought it to a German woman's
house for a more intimate performance and we're trying to figure what else to do with it now that we lost our
spot at the Brooklyn Lyceum. We are currently in communication with Lone Wolf Tribe to possibly re-stage
the piece.
[Rich Kirkwood in Moby Dick: The Sermon © 2008 Liz O. Baylen]

Adrian Ioniţă: Do you feel trapped in a world of negation and manipulative perceptions?

Joe Rosato: I think its very true in today's world... there is too much certitude and there are too many
people purchasing a position in life through what Jane Jacobs called “Credentialing vs Educating”. Does
anyone think the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz is now brave because OZ gave him an certificate? No
authority in the world can make you something by fiat and a signed certificate. To me, there are things that
need to be said and things that irk me.. that I only learned by having to survive in the world. How about I
just open my eyes, speak to what I see, and move forward? Is there not a place for rebellion in this new
world, or do I need to be certified for that also? Our compartmentalization is killing us.. society is not a
machine or assembly line. So... anyhow... I think that I've answered that question. I'm not exactly sure.

Adrian Ioniţă: How do you redeem the tension of making money in theater while maintaining artistic
integrity?

Joe Rosato: Currently unsuccessfully. Since I am not paid for theater I have to work in Information
Technology. The hours keep creeping up here in America, outside of the 40 hours per week, and no one
treats you like a human being even if I mention that I need more controllable hours. I'm a hard worker and
responsible, which at times seems like the kiss of death. I've burned myself out recently in work, I'm still
recovering from that, and I don't have an answer. I don't know, take up yoga, exercise... On the same note
there in not enough time to then do theater, and this is my current battle. This is the real world, real
problems, and America is not the utopia some fools keep touting. No one can admit that something is the
matter, because someone sold us the idea that this place is heaven on earth. Freedom is a general word... I
am not free to do many things.

Adrian Ioniţă: How do you balance having to be seen as an authority while directing and working
collaboratively with the actors?

Joe Rosato: Getting actors and rehearsing actors in NYC is difficult...with scheduling. In realization of this
fact, because I myself also am an actor, we chose pieces that are singular delivery because all we have to do
then is schedule the person and me. Makes it a lot simpler. Authority right now is a confusing topic for me on
many levels. For starters, my personality leans on the rebellious side of life. I do not like stupid rebellion but
I do believe in rebelling for a worthy cause. I started this group and I've worked with people but actually, I
think that the only authority is my annoying internal caged emotions and I try to listen to that stuff. That is
my master, that internal stuff. There's a certain amount that all I can do is keep my eyes open and talk to
people about the dissatisfaction I see. Because if I think that I'm trying to communicate something, and
people are not completely on track of what my image is in my head, I develop, lets say, the Babel Syndrome,
total confusion, and miscommunication.

Adrian Ioniţă: Do you have any political leanings? You sound smart, are you an elitist?

Joe Rosato: Not interested in politics. Most people cannot engage in critical thinking. This is not an insult
or an attack, just a painful realization. There are too many terrified ignorant men doing violent things in the
name of willpower (which is motivated by fear), and the result is that many people never get the chance to
build up their brains with language, which will then allow critical thinking. The world is still ruled primarily
by physical force. We tend to feel that thought is emasculating and that a real man would punch someone to
gain power vs. using a legitimate path to power. There is so much cowardice in what we call physical bravery
and honor. But this is changing. Everyone knows that something is changing but no one can put his or her
finger on it. Small things, but they are there. Video recordings are working like Oedipus eyes in an
interesting way. Physical violence as a story works, it sounds right to the head. But record that violence and
put if up for all to see and something shatters. In myth a hero vanquishes a foe, but in reality a human being
kills a human being. One might be able to forgive it if over the last piece of food, but today we fight about
ideas. Killing over an idea is stupid. As Clément Rosset says in his book Joyful Cruelty - "A convinced
Marxist pays little attention to the theses set forth by Marx, a convinced Stalinist little attention to the
historical reality and psychology of Stalin. What counts is the purely abstract idea that Marxism is true or
that Stalin was right, ideas that are quite independent of what Marx wrote or Stalin did". Politics is wrapped
up in triumph, which is a small-lived emotion that dies right after you feel it. We need something that is
sustaining, not childishly triumphant. Oh, and I do not think I'm elitist.. I do not like people in Ivory Towers.
I want to find a way to live without want or need. To do what Iwant so that work does not seem like slavery. I
want to respect people and be respected. I want to rise in power as much as society will let me, and I want to
never be part of a world were spite takes precedent over merit.

["A Report to an Academy" © 2008 photo by Liz O. Baylen]

Adrian Ioniţă: What are you up to next?

Joe Rosato: My girlfriend Stephanie is currently 4 months pregnant, so I need to get some money right
now.. that is the first priority. So, more IT work. Good time to flesh out new ideas. I worked a long time
writing up one piece which is going to combine "Notes from the Underground" wi th a book called "On
Aggression" by Konrad Lorenz, but I have a suspicion that this one will change greatly. I'm currently
obsessed by physical force and dominance right now, and the idea of Alpha males (leaders). We tend to think
that a leader is by default courageous or brave, when sometimes they are just foolishly domineering without
purpose or meaning. Also am interested in exploring obedience to authority (followers). All of these things
interest me. What else? I am trying to make a narrative out of many narratives. I'm trying to make a story
about disconnected things.. and then talk about this 'history' and its unfolding! I want to try to combine The
Two Cultures that C.P. Snow talked about by playing around with literature and science and painfully
blending them together into a single narrative. I'm knitting my own meaning, and claiming others have their
hands on the yarn. I'm cheating! Maybe I am just entertaining myself, proving how smart I think I am.. but
anyway, we should not take life so seriously. How have we become so certain? Why do we think that
switching over from God to Darwin solves anything? Great emotions come from deep thought. So I look
inward, by experimenting with interrogations of myself, to find something that is meaningful when all
external things seem to be devoid of substance. We need to drop the certitude.. in faith, in logic, and in our
holy democracy which we somehow think will save the world from certain ruin. We keep reaching toward
ideologies that will give us order, as if there is a final destination. Because given an infinite amount of time
we will get bored with them all and something else will appear on the horizon to pull us forward. Life is to
live, not to solve.. ask Hamlet.

Adrian Ioniţă: Joe Rosato, Thank you for the interview.

related links:

Nimrods Theatre
Brooklyn Lyceum
Liz O. Baylen - Photographer
Marc Rosenblatt - Photographer
Greenwood Cemetery Chapel
Sponsored by Nobody
4th Meal Productions
Lone Wolf Tribe
Fractured Atlas
Kafka statue

***
Fashions in the Romanian Lands 1711-1950 [ I ]
By Dr. Adrian-Silvan Ionescu
translation by Adrian Ionita

click pentru versiunea română

[Drawing with BoyarsAugust von Henikstein, 1826 © Biblioteca Academiei Române]

If in the current era, we are aligned with the rest of the world's fashion, sometimes with delays, we have to
remind however, that were ages when in this country were worn totally different clothes and it passed a long
time until was understood the general trend of tastes and the contemporary fashion tendencies.

For a century, from 1711 in Moldavia, respectively 1714, in Wallachia, and until 1821, the time when on the
thrones of the two sister countries ruled Phanariote Princes, Constantinopolitan fashion was highly priced in
the urban areas of the Romanian land. The entire society joined the specific suit of Oriental influence, with
its profuse furs and fine silks. Being Christians, however, both rulers, their entourage and the rest of the
social classes, did not adopt the turban or the characteristic Muslim fez, but wore işlic (head gear of globular
shape, from cardboard, covered with gray pelts of lamb) or gugiuman (Turkish gücemin, truncated hat from
expensive fur, usually sable). The men had a sumptuous costume whose shapes and textures were
regulated by the Boyar rank. The distinction in the Boyar hierarchy could be noticed in the shape and size of
the işlic, the fur, the color tone of giubeá ( Schübe in German) and anteriu, (surplice like, piece of garment)
or of the gems inlaid on the handle of the dagger from the waist. The işlic had a strange shape, similar in the
vision of foreign travelers, to a pear, a melon or an upside down bowl of soup.
[Dr. Adrian Silvan Ionescu (right) dressed as Boyar

with gugiuman headgear © 2008 Dr. Adrian-Silvan Ionescu]

Besides the giant işlic and long wide beard, to the majestic appearance of the Boyars, contributed the live
colors of the fabrics and silk from which was composed the rest of the costume. The dress shirt was covered
by an anteriu of cetarea (fine streaky fabric,) in shades of red, lime, blue, purple, yellow-gold. Dressed over
the breast and belly, falling in full length to the ground, it was girded in the middle with a cashmere shawl of
high value, called taclit . The delicate and tiny floral decorations of this belt, creates a very nice game with
the eurhythmic stripes of the anteriu. As trousers, were worn şalvari or ceacşiri (flowing Turkish
pantaloons), usually red, large and comfortable, which allowed the typical sitting Turkish-style on the sofa.
The former could be of silk or fine fabric, and the latter were of heavy fabric, suitable for winter.

Over the gown, was worn a short waistcoat called fermeneaua, (bg. Fermene), made from heavy cloth or dark
colored velvet, but richly decorated on the chest, the sleeves, the shoulders and the back, with embroidery of
golden wire and edges of fur. Over it, was put on the giubeaua of pambriu (merino wool fabric), a heavy
garment furred with sable, with wide collar and cuffs made in the same expensive fur.
[Oriental ilic, front (the private collection of Dr. Adrian-Silvan Ionescu)]

[Oriental ilic, back (the private collection of Dr. Adrian-Silvan Ionescu)]


[Wooden footwear of Turkish influence called Nalân(the private collection of Dr. Adrian-Silvan Ionescu)]

So clothed Boyars during the summer. Over all these clothes, in the winter were added binişul, contoşul or
tătarca, which were broad, furry clothes. As footware, were used the meşii (or mestii), some thin and
soft leather (or morroco) heelless boots, used instead of socks. While walking inside the house, over the
meşii were put on slippers, but for short trips outside, through the vast Boyar courtyard, especially in bad
weather with mud or snow, were used some wooden shoes named nalân (from Turkish). For longer trips,
or on horseback, over the meşii were slipped on, thick and solid boots.

Under the wide belt of the Indian shawl was placed the never-failing dagger with the handle and sheath
adorned in expensive precious stones and which was more decorative than functional. Beside other
garments, the dagger- a jewel itself- was an object of ostentation and representation. Just as expensive,
were the worry beads habitually held in the hand, and made of pearls, corals, lapis, agate, amber, or more
modestly, from rosewood.

Women garments were no inferior at all to that of the man. On the contrary, the ladies from the high society
were competing in the variety and luxury of the displayed adornments. The headgear can be distinguished
with several variations: were worn either the testemel (headscarf, head-kerchief) either the fez, turban, or a
small sable gugiuman, similar to those worn by man. Some women worn şalvari, other were hiding them
under the long and large dress which allowed them to sit Turkish-style on the sofa, without being
inconvenienced by dresses.

The şalvari were matched on the upper part of the body with a light fibroin shirt, covered by a cepchen from
velvet or fine cloth, richly embroidered with golden or silver wire. The waist was girded with a belt,
whose buckle was made from precious metal, often inlaid with pearls and gems. The feet were fitted
in cherry-coloured velvet slippers, abundantly sewn with thread. When leaving the house, usually passing
through the vast courtyard of the residence full of dust or dirt, over the slippers were put on those tall
wood sandals with high soles, called nalân, protecting against dirtiness.

At low temperatures, over the daily common clothes, was worn a pipiri, with or without sleeves, but always
with shrunken laps sawn as a half circle, and left to fold naturally. On its dark colored cloth were
applied beautiful tread embroideries enriching the value- but also the weight- of this garment. In freezing
and very cold weather conditions were worn a contăş or a furry biniş. The refinement of this cromatic colors
and their delicate textures, emphasized the white complexion of the flesh and ebony color of the
hair, proverbial beauty marks originated in Phanar.

Entering the new 19-th century, women were attracted by the Empire fashion that was popular at the
Court of the freshly born Napoleonic Empire. The Antiquity inspired Empire dress, recalling the Greek
chiton by its soft folds, was not very far from the Constantinopolitan model worn before and visibly
exposing the natural shapes of the body, without changing anatomy, as would happen later with the
whalebone reinforced stitched corsets. Moreover, these soft dresses were suited to the favorite siting position
of the ladies on the sofa, with the feet under them.

[Lady with blue taffeta dress and turban, Josef August Schoefft, 1836 © Academia Română]

When, on July 15, 1806, Christine Reinhard, wife of Consul General of France in Principate, is received in
audience by Safta Ipsilanti, the wife of Prince of Wallachia, Constantin Ipsilanti, the young and elegant
French lady is invited to sit on the sofa Turkish-style, even though was dressed in a pompous ceremony suit,
with a gala cloak, fashion regulated by the protocol for receptions and ceremonies at Napoleon's court. Even
the Prince's wife, dressed to the fashion of the day for this visit, although the ladies of honor all wore their
Phanariot suit . In February 1807, when arrives in Iasi in the Duke of Richelieu’s escort, Count de
Rochechouart, a French refugee, entered with rank of general in the service of Czarina Catherine II, found in
the capital of Moldova a very welcoming and cheerful society, almost entirely assimilated to the Western
style of life, except the men who obstinately kept their unfashionable vestimentation. During the month
spent among Moldavians, the balls, concerts, shows and diners were kept in endless chain and the stylish
ladies overflew their generosity on the beautiful Russian officers of French origin.

[Maria Bibescu in Phanariot costume,Album Moldo-Valaque, Paris, 1848]

Moldavian women always have been emancipated and avant-garde in fashion. The appearance in Bucharest
in the last quarter of the XVIII century of Elena Razu, wife of a Boyar from the other side of Milcov , who
changed her lodgings in Wallachia by marriage to the great Ban Dumitraşcu Ghica - father of the future
rulers Gregory Ghica and Alexander Dimitri Ghica - produced stupor. She was as gaudy as a peacock at the
Bourbon court, with an ample dress, supported by panier and powdered wig . She never gave up this
dressing with which was very well adapted, although with the passage of time, it was quaint and ridiculous.
Western fashion was not, however, adopted in its entirety, and with all the details, because the ladies of The
Principates were highly creative, combining pieces from the old fashion with modern cuts, making dresses
with ample cleavage, with high waist under the breasts and pleated skirt. Ilicul or the fine velvet cepchen, a
short waistcoat, sawn over with thread until the basic material was hardly ever seen, were old articles that
have persisted long time in the design of the women garments. To these, are added precious jewelry and
oriental decorations, which impressed so much the foreign travelers.

[Lady with cepchen and crinoline, Anonymous, 1865 © Biblioteca Academiei Române]

The Russian occupation of the Romanian Lands, that followed between 1828-1834, was a defining moment
for a total change in the fashion of the ladies belonging to the elite class, and even for their more
conservative husbands. Parisian dresses were worn with great elegance, and the fashion trends from the
capital of France were followed with great exactness using a fashion magazine as source of inspiration, and
referred by many visitors coming from that country, among them Stanislas Bellanger and Raoul Perrin, as: "
In Bucharest is received Le Follet and Valachian fashion lean to follow in particular the patterns from Paris."
The Western clothes were in great demand in the Romanian Lands, and sold very well. Often, German or
Austrian garments were marketed as French, because the latter enjoyed more prestige. No matter how
expensive or difficult to find, Boyars and their wives never gave up on the new fashion, even if they had to
foreclose or sell their property.
[Lady with à gigot bouffant sleeves, Josef August Schoefft, 1836 © Muzeul de Artă Ploeşti]

The broad bouffant sleeves, called either à l’imbécile or à gigot - were supported by a wire reinforcement
that stretched the well stiffen fabric. They lasted a long time, taking exaggerated proportions at the end of
the third decade of the century. Along with this dress, on the naked shoulders, was often fitted a scarf of
florid cashmere, while the hair was covered with a turban of the same material. Since the elegant European
ladies adopted the Turban, he was not anymore an Oriental appanage. These were only the beginnings of an
immeasurable era of feminine elegance, that will culminate in the second half of-nineteenth century with the
crinoline and the bustle. Compared with the Phanariot times, the taste of the ladies for sumptuousness
persisted and the only changes occured in the shapes and materials of the dresses.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, the civil fashion of the Romanian Principalities has, as in the rest of
Europe, two major sources of inspiration: Paris for ladies, London for men. The supremacy held by France in
the first quarter of the century has fallen along with the imposition of chromatic and formal sobriety of the
English Dandy type, which slowly and slowly has been adopted by all men. Frock coat or black tails, white
shirt with starched collar and chest, black tie in the morning and white for evening, as well the hard hat,
were imperative.

[to be continued]
The Steam of Punk
An interview with the Romanian photographer Nicu Ilfoveanu

by Adrian Ioniţă

techno-editing by Irina Stănescu

click per la versione italiana


click pentru versiunea română

Adrian Ioniţă: Several years ago, the Romanian art critic Ştefan Tiron wrote a review about a photography
art exhibition announcing “Nicu Ilfoveanu is Steampunk”. Please give us some details about the show and
your opinion regarding this critical statement.

Nicu Ilfoveanu: The show was named "Tourist you are the terrorist" and it was a kind of reaction to the
stampede of glossy commercial imagery we were flooded with in the past decades, especially those depicting
places which were in reality dirty, even unsanitary. My images were made with an old camera, a box-camera,
through my own technique in which a positive film is “developed as a negative”, using untreated lenses for
color, filters, scan and prints based on pigments, etc. By this means I was able to record reality in a strange
way - a combination of autochrome, a process invented by the Lumière brothers in 1906 – and the
appearance of a romantic picture. The locations I chose were around the industrial belts of the city, places
that look “cool” for some contemporary artists, but which have a specific “warmth” for myself. I mention this
fact because sites like these belong to the memory of my childhood; I was born and grew up in a typical
Communist apartment, which is a concrete cubicle, in an area in which demolishing and construction was
the norm, not only on an architectural, but at a human level as well.

[The Grant Bridge © Nicu Ilfoveanu]

Adrian Ioniţă: Tell me more about the interaction between this human aspect and your artistic orientation.

Nicu Ilfoveanu: Before the show, it happened that I started gathering gramophone records. How? Well, I
found at the flea market a box of brand new gramophone needles. It is known that one needle is used for a
record and each face of it has only one play, so every time you listen to music, these needles get worn - a
good enough reason for vendors to sell them like match boxes. Concomitant to this purchase, I received a
bunch of records as a gift from the library of a famous musician, obviously, too busy to listen to them in a
digital world. Their sound was extraordinary and transported me in a miraculous world, completely different
from the world I was living in. Back to your question, I did an analogy between photography, music and the
gramophone as an instrument, and in 2004 I opened a show with steampunk flavor, which was named
“Brand New Gramophone Needles”.

Adrian Ioniţă: Sounds like the name of a song!

Nicu Ilfoveanu: The text with the instructions from “His Master’s Voice” records, from 1920, was written
in an archaic Romanian, and since I have one here, I think that it is worth reading it:

“His Master’s Voice”:

1. Disuse is bad for the machine.

2. Don't wind the spring too tightly. Allow the instrument to run whilst winding, hence stop when the
spring offers resistance.

3. Avoid the slightest injury to the Mica Diaphragm, on which the reproduction depends.

4. SPEED IS IMPORTANT as it vitally affects the reproduction, thus do not interfere with the speed
regulator, unless an adjustment is necessary.

5. Keep the leathers which operate on governor friction plate well oiled. This will promote smooth and
uniform running.

6. Never use a steel needle twice. Avoid cheap needles, they ruin one’s records.

The reading of these instructions served me as a guiding model in my artistic activity, being almost like an
artistic statement.

[Trains at Galaţi © Nicu Ilfoveanu]


Adrian Ioniţă: What does Steampunk mean for Nicu Ilfoveanu?

Nicu Ilfoveanu: The first time when I conscientiously started thinking about the word, I translated it as a
“Steam of Punk”, or closer to my imagery, a “scent of punk”. It may be a coincidence, but I was born during
the times when Punk surfaced, and largely, my childhood was impregnated by a fog, in fact a dust from
demolitions, or an illusion produced by it. I carried this “dust” with me in photography and film, so that on
the one hand Steampunk, became more of a style in capturing images from reality with as simple as possible
means. On the other hand, it is an exercise with the memory of a locus. The past and the flow of time become
transparent, not only by employing techniques, but also by the sheer chance that these radiography-images
from my mind be recorded on a real or imaginary film, a process which seems to be dependent
metaphysically on an internal state of expectation or on the crazy intensity and belief that I am the witness of
a mutation in time. To be more explicit, I will tell you the story of my first box-camera that started the
Steampunk Autochrome series. A friend of my mother’s found out that I was a photographer and gave me a
Box-Tengor. I was happy for the gift and I thought it was a pretty, but useless, thing. I am not a collector, so I
simply threw it on a shelf. But then, out of curiosity, I opened the box and, to my surprise, I found a film
inside. I closed it in an instance, and in a dream-like state I went into the darkroom, prepared a strong
solution, took out the roll, that had a wooden spool, which meant that it was a film from before the 50’s and I
developed it.

Adrian Ioniţă: It happened to me several times, but please, I do not want to interrupt you, as the story is
very exciting.

Nicu Ilfoveanu: Two images appeared on the negative - I will talk about their content some other time -,
but what baffled me at that moment, was the fact that the film survived for so many years and, once having
been developed, it looked as if it had been done a day before. Thus it happened that I was taken by this
feeling of making photos with the aura of an image ready to evaporate, but stubborn enough to survive.
Maybe such a perception about the phenomenon is not in line with the way we define Steampunk today, but
these are the feelings that animated and motivated me during the years.

Adrian Ioniţă: For many, Steampunk means a return to the golden years of steam, particularly the
Victorian era. There are artists who are doing this journey back in time by altering the actual design of the
objects or by reshaping the existent technology into forms reminiscent to the 1890’s. Do you believe that
nostalgia for the times when craftsmanship was oriented towards individualization played a role in defining
Steampunk?

Nicu Ilfoveanu: Individualization in what sense? I can say that the craftsman of the steam era had a highly
individualized profile compared to today’s anonymous craftsman, but in essence his motivation and nature
was expansionistic. Anything done since that time until today comes to demonstrate that he was not only
victimized by the frenetic industrialization, but that he was also the visionary of the new world. The first
forms of industrialization and mechanization were born in the shop of the simple craftsman. Once that this
Pandora Box had been opened he realized that he, involuntarily, had participated at his own destruction. The
spreading and development of new forms of craftsmanship followed a logical chain of events that,
dialectically, landed out of his hands. Steampunk is looking nostalgically to that times, but this process of
individualization is not only a simple return to an older technology, it is a return towards the spirit that
governed it; and that spirit was hygienic, compared to the irresponsibility of the contemporary consumerist
spirit.

Adrian Ioniţă: The Steampunk lifestyle requires some sort of discipline. Do you think that changes in our
lifestyle will lead to changes in the social context we currently experience?

Nicu Ilfoveanu: If I can continue the idea of individualization, then I can definitely say that the change in
lifestyle affects the social structure of our society. If instead, these changes create the same pattern we
experience today, I don’t think that it is worth the effort. I do not believe in a “consumerist Steampunk”.
[The Chitila Triage © Nicu Ilfoveanu]

Adrian Ioniţă: The digital technology had a brutal effect upon the classic photographic techniques. Do you
think Steampunk is a reaction against over-industrialization?

Nicu Ilfoveanu: On the one hand, I remember that, even before I had heard the word “Steampunk”, I had a
reaction towards digitalization. On the other hand, I use digital techniques to implement my analogical
works. Therefore, I can say that Steampunk as a reaction against industrialization and selfsameness of the
human being is enjoying its current popularity thanks to digital technology. The photographer, of course, is
not considered a magician anymore. Even if the digital world produced millions of photographers overnight,
the way we see them on the Internet, it does not seem to be followed by the same measurable progress in the
photographic art. On the contrary, the simple fact that it is so available and anyone can afford it, leads to a
lesser appreciation of the effort and talent behind the making of photography. Ironically, the same thing
happened to painting when photography was invented. The portrait painting as a genre suffered a terrible
blow and the controversies surrounding Steampunk today are, symptomatically, similar to those in the art
world, a hundred and some years ago. The classical analogical photography will never perish; it will
eventually become more expensive, and evidently more appreciated.

Adrian Ioniţă: What is in store for the future, Nicu Ilfoveanu?

Nicu Ilfoveanu: A History of Romanian Photography. Since we did not have a school of photography, the
history of the photography practiced in Romania cannot be done without some degree of speculation. Of
course, we have a large database of photographic images in our archives, family albums, flea markets etc.,
and through a rigorous selection made by an artist’s eye this database can be the source of quality images
even if the authors are anonymous. This fact does not seem to affect their beauty. The Romanian folklore, as
you well know, is a treasury of anonymous pieces, if one were to mention Mioriţa for example, which is a
masterpiece, it would be sufficient proof to support this argument. For some time now, I have started doing a
selection in my personal collection and it has a beautiful Steampunk flavor. I hope to publish the first volume
of the book this fall. In the meantime, I am going on with an older project based on sound.

Adrian Ioniţă: The project is also a Stempunk experiment ?

Nicu Ilfoveanu: I have an edition of CD-s with processed music from ‘recovered’ gramophone records and
I will continue a series of “video clips” using these records, which, as I said, are rather sound retrievals. I am
interested in “their” sound, that is the sound left in the crevasses of the records that fell into my hands after
such a long time. Let’s not forget that, due to the conditions in which they were stored and due to their
degree of weariness, the songs have a different sound compared to the sound played at the time of their
recording. Whoever has seen the movie “The Story of 1900” by Giuseppe Tornatore, can perfectly
understand what I mean. Steampunk offers a high dosage of contemplation at the threshold of a world that
keeps us suspended between the dynamism of a technology, which alienates and keeps us dependent by it
day by day, and the calm of an epoch that reverberates through the spirit of our grand-fathers and great
grand-fathers.

Adrian Ioniţă: Thoughts that stand as a perfect conclusion for our conversation on Steampunk; thank you
for the interview, Nicu Ilfoveanu.

[Pantelimon © Nicu Ilfoveanu]

***
The Image Archeology of RA Friedman
An interview with American Photographer RA Friedman

by Adrian Ioniţă

click pentru versiunea română

I am fascinated by vintage photographs. Their poetic mysteriousness and aged patinas resonate within
me. These images are an exploration of the intersection of old and new, object and invention, truth and
fiction. The long image-making chain that I use leads to unpredictable results: ambiguous details,
distorted spaces, and objects that appear to live in twilight state between "being" and dissolution.
[RA Friedman]

[Orthochromatic Experiment © 2008 RA Friedman]


Adrian Ioniţă RA, a straightforward question: what is your relationship to Steampunk?

RA Friedman: When I was growing up in the 60's and 70's there were still a lot of turn-of-the century
mechanical antiques around which garnered the interest of only a select few. Bored by school, I daydreamed
a lot, mostly about old stuff. As a kid, I did not read for pleasure but I did watch a lot of early black and white
movies. I didn't care about popular culture and spent a great deal of my free time combing estate stores in
my neighborhood in the west 70's of Manhattan for whatever treasures I could afford, often haggling with
the shop keepers. What drew me to these things-- old cameras, wind-up phonographs, and pocket watches
were their intrinsic beauty; they were functional objects but also beautifully crafted and extremely pleasing
to the eye. There is sincerity and authenticity about them that even as a kid, I realized was missing from most
of what was around me. Because I amassed machines to play both lateral (shellac) and vertically cut (Edison)
discs as well as cylinders, I also collected a fair amount of old recordings. While my contemporaries were
listening to the Beatles and Rolling Stones, I was jumping around to fox trots from the 1920's.

Adrian Ioniţă How did collecting spill over into making art?

RA Friedman: It was not an instantaneous process. I had many false starts, diversions, and dead ends. I
went to college in Binghamton, an old rustbelt city in western New York filled with old factories and the
remains of a once thriving industrially driven culture. Although I started out in the sciences and was very
good at math and physics, it held no romance for me. I ended up changing my major to set design but never
worked professionally in that field. Through my theatre work, I was caught up in the idea of inventing
believable spaces "out of nothing" which lead to studying drawing with an uncanny artist/teacher, Charles
Eldred. Eldred was living proof that you could live mythically. He brilliantly combined the old and the new
and possessed a romantic/Renaissance visual spin on the (often-ruined) urban/industrial landscape of his
hometown.
He made phantasmagoric neo-Victorian constructions out of brass and bronze. One of the last projects he
did. Before he died in 1994, was a city modeled after a vanished Binghamton, complete with buildings that
had occuli crafted from little lenses or jewels. Inside were miniature people carved in metal. He also made
large, detailed, but also very fluid pieces using technical pens and was a master of the Renaissance method of
drawing using silver wire on gessoed paper (silverpoint). It's hard to do this man, this force, justice in words,
but let us just say studying with him was "an immersion"---he opened up worlds for his students.
Re-connecting to ideas planted by Eldred, in my last year of graduate school I started making small paintings
and collages using Xerox copies of Victorian/ Edwardian photographs combined with images I had taken
myself. I bought my first really good vintage camera at that time, a Zeiss Ikon Super Ikonta "C," a 6 x 9 cm
German roll film camera from the 1930s. The cameras I had collected up to that time were for display; this
one, while very interesting to look at, was designed for serious use. I could have easily captured the images I
needed using a modern lens, but I felt intuitively drawn to physically connect with a vintage tool. In
retrospect, I realize a view/plate camera would have come closer in terms of the age of the stuff I was
working from, but my Nazi era camera filled the bill nonetheless. Just a whiff of its leather transported me to
the imaginary lost worlds that were then filling my work.

Adrian Ioniţă How did what you are doing now get its start?

RA Friedman: After grad school, which was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, I moved to Philadelphia since
returning to New York was too daunting. The city I had grown up in was gone, erased by cookie-cutter
development and crass materialism. I liked Philadelphia's architecture and quaint alleys. It had an "old vibe"
and a scale that felt manageable.
In Philadelphia, I spent eight years trying to put together a cohesive body of new paintings without much
success. Eventually, I just collapsed. I didn't make anything for about a year. I needed a non-visual outlet, so
I started writing poetry again, something I hadn't done in many years. I had a cheap digital camera that
would capture QuickTime movies and I got the idea of combining the poetry with video. The poems weren't
that great but through making movies, I reengaged visually. I spent a year working on an art video that was
only twelve minutes long.
I probably would have continued to pursue video as an art form, but in May 2005, I was at my parents' house
when a large storage freezer failed. My folks live in the middle of the mountains in upstate New York; they
have to keep well stocked. Amongst the crystallized ice cream and ten-year-old frozen chickens were about
35, eight-shot rolls of black and white Polaroid film that my dad had frozen back in the late 1970's when it
was going out of production. My father, not wanting to store the film any longer, gave me all the film and a
very fancy Polaroid 110A camera that had been his. The big question now was: What do I do with all this?
I wanted to do something that would use up all the film at once. Along with two colleagues, we set up shop
on the street in the area near the hub of the arts district, during the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, an event
modeled after the Edinburgh Fringe. Everyone pitched in whatever interesting old clothes, hats, accessories,
and props they had and we offered passers-by a free portrait just for joining in. It often took some doing to
convince people that what we were doing this purely for the joy of it and that it wasn't some kind of scam!
I had previously discovered that when the usually thrown-away paper negatives from Polaroid film are
allowed to dry and then scanned in and reversed, they do some pretty interesting things. Therefore, while
folks on the street were walking away with the Polaroid positives, I took the supposed "garbage" home,
scanned and worked it, then posted the results online. I dubbed the project "Negative Energy".
It was a natural jump to use this way of working in the studio with more carefully considered arrangements.
When different types of Polaroid film were still available, I experimented with a number of different film
stocks. One particular type, the old number 72 film, would sometimes create unique images that looked like
shattered glass or peeling billboards. The negative part would be extremely wet and gooey when you first
peeled it off and would often take days to dry. The random action of the film's age, the humidity, and even
wind currents in the room would somehow leave their imprint.

[The Finger: Model: Bonnie Quick, Clothes: Rose Sylvester/ The Farmer's Daughter © RA Friedman]
Adrian Ioniţă How are you working now that Polaroid is defunct?

RA Friedman: As the work progressed, I realized that the chance element, though often adding a
fascinating dimension, was not essential; I could easily sully the image in many interesting and accidental
ways by using overlays, many of them lifted from vintage photos. The important thing is how I experiment
with the image, not what randomly happens. Further it became clear that collaborative interaction with my
subjects as well as how I bend the formal conceits of photography, such as camera, lighting, and composition
are key to my success or failure, rather than a specific image-making process.

Adrian Ioniţă But still, the way you work today is fairly unusual, is it not?

RA Friedman: In some ways it is, but let me also say I'm open to having anyone try my methods. I don't
believe in mystifying people about what I do technically and leading them to believe that somehow there is a
secret within the materials-- there isn't. My tools and supplies are available if you look around on places like
e-Bay and are not nearly as expensive as conventional digital photographic gear.
I use whatever instant film I can still get, which for the moment is still made by Fuji in Japan. I utilize both
the positive and the usually tossed-out paper negative, which I scan and work with on the computer. The
negatives often have information, such as texture or detail in the dark areas that is lacking in the positives. I
make the prints, for now, using an inkjet printer. I may add in elements such as textures, pieces of images
and overlays and manipulate the pieces in Photoshop. I work on an image, leave it, and revisit it until it feels
right.
In the studio, I shoot with an antique camera, often a Crown Graphic, the kind used by press photographers
up until the 1960's. The machine is a built like a tank out of solid mahogany and aluminum (journalists
supposedly used them as shields to fend off police Billy clubs) and it requires about ten steps before you can
trip the shutter. For lighting, I use a very simple set up: two ordinary 200-watt bulbs in standard photoflood
reflectors. For a backdrop, I use wine colored bed sheet.

Adrian Ioniţă Why don't you use a digital camera?

RA Friedman: It just wouldn't be the same. There is a pace, a kind of stepping out of the normal, modern
time flow, that using a large, analog camera sets in motion; it creates an air of ceremony, which for me needs
to happen when photographer and subject encounter one another in the small space of the studio.
Additionally, I'm very engaged by photo projects that involve the public in some way, that allow people to
step out of themselves and be creative, even if it's just for a scant few minutes. The aura of old technology
and the "look" that an old lens in tandem with the instant film and traditional lighting creates helps to draw
in participants.
I enjoy composing, even though it's upside down, on the big ground glass. The snapshot size instant prints
and negatives that will eventually become the final works allow both me and the model to see and
conceptualize what we are doing in a way that a tiny, non-physical image on an lcd screen cannot.
Additionally, each Polaroid is equivalent to a 50mb black and white.tiff file. Unless you have over $10K to
spend, you're not going to find a camera that will let you click off photos at that size and resolution.

Adrian Ioniţă I have seen on the Internet a description of a project with a "camera obscura". Can you tell
me something about that idea and your involvement?

RA Friedman: Sometimes it's important to take a side road or two, even if you are not sure exactly where
you will end up. In June 2007 a friend and fellow artist, Susan Englert, who lives in Pittsburgh, approached
me about a project she and an artist from New York City, Clarinda Mac Low were doing in an abandoned
church in Braddock, PA, a largely depopulated mill town just above Pittsburgh.
The concept was to explore re-use and recycling of materials and to reconsider our perceptions of what is
junk/garbage and what is not. Susan wanted to do something with the bell tower with an eye toward
connecting the landscape and the interior space, a metaphor for of rebirth and renewal. I had originally
wanted to turn the whole tower into a giant camera obscura and the idea danced in my head, but after a bit
of consideration, we decided on mounting a big, but more modest unit in one of the high windows.
The camera, we dubbed "Bessie" because the lens came from an old opaque projector made by Charles
Beseler Company. She was assembled in Philadelphia with the help of another artist friend, sculptor
Christopher Smith. While the rest of the camera was not recycled, it was pretty low tech--a plywood body
and a lens mount made from a modified PVC sewer pipe, framing out of old canvas stretcher bars, light
covering made from contractor garbage bags. I shipped the unit to Pittsburgh and Susan and I spent the
weekend getting the giant, fixed-focus (at infinity) view camera (the rear ground glass was 18" square) up
into window that was about twenty-eight feet above the street and around sixteen feet about the first landing
of the tower.

[Bessie © 2007 drawing by Susan Englert]

The main engineering challenge was getting the camera properly in place inside the narrow structure
without ladders, rigging, or scaffolding. After extending my stay an extra day, we raised the camera in place
with the help of some of Susan's friends using a support leg that folded up so it could be brought up through
the tight space. I put a big castor on the front of the camera so it could "climb" up the wall.
We then rigged up mirrors so that an observer on ground level, using a pair of binoculars could actually see
what "Bessie" was seeing! The camera stayed in place almost ten months and was still functional when it was
finally taken down.
Do I think about other projects like this? Definitely! I believe it is just something like many things I've done--
-an idea that I will get back to and expand upon when the time feels right.
[Weimar Revisited: Model: Marilynne © RA Friedman]

Adrian Ioniţă Please tell me about your connection to Eastern Europe?

RA Friedman: One can never escape one's roots. I guess it is in one's blood. My ancestors all came from
Moldova, Ukraine, Hungary, and Poland. I work in a music archive that is full of Jewish folk music and
related materials. I don't too badly in Yiddish (which I largely taught myself a few years back) so I've really
gotten an education concerning what the "old country" was like even if I've never had the chance to travel
there. I listen to a lot of Klezmer and, more recently, Balkan music. I don't do a huge amount of perusing
photography online, but the site I find I'm most drawn to have a lot of photography that is coming out of
Eastern Europe.

Adrian Ioniţă What are your immediate plans?

RA Friedman: I just finished having a solo exhibition in Philadelphia in conjunction with a large public
shoot where the venue let me set up a small, carnival-like photographer's tent inside the gallery. The
exhibited pieces were a photographic sideshow of sorts featuring such oddities as a lion-boy, a
hermaphrodite, and a snake charmer. One of my close colleagues did much of the truly fantastic costuming
and styling, Susan Banchek, who works under the banner of EstherK.net. The public component was very
interesting since I pretty much set people lose and let them come up with their own styling and poses. Some
of the images are very creative but it's still too early for me to tell how I'm going to work with this treasure
trove. I feel sure though that I want to do more of this kind of endeavor and definitely want both the show
and the portable studio to travel internationally.

Adrian Ioniţă: RA Friedman, I wish you good luck with your projects. Thank you for granting this
interview to our readers.

related links:
RA Friedman
Susan Banchek
Salvage/ Salvation Project/ Clarinda Mac Low
AxD GAllery
Rose Sylvester/ The Farmer's Daughter
Conspiracy Showroom
Chris Smith

***
The Wunderkammer of Eric Lindveit
An interview with New York artist Eric Lindveit

by Adrian Ionita

click pentru versiunea română

Over the past four years I have spent a fair amount of time studying trees native to New York generally,
and “native” to my neighborhood specifically. I lose myself when looking at heraldic passages such as
burrow patterns made by infesting insects, moments of fungology, and knobby tree tumors. They are my
muse and my armor. I am creating a Natural History of New York Trees in spirit. It is not scientific,
however. It is subjective, biased, and a manifestation of my realization that I am my own cabinet of
wonder.

[ Eric Lindveit]

[Polypore Smut, detail © 2008 Eric Lindveit]

Adrian Ionita: It may seem strange of my part to associate your recent workwith Steampunk, but this is
done only to the extent which identifies steampunk atitudes and philosophy in your work, mostly about
materials, recycling, preservation, and the cult for craftsmanship.

Eric Lindveit: There is a sympathy though I reject definition. A critical root of my work is the process of
figuring out how to engineer structure by using a limited set of basic materials, often found or recycled. I do
not feel restricted in picturing the possibilities of what I want to make. Realizing an idea is a matter of
employing methods, materials, and refusing to limit myself by sticking to a set idea.

I am drawn to objects that exhibit a natural history. I built most of the furniture in my apartment out of
material that had a prior life. There is integrity to a board with nails stains and oxidation or a piece of metal
with rusty blooms. One of my bookcases was made from the back door frame of an 1870's Victorian house.
This structure would have originally been covered in trim and wasn't built to be exposed, but the simplicity
and honesty of this architectural skeleton has a presence, an identity. There is no self conscious and
unnecessary ornament.

Adrian Ionita: Are there any family ties to your work?

Eric Lindveit: Of course. My grandfather, Alfred, was a first generation Norwegian immigrant who did his
best to keep a roof over his families head and he made tools out of whatever was available. I greatly admire
his invention, resourcefulness, and industry. For years they lived under a tarp in the unfinished foundation
of a house they struggled to build out of recycled building materials on the plot of ground he purchased in
Elmont, Long Island. They removed nails and screws from lumber, collected stones for the foundation, and
relied on extended family and community to help put it up. One of my favorite objects is his tool box. In it
are three tools he made out of found bits and pieces, such as a branch and a scrap of metal that would hold
an edge, for scraping the finish off of clients floors by hand.

[Scraper by Alfred Lindveit circa 1918]

I believe the reason that parts of New York State, Norway, and many natural forms resonate with me is
because of the accumulated history that I have inherited in my cell structure. And I am not so different from
a tree. I have skin, or bark, that exhibits tension and release. I need sunlight. I have limbs. We are products
of our environments. As a carpenter, I am returning to my roots.

Adrian Ionita: Can you go back in time and remember the first tree you ever have seen?

Eric Lindveit: Maybe not the first, but my bedroom window fronted the boughs of some big oaks and tulip
poplars, and I stayed awake many nights seeing faces and creatures in the shadows of the limbs as they
gently modulated in the winds. These animated spirits guarded my dreams. They were very real to me. When
I was about ten, an oak tree in the backyard snapped off about 20 feet in a hurricane. Pop spent the next two
and a half years on a scaffold carving it into a totem pole with four traditional symbols. He had no
experience, and red oak is a tough choice for an introduction, but he persevered. I thought at the time that
everyone had a totem pole in their backyard. I asked him a few years ago what the hell he was thinking, and
he said "it just made sense" at the time.
[Totem ©1984 Earl Lindveit]

On another level, trees "just make sense to me." A loose definition of my family name in old Norse is tree life.
I have always drawn them, I have lived in forests, and they are, among other natural forms, rich petri dishes.
I am nature.

Adrian Ionita: Your sculptures are very rich in suggestions. To me the pieces look like a part of a
larger installation project.

Eric Lindveit: I am currently working on studies in reclamation. More specifically, musings on what could
be as forests become supercharged with elevated levels of carbon dioxide, stricken with plagues of insects,
and grow over relics such as fences, signs, or mobile homes, or even my left foot. Bark might flow into a
room like molten lava, or grow over an interior wall and swallow a set of modern furniture, or a rusty
fence. Cezanne did a famous series of four reliefs that show a figure merging with the slab of bronze. I have
often wondered what the view would be like from inside of a painting. I struggle to achieve an "intentional
randomness". Patterns do emerge, but I am more interested in sub-conscious than self conscious.
I've also been thinking a lot about pruning, amputees, and artificial tree limbs. A book I'm living with is titled
"Artificial limbs" by Broca and DuCroquet dated 1918. After the first world war, like today, there were a great
number of amputees. This book illustrates many examples of different attachments and devices for artificial
limbs that helped the recipient perform necessary functions. And this was before the quantum leap of the
manufacture of a believable epidermis was developed, so these devices tend to a form and functional
honesty. We are deforesting the planet at an alarming rate. Soon I will make articulated artificial tree limbs.

I hope to do some larger site specific works. I've had a mental image of an installation - a room, a cave really,
made of blown up paper bark facsimile, and inside are a pair of gargantuan images of two trees in a delicate
hinged metal frame. Or a very large aluminum mattress, or maybe an upholstered one, about four stories
tall, in space or up against the side of a building, standing on end and hinged with a spring like an inverted
mousetrap. All public benches would be placed on the ground where you would be hit if the trap sprung.
Imagine the late day sun eclipsed in the silhouette of a gargantuan bed. Dreams can hit you in the head.

[Smut studio installation view © 2008 Eric Lindveit]

Adrian Ionita: The "Smut" series with all the fungus and protuberances, besides their intrinsic beauty,
seem to suggest a symbolic reaction of nature against the human intervention in the environment.
What kind of materials are you using to realize the pieces? They are so real.

Eric Lindveit: These structures are made of pulverized newsprint, paper pulp, papier mache, pigment, and
burlap over armatures of used box spring steel. The news of the day has gone back to its source. The larger
finished structures are mounted on single steel posts and float up to eighteen inches in front of the wall to
emphasize their skin and to give them presence. By tipping the structure up or down, they can appear
passive or aggressive. They are meant to be immediate and approachable. I rely heavily on intuition to guide
many of my visual decisions, and the process of figuring out how to mold, cut, and fold paper to make these
forms gets me out of bed in the morning.

Adrian Ionita: The scale and the magnification of details is quite remarkable. Because the bark looks so
realistic all these pieces stand up as objects in their own right.
Eric Lindveit: There is a point in my creative process where an object becomes believable and somehow
real, even though it may be a six to one scale anthropomorphic cartoon of a particular tree. It is tree porn. A
granular fungal disease called "smut" that affects vegetation, including trees, informs the way I use pigment.
Though they are not intended to be replications of what one would be better served seeing outside in the
round, they are on some level believable cartoonish grotesques of informed snapshots. In a sometimes
clumsy, glacial, and primitive process, they reveal themselves over the months that it takes the layers of
paper to dry. Making work is a way that I can draw on my subconscious and fight my need for order and
classification. In making things, as opposed to making representations of things, I draw closer to the
information that lurks just outside my frame of vision.

Smut Studies installation view © 2008 Eric Lindveit


Adrian Ionita: I assume that you did a research related to the classifications and morphology of the
structures you are working with. Please give me a glimpse about the resources you use in your creative
process.

Eric Lindveit: I've collected curious books for many years. I am particularly interested in pseudo science,
poorly illustrated pre twentieth century books illuminating second hand estimations of real subjects, early
chromlithography, and hand colored natural history books.

A series of books titled “The Natural History of New York” was intended as an exhaustive cataloging of the
flora, fauna, geology, mineralogy, and paleontology of New York State, and was the benchmark for many of
the boundary surveys of the 1850’s. The first volumes were issued in 1842. Many have fantastic hand colored
lithographs. Aside from its general beauty and detail, I am attracted to the way the minerals in the paper and
the gum arabic on some of the illustrations have reacted over time to create unintentional collaborations.
And, the fact that James Hall was able to extend what was originally intended to be one volume on
paleontology, published in 1847 to thirteen volumes, the last of which was published in 1894, is inspiring. In
it’s abundance and focus, it is as impressive as Wilson Bentley’s photomicrographic documentation of snow
flakes. I can chart on a map moments when I have been taken outside of myself by works such as these and
they are great gifts.

[Plate 23, Infusoria , from the "Micrographic Dictionary, Volume 2, by Griffith and Henfrey, 1875]
Adrian Ionita: Some of these books are highly inspiring. Being a sculptor myself I was drown mostly
towards books about ornamentation as those published by Owen Jones at the end of the 19th century.

Eric Lindveit: Owen Jones's “The Grammar of Ornament” depicts in fantastic chromolithographic colors
and page layouts the history of ornament in architecture and art. The depictions become their own visual
lexicon, due to the limitation of palette and generalization of forms, and offer an obscene feast of colors and
patterns that when experienced, for me, is akin to eating too many truffles. I greatly appreciate this sort of
visual experience. There are many similarities between “The Grammar of Ornament” and “The Natural
History of New York,” but the thread I pull most is how they enunciate their respective languages of fractals
in design, both natural and human made.

I appreciate a typical Victorian system of visual classification, where a strict order is maintained. In the
nineteenth century the new availability of microscopes for mass consumption facilitated a hunger to learn
more about the world around us that, until then, was largely invisible, remote, or otherwise inaccessible to
most people. That sense of discovery and wonder is what fueled my early excavations, and is what I aspire to
maintain in my current work.

Adrian Ionita: The 19th century kept in museums many samples of our wondering in the front of nature.
The smuts seem overblown samples of a reality begging for our close inspection. It is a like a coded
language. When did you start this cabinets of curiosities?

Eric Lindveit: I don’t remember exactly when I became enamored with the concept of “curiosity cabinet”
but safe to say I began building mine as a young child. I dug a hole, which seems to be a right of passage, in
my parent’s backyard for several years. Turns out it was on a submerged tree stump. Inspiration was the
little bits of this and that revealed in handfuls of dirt, and the need to tunnel a secret entrance to my parents'
house. My adult life has largely been a search for this and that, metaphorically speaking.

Cabinets of curiosity were a way to impress your peer group, but they also served to re contextualize focus on
the extraordinary, and even ordinary things. If I present the first ten things I see on the sidewalk
thoughtfully, allowing for exploration into their history, and for study of their physical states, assisted by
magnification and even micro/spectroscopic analysis, a cabinet is born.

Adrian Ionita: Several years ago when I visited your studio, I remember seeing several
salvaged mattresses, and was very impressed by a double mattress for newborn twins. Before we wrap up the
interview please elaborate on these older projects, and the transition to the last expressions with bark?

Eric Lindveit: I started painting on used bedding several years ago when my roommate moved out and left
his mattress behind. He was an accomplished bed wetter and I was drawn to the accumulated history he left
on this vehicle. Was there any order to his genetic contributions, and what connections did this cause to leak
from my subconscious? I saw similarities to Van Gogh's "Starry Night" and a Sumi-e painting of the Daruma
and his children. Maybe some night he'll piss a a double helix.

Discarded mattresses are all over the place, and there is a great deal of recyclable material, real and
imagined, available to anyone who wants them. The mattress is a rich allegorical and familiar object. It refers
specifically to human scale and gravity. We spend a large portion of our lives navigating the seas of our
unconscious on this vehicle, this boat. I proposed an installation to the owner of a major mattress
manufacturer for their headquarters. Hermetically sealed trophy cases would line both sides of a hallway,
one for each year of their production, containing a mattress as artifact in a state of decomposition. There
would be a simple engraved plaque of the date (year) on the base. He didn't go for it. The glory days of
mattress ticking are largely over, but until fairly recently, a great deal of consideration was given to the
design of this fabric wrapper. It essentially sold the object, only to be covered up once the bed is made. For
me, older found mattresses and box springs are like a wrapped presents.

At some point my work took on a military undertone. As a child I was waiting for the opportunity to catch
the bomb that I knew was going to be dropped on my hometown of Washington DC. I can't look at a picket
fence without seeing each picket as a child's sword. I presented found box springs as trophies on ornamental
bases, used mattress ticking became military ribbons, souvenirs of past campaigns, and painting became an
allegorical boot camp.

I had a moment of clarity in 2002 when a wave of local redevelopment threatened to terraform my Brooklyn
nabe. Great old buildings with all of their ghosts and purpose were torn down to make way for new boxy
structures that served to isolate their inhabitants from street, neighborhood, and protect them from nature.
Trees that witnessed many generations of life, including my grandparents first immigrant days in their
corner of Brooklyn, were cut down. I needed protection from this poor, bland, homogenized urban mis-
planning. It makes sense to place big slabs of bark simulacra in artificial condominium environments.
Instead of going outside to play in the dirt, a kid could just relate to a naturalistic cartoon, a sort of sylvan
videodrome.

Basic Training © 2008 Eric Lindveit

Adrian Ionita: Dear Eric Lindveit, it was a great pleasure having you on Egophobia.!

***
Blacksmithing Zen
An interview with Arnon Kartmazov

by Adrian Ionita

click pentru versiunea română

I remember well the moment my life changed. I have just spent a very hot day helping Kanehama-san in
his smithy, mostly swinging the sledge as he forge-welded lumps of sponge-like wrought iron into a billet; I
was drenched in sweat and covered in soot and charcoal dust, my back ached, I was dehydrated and
seeing double- the heat rising from his forge was intense. Finally it was over; we sat outside under a large
tree and sipped tea and watched the sun roll towards the ocean and I saw some fruit bats heading out in
search of dinner; I was very happy and said to myself- this is it, this is what I am going to do with the rest
of my life.

Arnon Kartmazov

[Portland, winter 2008 © photo by Tom DeCuir]

Adrian Ionita: While searching the net to find references about blacksmithing, I have seen an add
announcing the opening in 2009 of a blacksmithing school in Portland, Oregon. It’s how we met, and the
conversation we had at the time was so inspiring that I decided to have it published in Egophobia. Please
tell our readers some biographical details about yourself.

Arnon Kartmazov: I was born in the Soviet Union, in 1963. My grandparents are originally from
Germany, by in the 40's it was suddenly a bad place to be Jewish in, so they ran where they could, and after
many adventures of the most unpleasant sort, found themselves in the USSR. The Russians wanted to shoot
them as spies, but relented and let them become citizens, for which they were always grateful.
Adrian Ionita: You are talking to somebody who lived more than half of his life under Communism.
Stories like these were common in the aftermath of the war. My father had almost the same faith just
because he was caring some books under his arm. What about your father, was he a blacksmith?

Arnon Kartmazov: I have no background of metalwork in my family at all- my granddad was a doctor, my
grandma was a teacher, my mom is also a doctor, and my father was an athletics coach. We left for Israel in
1974. We were living in Siberia at the time, in a rather grim town called Tyumen, and I was happy to leave as
even at the age of 11, I knew that we were living in a place were power was capricious and arbitrary, the
present oppressive, and the future narrow and prescribed. I am not the one to start spouting about the
wonders of western democracy, but to a kid, Israel was a definite improvement- it was warm most of the
time, I could eat bananas year round, and there were a whole lot fewer fistfights at school.

[Bowl and spoon © 2008, Arnon Kartmazov]

Adrian Ionita: I traveled to Israel this spring and ate plenty of fruits myself. Compared to the plaster
props we eat here in the United States, I felt for the first time the real aroma and taste of a fruit. Quite
astonishing, given the fact that almost everything there was built on sand. You told me in a previous
conversation that you apprenticed a blacksmith who was doing stone carving tools. Please tell us something
about the circumstances that favored your interest in blacksmithing.

Arnon Kartmazov: I developed an interest in knife making and was making some blades by stock-removal
method, but wished to learn how to forge, and got lucky when someone introduced me to the last living
blacksmith in Jerusalem. He was 73 at the time, and made me go through some rather traditional phases- a
lot of filing and chiseling and straightening bent bars of steel, cold and so on. My master's name was
Mordechai Alafi, and one of his specialties was making stone-working tools. Old Jerusalem is built of
limestone, and there is a fair amount of stonework still going on, so I leaned how to make those. The
techniques involved forging, filing, and heat-treatment, and during my apprenticeship with him, which
lasted about a year, I learned the fundamentals of the craft. At the time, I was also a student at Hebrew
University, taking East Asian and Slavic studies.
Adrian Ionita: How would you describe this interlude of apprenticeship?

Arnon Kartmazov: My studies at Hebrew University reached a stage where I could no longer see the
point. Naively, I assumed that I was going to gain a mastery of the Japanese language, when in actuality the
academic setting trains you to merely trudge through texts while flipping through a dictionary. In essence, I
guess I was some kind of fundamentalist, wanting a direct contact with the culture and the language, a total
immersion; the university is very much a "catholic" surrounding, with intermediaries between you and that
which you seek. I didn't know it at the time, but this was a hint as to what I was actually seeking, which
wasn’t really a career in linguistics, or Japan, or even an adventure in an exotic locale, but a direct, intense
experience of some sort, something verging on the mystical.

Adrian Ionita: Some people have a sponge like ability to suck in a language and I believe that you have to
be born with a talent for languages, especially if we talk about Chinese or Japanese. How do you explain the
"mystical" side of this attraction?

Arnon Kartmazov: It is impossible to talk of that for which there are no words, as it is impossible to come
up with an imaginary animal that is not made up of parts of something else. But the craving for it is only too
real. Anyhow, I left to continue my studies in Japan, and spent a year at a university in Kyoto. The studies
were even duller and more frustrating, and my progress slow. During the summer break I worked a lot,
doing one-day jobs, which was great- I worked at lumber mills, sushi factories, moving companies, catering
companies. Once I labored alongside dozens of students like me, setting up and then dismantling a huge
event for the Yakuza- the Japanese mafia. They had uniformed police directing traffic in the parking lot,
believe it or not. Once we carried truckloads of tatami mats into a monastery somewhere in northern Kyoto.
The smell of a new tatami mat is wonderful. The temple was huge and dark and silent, the grounds
completely deserted, the sun was sinking and crows cawed among the big old twisted pines -- KAAAA....
KAAA-KAAA.

[Joinery in a handrail, forged tubing, Portland © 2002, Arnon Kartmazov]


Adrian Ionita: Your description with crows reminds me of a scene from Kurosawa's Dreams. This
immersion was probably the equivalent of being culturally baptized by the Japanese society. You were very
lucky to be able to blend yourself in a place with such a rich and distinctive culture.

Arnon Kartmazov: I felt indescribably happy. When I came back to the university after the summer
break, I was speaking fairly fluent in Japanese. My teacher was almost shocked, and asked if I had spent the
summer studying hard, and I told him that I did pretty hard manual labor and went drinking beer afterwards
with my new buddies. He was much taken aback, but it isn't all that surprising really, is it? Life in Kyoto was
exhilarating; I had a nice fast motorbike and zoomed around the city and the countryside; the visual
stimulation was overwhelming, I reveled in my own culture shock, just drinking it all in- the bewilderingly
varied food, the huge crowds, the innumerable shops selling objects of unknown purpose, the sleek modern
subway and trains, the dressed to the nines young people, the nightlife, the tremendous sense of history
everywhere, the crafts, producing objects of such directness, simplicity and quality as to render one
speechless, the amazing old buildings, the incomprehensible but delightful customs, and the textures-
weathered wood, hand-honed stone, polished metal, muted, faded fabrics... I was young, and I guess I fell in
love.

[Arnon getting a forging lesson at Sumitani-san's shop, Sakai ©1998 Arnon Kartmazov]

Finding myself finally able to talk Japanese, I felt confident enough to try and get under the surface of
things; instead of being a mere spectator, I could participate in the life around me on a level different than
that of a mere visitor. I was very much drawn to the crafts in Japan. The language here betrays us, since the
word craft and craftsman in Japan have a very different feel about them than they do in the west. It does not
imply some kind of amateurish hobby, but rather a way of life, a rigorous approach to the design and the
making of a thing, a commitment to a very high level of quality, and a certain degree of social responsibility.

It is considered a very bad form to make poorly put-together things. Probably due to my background in
blacksmithing, I was drawn to the Japanese knives. It has to be understood that a knife in Japan is a quite
different object from what we use in our kitchen to hack at cabbage heads. The design is extreme in
simplicity, yet it is more ergonomic that any convoluted, pretentious, faddish crap vomited by designers who
never had to actually use the damn things. Its use is truly the extension of one's hand, and the sharpness is
such that it falls effortlessly through the fish, meat or veg, with perfect control. In Japan, the aesthetic of
food is as important as the flavor, so it is crucial to have the ability to make precise cuts of a certain
thickness; also, raw fish needs an exceedingly fine, sharp blade, if it is to retain its appearance on the dinner
table. There is a bewildering variety of knives for different tasks and from different regions, and after having
tried one that my roommate at the dorm who worked at a sushi bar, brought home- a knife that has been
given to him by the chef as it has become too thin for daily use, due to daily honing; the shape, the feel and
the performance were something I have never seen before- I decided to explore the subject a bit further.

[Cable Damascus sushi knife, Portland © 2006 Arnon Kartmazov]


Adrian Ionita: I am glad we reached this point in our conversation because I wanted to ask you about the
apprenticeship you did with the Japanese blade masters.

Arnon Kartmazov: A friend introduced me to Yamada-san, who owns a knife store in downtown Kyoto;
the store has been in his family for 400 years, and naturally Yamada-san was very knowledgeable about
knives and well-connected and very skilled at hand-sharpening just about any cutting tool. It takes a long
time to become really good at sharpening things like sushi knives and kimono maker's scissors and
carpenter's tools, and Yamada-san was very comfortable with all of these, and was happy to share his
knowledge. We became good friends in spite of our age differences, and as he was an avid motorcycle rider
himself, we often rode to the countryside together, or hit his favorite drinking holes, this is how I learned
about real sake, or visit blacksmiths' shops and once even a quarry where they still mine high-quality
sharpening stone. The owner of the mine took us deep into the cave-like works and gave us a pickaxe and
told us to dig some decent chunks, which we then proceeded to flatten on a wet concrete slab. I still have this
stone. Finally I decided to take a stab at it and asked Yamada-san to introduce me to a knife maker. After
some humming and hawing, he did, he introduced me to Sumitani-san and I started my first apprenticeship
in Japan. At that point, I had no clear plans for my future, any more than a moth flying towards a candle has.

I started my apprenticeship with Sumitani-san in Sakai City. The city itself is located within the Osaka
prefecture, and enjoys reputation for its ironwork. Its close-knit community of smiths has been producing
top-notch swords and knives for centuries, and when Europeans introduced muskets to Japan, the smiths of
Sakai were able to replicate them quickly and produce them on a large scale. As you can see, this
demonstrates not only high level of technical skill, but also a certain flexibility of mind. In continuation of
this thought, it is worth noting that, when Sakai city gunsmiths stopped producing firearms, they switched
over to making bicycles, since both a gun barrel and a bicycle frame are fundamentally a tube, and they had
the skill to work with that sort of stock. There is a bicycle museum in Sakai that chronicles this aspect of
local history.

[Sumitani-san senior, age 92, in the forging hole © Arnon Kartmazov]


Adrian Ionita: I always wanted to know how does look a smithy in Japan. How different is, compared to
those in the Western world?

Arnon Kartmazov: The typical smithy in Sakai is a fairly small, dark, cave-like space with a packed dirt
floor, overflowing with hand tools and forging machinery and furnaces and steel bars half-finished
blades and looking like something out of early industrial age. In hi-tech Japan this is quite the contradiction.
Yet out of such grim spaces come perhaps some of the best knives made on planet earth; it is always a shock
to see their sleek, gleaming shapes, perfect shapes in the gnarled, callused hands of the smith who has made
them and to know how dirty, dangerous and demanding is the process that generated them.

[The forging hole in Sumitani-san's shop, Sakai, Japan © Arnon Kartmazov]


The set-up in Sakai city is ideal for a blacksmith, as there are many smithies and related businesses in a
relatively small area, so as a craftsman, one finds a lot of support in terms of sharing information, getting a
helping hand if some major piece of equipment needs to be moved, or purchasing supplies- specialized
machinery, steel, coke, gas, polishing supplies and a thousand other needful things are all within a short
bicycle ride. Then there are the crucial associated trades: knife handle makers, sheath-makers, polishers,
forging hammer builders, heat-treaters... some people specialize in certain kind of blades, some only forge,
rough-grind and heat-treat their knives and send them out to be polished and sharpened and fitted with a
handle, some do only carbon steel and others do only stainless, and some do it all. A good sushi knife may
start as low as $100; a custom job can easily be $2000; they will all look good and perform flawlessly, but the
higher-end blades are truly works of art, restrained, yet screaming.

[Japanese style knives made by Arnon © 2006, Arnon Kartmazov]


Adrian Ionita: Which is the mark of a good knife? If I'd like to buy a Japanese knife, what should I look
for, to make sure that it is worth such a high price?

Arnon Kartmazov: "QUALITY!!!" Even to the untutored. There is just something in a masterpiece like this
that fails to leave any person, even one that has little to do with knives or Japan, untouched. Somehow, the
craft survived the industrial revolution, WWII and its aftermath, and thrived. For reasons of their own, but
obviously tightly bound with their way of life, the Japanese continued to value high-quality, hand-made
knives. Interestingly enough, we in the West used to have many of the same features of classic Japanese
cutlery- forge-welding hard steel to soft iron to achieve a durable but a flexible and easily sharpened blade,
hand-grinding the blade on a giant water-stone to achieve a very fine edge, and a truly ergonomic blade
shape. I have old hand-made pieces from USA and Europe to prove it. Yet, somehow we forgot what true
quality is, and accept as great what our great-grandmothers would have tossed out of their kitchen with
contempt, or used to scrape mud off their boots at best. Which of course leads one to ask- what else have we
forgotten?

Adrian Ionita: I hope to find out soon. We left the conversation from the time Yamada-san introduced you
to a knife maker.

Ajioka-san © Arnon Kartmazov

Arnon Kartmazov: My master's name was Ajioka-san. As I arrived at his shop on my first day of
apprenticeship, I was greeted by a very short, almost rotund man of an indefinable age, with enormously
muscular arms and a very cheery disposition. He did not forge his blades, but he ground and polished knives
forged by other makers. I was somewhat disappointed, as what I found most interesting were the various
aspects of firework- forging and heat-treating. However, deciding to make the most of it, I persevered,
hoping perhaps to visit other shops and learn some things by observing. Before too long, I realized that
Ajioka-san possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of the craft, and was only too happy to share it; my
notebook was filling up at an alarming rate, and my visits to other smithies were always informative and
friendly. After half a year of such fun, my visa expired; it was time to do something else or leave Japan, and I
was determined to stay, as I felt that I have barely scratched the surface of all there was to see and learn
there. Certain aspects of the blacksmith's craft in Japan are very traditional, such as the basic design of the
main types of blades, and also the technique of forge-welding hard steel to a soft iron backing. Other aspects
can be quite modern, such as the use of stainless steel in lamination instead of the traditional tool steel, the
employment of high-tech temperature control, the use of a power hammers, and the availability of very good
tool steel. Often a shop is a strange mix of old and new, like Japan itself. However, one has to remember that
blacksmithing is an old craft, and most techniques have been figured out a very long time ago, so what we
call "modern" is often no more than an elaboration on an old idea, or using machinery to do what used to be
done by hand, or having new materials. Often new DOES mean better- for example, modern hot-work
steels, make a blacksmith's life much easier, the availability of standardized and uniform steel makes quality
less of a struggle, and having a power hammer allows one to work without destroying one's joints by the age
of 40. On the other hand, a wonderful material like true wrought iron has all but disappeared; it is available
only as occasional old piece of scrap, and is produced in Japan by a very laborious and expensive process
exclusively for the use of sword-makers.

Contrary to the image of a secretive Japanese craftsman, I have found most of the smiths I met, rather open
and forthcoming about their techniques and methods.

Adrian Ionita: How do you explain this attitude?

Arnon Kartmazov: Perhaps it was so because I am a foreigner, and a Japanese person might have been
treated differently. In any case, I adopted a policy, upon encountering a person who might be
knowledgeable, to proceed with the assumption that he would gladly share his secrets, and somehow I
usually found myself right. Ask and ye shall receive. Most of blacksmithing done in Japan is tool making-
knives and woodworking tools, with a few scattered shops making things like temple hardware and tansu
handles. A very special category is reserved for the sword-maker. Traditionally, there was no making of
ornamental ironwork in the western sense- gates, railings, and furniture. There are few of these "western"
style smiths in Japan now, and some of them are very good and internationally known. But a blacksmith still
mostly means knife or chisel maker in Japan.

[Forged-welded bowl Portland © 2008 Arnon Kartmazov]


Adrian Ionita: How long lasted your apprenticeship with Ajioka-san?

Arnon Kartmazov: As my visa was running out, I found myself in a conundrum- I wished to stay in Japan
and do blacksmithing, but in order to stay I had to do something else, something that would provide me with
a visa and an income. Thus, I found myself leaving my beloved Kyoto and heading to Okinawa, where I
would take the one and only job I ever held- that of a linguists in a government agency. The less said about it
the better, but suffice to say that I discovered during the next 4 years that just because someone is good at
something, it doesn't mean that they enjoy doing it. Before too long, I had a forge set up in my back yard,
and spent much of my free time visiting any blacksmith I could find; what I learned from them I immediately
tried out in my own backyard forge. Meanwhile, I met a sword-smith, the only practicing sword-smith in
Okinawa. His name is Kanehama Kiochika, and he was kind enough to let me visit his smithy and work with
him on an informal, non-committal basis.
I remember well the moment my life changed. I have just spent a very hot day helping Kanehama-san in his
smithy, mostly swinging the sledge as he forge-welded lumps of sponge-like wrought iron into a billet; I was
drenched in sweat and covered in soot and charcoal dust, my back ached, I was dehydrated and seeing
double- the heat rising from his forge was intense. Finally it was over; we sat outside under a large tree and
sipped tea and watched the sun roll towards the ocean and I saw some fruit bats heading out in search of
dinner; I was very happy and said to myself- this is it, this is what I am going to do with the rest of my life.

Adrian Ionita: Wow, quite an epiphany!

[Kanehama-san’s shop 1998, Japan © Arnon Kartmazov]


Arnon Kartmazov: I stayed with Kanehama-san for a year, training with him in the art of the Japanese
sword and spending what spare time I had working in my own little back yard shop, where I made knives,
but also items not commonly made by blacksmiths in Japan, such as sculptural and decorative pieces. While
still living in Japan, I would visit my family in Israel, and during one of these visits I dropped by Uri Hofi's
smithy and fell under his influence. His direct, logical, yet iconoclastic approach greatly appealed to me; He
has a talent of imparting an incredible amount of information in a very short time, leaving the person to sort
it all out by himself in the months that follow. I was unable to formulate my impressions of him at the time,
but I felt that I was in the presence of a rare and special phenomenon. Years later, when Hofi was invited to
Japan to demonstrate and I had the pleasure of assisting him, his hosts called him “kami-sama”. Literally
this meant "god", but language trips us up here, as the Japanese believe in a multitude of gods. Thus, any
unusual and special occurrence is a manifestation of the divine- a spectacular waterfall, a strange boulder, an
old gnarled tree- or a human with some special capabilities. Thus, influenced by "Hofi kami-sama" I was
forging Japanese swords on weekdays, and very western pieces on weekends. After a year, my money ran
out, and I realized that wonderful as the craft of the Japanese sword was, the world of forged metal was
larger and more varied that just blades, and it was calling to me, and I was going to be seduced yet again. I
moved back to Kyoto, and after some diligent search, opened a shop there. This was my first real shop. The
area is located in the hills of northern Kyoto, and is quite beautiful- my shop overlooked wooded hills with a
small river running at a bottom of a narrow valley; during the summer, when the heat got unbearable, I
would walk over to a nearby waterfall and sit under the cold water; after spending the day sweating next to a
hot forge in a tin-roof building, it was a great relief. Winters, conversely, were brutally cold.

Adrian Ionita: How long lasted this Japanese journey?

Arnon Kartmazov: I stayed in Kyoto for five years, having altogether too much fun working and playing,
and attempting some kind of fusion between Japanese and western aesthetics as embodied in metal. Around
this time I discovered the possibilities of forging stainless steel. Not many people do it, possibly because it is
not traditional, or because requires quite a bit more muscle that iron to forge. In any case, the results are
extremely satisfying, as forged stainless looks nothing like what we associate with the term- it can be quite
dark with some highlight, or fairly bright with dark areas, or like textured satin, or even like old silver. I
developed different items made of this wonderful material, and got involved in a few architectural projects,
making large forged elements that worked with traditional Japanese houses, while not being traditionally
Japanese at all. This in itself was unusual, and highly satisfying on many levels- I had to come up with
something that had a foot in two worlds, overcome the reluctance of clients who have never before seen
metals used in such a way, got to work with my favorite kind of architecture- Japanese post and beam
houses- and associated with a vast variety of Japanese craftsmen. I developed tremendous respect for the
integrity, ingenuity and commitment and just sheer NOWNESS and humanity of these people, who often live
on the outside edge of Japanese mainstream. Theirs are often hard lives, yet they are driven to make things
with their minds and hands, and even while rejecting the consumerism values of the society they live in, they
perpetuate the best of traditional approach to crafts in Japan- simplicity, honesty, directness, humility, and a
sense of play.

Adrian Ionita: So, here we are in Portland, Oregon. Please tell me something about your experience in
United States.

Arnon Kartmazov: The image of a blacksmith in the public mind, and the way this image interacts with
reality is an interesting subject. Among other things, it is often assumed that blacksmiths tend to have and
guard secrets, only passing them to chosen apprentices on his deathbed. In reality, at least in the USA, there
is a great openness, and often a complete stranger would invite a fellow smith into his shop, show him his
tools and toys, and gladly share any and all information he possesses. There is a blacksmiths' association in
almost every state, and they hold conferences and meetings where experienced smiths demonstrate their
methods, and beginners are given hands-on lessons. I belong to the Northwest Blacksmiths' Associations,
which incorporates the states of Washington and Oregon, have demonstrated at a couple of the conferences,
and try to attend them as much as possible. This is a great resource, as the people there possess a vast
amount of accumulated knowledge, which is constantly being shared through conferences, newsletters,
hammer-ins, and shop visits. Ashi-san, my friend and mentor from Sakai city, was invited to demonstrate
here in Oregon a couple of years ago, and it was a hit, as his technique, candor and modesty were a
wonderful combination. So, to backtrack- there are no secrets, or at least shouldn't be. I embrace this
approach whole-heartedly and share my methods with everyone, without holding anything back. Guarding
secrets, real or imaginary, only contributes to the shrinking of the soul and the constipation of the mind; I
truly believe in casting my bread upon the water.

Adrian Ionita: I am glad to hear that. This actually, is the main subject of our 2009-projected interview
with Glenn Conner from Iforgeiron. What about your operation here in United States, about your shop tools?

Arnon Kartmazov: One thing about blacksmithing- you don't need much to start doing it. True, you
might end up with a lot of equipment if you get serious about it. But to start, all you need is a forge, fairly
easy to build or buy, an anvil, a hammer and a pair of tongs. As your skills grow, you start making your own
tools: tongs, chisels, hammers, etc. from this point, your capabilities and your tools expand exponentially.
Information is very easy to get nowadays; when I first started dabbling in it (in Israel) I had to travel to
England to get some books; nowadays there are many sites where information is shared on every conceivable
area of metalwork.

[14-inch all-steel bowie knife; Portland © 2006 Arnon Kartmazov]


Adrian Ionita: Which is your favorite technique?

Arnon Kartmazov: I no longer make a lot of blades, but when I do, usually make them Japanese style,
mainly I laminate hard tool steel with soft, low carbon iron. The resulting” sandwich" is very tough and
flexible, yet has a very keen, durable edge. I mostly use Japanese specialty tool steel for my blades, although
I also enjoy making Damascus steel blades, which means forge-welding different steels into a billet and then
twisting and manipulating it in various other ways to create interesting designs in the blade. I particularly
like "junk" Damascus, where I throw whatever I can together and fuse it into a billet: ball bearings, pieces
of broken saw blades, motorcycle chains, steel cable... if you are both careful and lucky, you can come up
with a really surprising, unusual pattern, and as the above mentioned objects are actually made of very good
grades of steel, the blade will also be highly functional. I admit that what attracted me to this field initially,
was the mystique of blade making: the forging, the heat-treatment, the polishing. The emergence of a
gleaming blade of heart-stopping sharpness out of an ugly, misshapen lump is still a thrill. Forging a nail or a
leaf can be as much fun as forging a blade.

[Detail of a sculptural piece; forged steel © 2006, Arnon Kartmazov]


Adrian Ionita: Please describe me the shop from Portland.

Arnon Kartmazov: My current shop is a 5000 square feet old wooden building in the industrial part of
town, and is full of tools and machinery and work in progress and samples and steel, nameless bits and ends;
projects started and dropped, to be picked up a month or a year later, things morphing into other things,
tools breaking and being repaired again and again till they look like something still evolving in primal mud,
and everywhere the traces of iron dying and being reborn- layers of burnt iron scale around the anvils and
the power hammers, crunching underfoot, clinging as fine hairs on any magnetic surface. I feel truly happy
here. The shop is a combination of very old and the quite modern. The coal-fired forge, the anvils, the power
hammers, and the hand tools wouldn't have looked out of place in a 19-century blacksmith's shop. But we
also use a lot of high-quality, modern pneumatic tools, plasma cutter, mig and tig welding machines, and
efficient gas forges. They all dances beautifully together, like a wedding party somewhere in the Carpathian
Mountains.

Adrian Ionita: “The Transylvanian Forged Wedding of Tools”. A great title for a book about Steampunk.
Some of our guests, are not exclusively steampunk artists, but connected as you are, in many ways by
Steampunk philosophy. This connection derives from their attitude towards, tools, objects and self-
sufficiency. Are you familiar with the phenomenon?

Arnon Kartmazov: It is only very recently that I have been introduced to the notion of steampunk. That
is to say, I have stumbled upon things that are intimately connected with it and have found them fascinating.
"The Difference Engine" by Gibson and Sterling has really grabbed me years ago; likewise objects from the
Victorian age are very appealing to me, even if they can be somewhat overwrought, naive or ludicrous. The
ideological appeal is of course the notion that we can figure out things if we apply ourselves, and that there is
no limit to what we can do when our imagination, intellect and industriousness are combined. This, too, is
somewhat naive, as we know now that the physical reality is vastly more complicated than the ladies and
gentlemen of the Victorian age imagined it to be. But the appeal is still there. Perhaps, as Douglas Adams
has claimed, the one thing a sentient being really CAN'T afford is a true sense of proportion. I once told Mia,
my wife, that even though I met her a few years ago, I have known her all my life. Perhaps it is always so with
what or whom we love- the notion exists in our minds, simmering below the surface, and if we are lucky and
bold enough, we might yet catch a glimpse of it in the outside world, and grasp it in our eager hands...

In any case, I find myself embracing Steampunk to my bosom, and ardently hope that it will coalesce into a
real movement with a coherent philosophy and lasting effect. I think we need the notions of craftsmanship,
pride in one's work, the desire to sail off the edge of the world a'la Monty Python's pirate ship, the sense of
adventure and play- anything to counteract the deadening corporate ideology, the plastic pre-packaged
news, the meaningless grayness spread by the truly insane notion that our emotions, our lives, our very
world can be expanded by the movement of little green pieces of paper.

Adrian Ionita: To continue this idea, I cannot avoid asking something about tradition.

Arnon Kartmazov: As far as tradition goes, I think that two opposing attitudes working in tandem, offer
the greatest chance of success; we have to know our past intimately, with all its textures and loveliness and
foolishness and ugliness and foibles. But we shouldn't just imitate it. I know a lot of smiths extolling the
virtues of everything old "they don't make them like they used to!" but often, they don't make them this way
for a damn good reason. Often, that reason is NOT good. So I think we should learn to distinguish between
the two, and keep what is good in tradition in terms of techniques and philosophy and esthetics, and move
right along, exploring and innovating with a steady hand and a sense of play. For example, I like forging
stainless steel and silicone bronze- two materials that are certainly not traditional blacksmith's fare. So
what? They look great hand-forged. I get a kick out of putting together a completely traditional element, say
a gate with mortise and tenon joinery and forged leafs and flowers and scrolls, but forged out of heavy
stainless steel bars. When treated this way, it looks like old silver- dark and shine at the same time.
[Portland 2008 © photo by Tom DeCuir]

Adrian Ionita: Please tell me how was born the idea to found K&K Forgeworks?

Arnon Kartmazov: After a few years in Portland, a steelworker friend of mine, Fergus Kennel, joined me
in my shop, and we formed a partnership that is K & K Forgeworks. We came from opposite directions- he
did high-end architectural steelwork without much forging, and I was much more proficient in forging than
in fabrication and welding. We both love to experiment, and we arrived independently at stainless steel as a
medium of choice for a lot of applications. In many ways our skills compliment each other. We thus pooled
our resources and engaged in some large architectural projects: forged stainless steel gates for a winery, a
complicated bronze and steel railing for the same, some very elaborate and large railing for private houses in
Portland, and a couple of really big chandeliers. However, I have to admit that I derive the most satisfaction
from sculptural pieces, big or small. The little fire-welded rectangular bowl is one of my favorites, especially
since it was conceived and executed in the space of 20 minutes: I just arranged miscellaneous pieces on a
steel plate - a chunk of cable, some punching, some odd-shaped bolts- heated it up really hot and put it
under the power hammer. The immediacy is visible in the piece, I think. Sculpture is where the most
freedom is, of course, since I don't have to think about the customer at all, and just let things happen and
they might.

Adrian Ionita: Please tell me about the Blacksmithing School from Portland and other future project

Arnon Kartmazov: I have recently been approached by a local college of arts and crafts with a request to
take on interns; the idea is still in the works, but I have the feeling that teaching might be in my future. Also,
a blacksmith friend of mine, Ken Marmelstien, the owner of Stumptown forge, is working hard on opening a
Hofi-style school here in Oregon, and has invited me to conduct classes there- an offer which I have gladly
accepted.

Arriving from Japan 8 years ago, I really wanted to get into forging "big iron", which to me meant
architectural steelwork- railings, gates, etc. Traditionally, there is very little architectural ironwork in Japan,
and like everyone else who lives there, I also had severe space limitation. My wish came true, and I have had
the opportunity to do quite a few large and elaborate projects. There was a lot to learn, and many new ideas
and techniques were developed as a consequence. However, recently I have been wondering if I really want
to do this sort of thing in the next 5 years. Sculpture, big and small, I find much more satisfying, and also
furniture and objects, door hardware, because one can experiment endlessly and not spend much time out of
the shop installing the damn things. So I see myself drifting to this field more and more. I draw a lot, and
often make what I draw, but one of the most satisfying things there, is to take a bar of steel, heat it up and
put it under the power hammer with no idea as to what will come out of it until you get something totally
spontaneous, by uncompromising action. So yes, sculpture and art pieces of all sorts are definitely in the
works. My best friend, Bar Shacterman of Sacramento, California, has been threatening to move to
Portland. He is a very talented artist, and I am really looking forward to creating collaborative pieces with
him, as provocative sculpture of all sorts is very much his domain. I wouldn't mind engaging in collaborative
work with other artists or craftsmen as well, as there is always someone smarter and more talented than me
in such groups, which is good for shrinking the ego and expanding the mind. Also, there have been many
requests for smithing lessons, especially after public demonstrations, which I do a fair amount of. I do enjoy
exposing people to smithing and- not to blow my own horn too much- have been told that I have a knack for
conveying what I know. So, why not?

[Forged steel and bronze staircase, Portland © 2007, Arnon Kartmazov]

Another idea I am determined to carry out before senility sets in, is writing a book on knife makers of Japan;
I think that given my history, it would be a shame not to do so, especially since this is an endangered craft,
with a very long history of excellence, a huge body of accumulated knowledge, and an amazing array of
talented and dedicated people. But to steer the conversation to the beginning, to my first apprenticeship in
Jerusalem and my Japanese studies there, and the feeling of dissatisfaction with second-hand experience
and the craving for something more direct, like everyone else, I stumble in the dark, groping my way,
muddling through, trying to figure what is it all about. Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that the only meaning life
has is the one we choose to give it.

Adrian Ionita: In case that you publish a book about the Japanese knife makers I’d love to translate it in
Romanian. We cannot conclude this interview without a question about the meaning of blacksmithing in
your philosophy of life.
Arnon Kartmazov: For me, the meaning of life is having direct, intense, and rich experiences, which tax
my mental and physical abilities. Think of the forging process. The steel has to be very hot to be worked on,
but it stays in the malleable state seconds or minutes at best. This means that there is no time to waste at all-
every movement, every blow counts. Thus the need to train oneself constantly, to plan methodically, and to
observe closely what IS rather what one wishes there to be. At the same time, once the hot steel is out, one
needs to ACT with total commitment and focus, with no hesitation or second thoughts, often pushing one’s
physical limits, reacting instantly to the rapid changes the steel undergoes as it is being hammered, bulging
or spreading or twisting like a maddened red snake on the anvil. I feel myself completely awake when doing
this, seeing nothing but the steel, hearing nothing but the hammer blows, with the ego completely dissolving
for a few endless seconds. Our time on this rock is very short, so perhaps I feel that blacksmithing is a kind
of metaphor for life- we have but a few precious moment to give it meaning and shape and savor it to the full,
abandoning all that is petty and small.

[Portland 2008 © photo by Tom DeCuir]

Then, I guess the most important question is: Why am I doing this? And the answer is not "to make money",
because this is an insane way to make a living. If I just wanted money, I would have been doing something
else. So the answer is that, I can't possibly be happy doing anything else; in fact I have tried having a regular
job, and ended being a miserable sod, no good to himself or anyone else. Accepting this fact, the fact that I
am happily chained to my anvil, is important for everything I do. If death is the mother of beauty, then none
of us have any time to waste. Thus I try to cultivate a certain kind of honesty or integrity, which to me means
doing as I please as much as I can, without trying to make things that I imagine someone might like. Rather,
I prefer making things that I like, in the hope that my judgment is good and my happiness at making them
shines through, infecting the observer and thus rendering him incapable of walking away empty-handed.

Adrian Ionita: It was such a great pleasure having you on Egophobia. Thank you Arnon-san.

***
Bordering Modernity: Dandyism, Flaneurism and Steampunk
By Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia

Click pentru versiunea română

While trying to distinguish itself from the products of mass society by rejecting irrational consumerism,
Steampunk defines its principles by grossly differentiating itself from the standing values of a society in
crisis. Steampunk is therefore the product of a new period of transition, in which we experiment the
passage from the industrial to the cybernetic, and from manufacturing to customer services. Aestheticism
also plays a significant part in Steampunk’s self-definition process, whereas the use of ironic detachment
and tasteful humor give the remembrance of steam engine’s époque a touch of profound originality, thus
permitting to avoid the criticism of simply being a nostalgic manifestation of the incapacity to adapt to the
requirements of a increasingly competitive society. Steampunk is a manifestation of late post-modernity,
a continuously evolving idea, a “living” concept that breaths through its various forms of artistic
expression and ceaselessly moves between innovation, content, form, and means of communication or
exposure.

[Oscar Wilde When in America 1883from Oscar Wilde by Robert H. Sherard, London 1905]
Before the contemporary generations had its „trendy” or „cool” youths, the idea of being „fashionable” was
represented in the highest circles of civilized society by a somewhat peculiar category of youngsters whom, as
time passed by, came to be known by the general public as „dandies”. A superficial understanding of what
might be called the „dandy” phenomenon portrays these young men as being narcissistic misogynists, or
much rather simply spernogynists (from the Latin term spernere meaning “to despise”), superficial,
undeniable victims of aestheticism and decadence, displaying a ruthless arrogance which had to be publicly
manifested under any circumstances. In short, the „dandies” were for many of their contemporaries nothing
more that simple fops, pathetic unmanly caricatures of the ballrooms, desperately seeking notoriety, aspiring
for an ephemeral fame and transient victories out of the incapacity to obtain true glory, like the authentic
„real” men of the century. But despite the negative sentiment that they seemed to instill in others, the young
„dandies” that roamed through the last decades of the 18th century, and especially those gallant fashionables
of the 19th century were a fascinating oddity, that stirred the interest of past and present generations alike.
The subtle irony of their words of wisdom, carelessly uttered with an air of sublime indifference in the great
London society clubs or in the famous Parisian cafés, the flaming passions that they inspired in both the men
and the women that had the misfortune of being in their presence, the extravagant and gratuitous gestures
used to dismay or amaze their contemporaries, the irreproachable elegance of their attire or the attentively
examined impassiveness of their “fallen angel” social mask have all contributed to transform these young
mashers into a strange sort of cultural heroes, consecrated by 19th century literature. In the same fashion as
the so-called London “silver fork society”- since London can be considered the epicenter of “dandyism”, the
undisputed capital of an imaginary Dandy-land- readers everywhere have experienced over time a dark
fascination for those demonic protagonists of the literary world, such as Dorian Grey or Eugene Onegin.

Generally, it is said that the magnetic force of attraction experienced almost instinctively in the vicinity of
these charming men who seduce only to compromise or destroy, is partly a result of their almost unreal
beauty and the elegance that emanates from their entire presence and partly a consequence of their
distinguished manners, fierce intelligence and a mysterious charm that the French like to call a certain “je ne
sais quoi”, and Hollywood established under the simple notion of having “it”. I could say that “dandies” were
what most people define as charismatic men, if I did not consider charisma to be more an inborn trait,
whereas the undecipherable charm of the “dandy” is the outcome of a long, painstaking exercise, in which
every gesture is attentively examined, elaborated and rehearsed until it reaches perfection. The most famous
“dandies” of history were not even by far what one would normally call handsome men; some of them did
not even excel in terms of intelligence or education. What makes a “dandy” irresistible is precisely the strict
control over attire and posture, the cultivation and elevation of the spirit, especially in the art of rhetoric, in
order to amaze in any given conversation, as well as the patience of dissecting and analyzing an apparently
insignificant gesture, such as the opening of a tobacco box or waiving a handkerchief for example, so that
everything should appear to be performed with the utmost distinction and elegance, without any useless
waste of energy, or some dissonance that might disturb the natural fluidity and harmony displayed by each
and every fiber of the “dandy’s” being. A dandy’s force of attraction, his capacity to fascinate, reside in his
ability to censor all that is natural within his own body and personality, to rebuild and reshape himself into a
magnificent aesthetic mechanism which functions flawlessly. Jean Floressas des Esseintes, Huysmans’ hero,
seems to be the perfect embodiment of the “dandy” prototype, understood from this particular perspective.
Living isolated from the outside world, whose triviality and harshness of sound hurts his sensitive senses,
des Esseintes takes refuge in splendid, exotic art objects, experimenting an artificial delight in cultivating his
most outrageous sensations or pleasures. However, the dandies of literature do not even by far constitute the
prototype of the authentic dandy which, as probably was expected, proved to be the product of a society in
transition, a world in which the crisis of the cultural values represented by the old aristocracy had become
more than obvious, and the numerous changes of social, cultural and economic nature, had ignited in early
modern individuals a particular sense of emergent anxiety.

Even though “dandyism”, understood as a cultural manifestation of an anxious, confused Ego, represents
only one of the multiple facets of the phenomenon, it could nonetheless be stated that the “dandy”, par
excellence, has a “borderline” personality, constantly finding himself in the liminal area between two or more
cultural spheres, many a time oscillating between aestheticism and hedonism and, even when analyzed from
a chronological perspective, manifesting himself at the border between two centuries. I feel, at this point,
complied to agree with Barbey d’Aurevilly when, in the introduction of his work On Dandyism and on
George Brummell, he sentenced that, undoubtedly, “dandyism” is hard to define and infinitely harder to
describe. Nonetheless, out of the multiple personality traits of the more or less famous dandies of modern
history, one can identify a constant characteristic, an invisible thread that links George Brummell, count
D’Orsay, Oscar Wilde, Charles Baudelaire and Mateiu Caragiale, namely, the undeniable desire to
distinguish oneself from all the others, to stand out and shine like authentic Venuses of elegance, eloquence
and good manners, as well as a veritable disgust or contempt for all ready-made mass products that level
individuals, which they obstinately reject. The authentic repulsion that they manifest towards the leveling of
individuals with the aid of industrialization can be interpreted, from a certain point of view, as a socio-
cultural critique of the bourgeoisie that was forcefully ascending at that time, and whose values seemed to
stain the old, impoverished, decadent and declining aristocracy’s ideals of Beauty and Good. In other words,
the dandies seek to amaze the exclusivist circles of high society while at the same time mocking their vices
and flaws, they dominate the parlors but leave the impression of being bored by their own success, they wish
to be aristocrats of the spirit without being aristocrats by blood or descent, they set trends and canons of
elegance and fashion only to later dismiss or undermine them without hesitating, and they manifest a
profound indifference towards conventions, but without completely breaking the rules.

[The Dandy’s Perambulations, 1819]

Chameleonic by nature, profoundly inadaptable to the world they are living in, the beautiful dandies
transform their own life into a work of art, putting the aesthetic value of things above all good and evil,
promoting the cult of the self and displaying in mundane life a self-assurance of gestures and mimic that
betrays the carefully prepared analysis of posture and attitudes, specific elements of the process of
consolidating within the ego a system of defense against a real or imagine outside aggression. The desire to
the unique and different from everybody else is joined by an exacerbated fear of all that is natural and,
therefore, subjected to decay and death. The aestheticism advocated by most dandies comes from this fear,
or perhaps emanates precisely from being all too conscious of their own ephemerality as human beings. The
extreme care that dandies have for their own body has often been described in literature, starting with
Huysmans’ novel Au Rebours, going to the pages from Wilde’s The Portray of Dorian Grey, or Pushkin’s
poetry, in which he minutely describes the daily ritual of Onegin’s morning preparations; similarly, Lord
Byron’s draconic diets have went down in history. The obstinacy with which most dandies tried to preserve
the beauty of their bodies, would have, at times, gone so far as to border the pathological, thus revealing that
behind the indifferent masks of those destined to amaze always without ever being amazed lies a profound
inner anxiety that reverberates at the level of one’s self identity. Thus, the critics of “dandyism” considered
that these fragile and effeminate youths force themselves “into becoming Brummell after failing to be
Napoleon.” But as it usually happens in all cultures, the reasons that underlie the emergence of this
phenomenon are innumerable and far more complex than they first appear to be.

Firstly, one must bear in mind that “dandyism” gained immense popularity during an age in which the
dissolution of the cultural values belonging to the old aristocracy is the cause of ample social transformations
that manifest themselves, at least when France is concerned, in the form of violent mass outbursts. It is the
historical moment in which the new bourgeoisie emerged, a social class to which most dandies belonged by
birth, even though they forcefully rejected its materialistic principle and consumerist ideals. Moreover, the
social ascension of the bourgeoisie is inextricably linked with the powerful technological development
characteristic to the era of the industrial revolution, which allowed the transition to the mass production of
most household consumer items. The dandies’ mania for one of a kind objects and custom made garments
expresses, at a subconscious level, a fear of uniformity and of the process that might level society on the one
hand, and suppresses all manifestation of individual personality, on the other. Simultaneously, this is the
time when a gradual emancipation of women started taking place, an event that lead, at least partially, to an
authentic crisis of male identity, which the virile ideal of the fearless soldier could no longer accurately
define when confronted with the new socio-cultural realities of the age. The pedantry of their elegance as
well as the dandies’ effeminacies could be explained in the terms of a journey for seeking and discovering a
new self identity, one that could accommodate the existence of those modern-day “amazons”, who were
interested in art and politics, practicing popular or fashionable sport and being able to successfully
dismantle any argument invoked by the ancient patriarchs. The dandies’ unmanliness was also explained
using their homosexuality as main argument, which might be justified from certain perspectives, even
though explaining the whole complexity of the phenomenon using a predominant sexual orientation among
most dandies as a central pillar for building an entire hypothesis denotes a relatively simplistic vision.
However, since the “dandy”, being in essence a singular, unique entity conceived in the terms of perpetual
differentiation from others, evades a rigid definition, it could be convened that their homosexuality,
misogynism or spernogynism represent common traits belonging to a majority of such characters, real or
fictional alike.

At a different level of understanding, the dandies’ effebism can be interpreted as the desire or even as the
need to reconstruct the androgynous ideal. This manner of interpretation becomes obvious especially when
it comes to the „dandy” protagonists of the period’s literature, especially since the idea of perfection
embodied by the androgynous entity is inherited from the Greek- Latin antiquity, which the Enlightenment,
and later Romanticism, universally established. While desiring to be different at any cost and undermining
social conventions, the dandies still remain, from a certain point of view, nostalgics of an era in which the
aesthetic value gave life a greater sense, a certain sign of distinction. In other words, even though their
elegant garments most often defy the canons of fashion, the dandies are in a way true „classicists” by
predominantly employing the idea of „Beauty”, as well as by awarding a crucial significance to rhetoric,
because all authentic dandies must be true veritable masters of discourse, agile magicians of brilliant
conversation and clever tricksters of lashing lines. Moreover, a great deal of the fascination that the dandies
stirred wherever they made their appearance resided in the ability with which they joggled with words and
phrases, always choosing the perfect moment for a meaningful anecdote, a word of wisdom, a subtle irony,
barely noticeable by the unadvised, or to start a rumor that would later circle around all high society parlors.
And all of this simply because, as one should never forget, one of the ultimate purposes of any respectable
„dandy” was to constantly amaze, to always cause a commotion and surprise others without being surprised
by anyone, or at least without betraying his amazement in any involuntary movement that might have
disturbed the mask of supreme indifference which he had strived to perfect for so long. Moreover, in society
a „dandy ” endlessly sought to shock his audience, carefully observing the following principle: „ In society,
stay as long as you haven’t produced any effect on the others; if you have succeeded in producing an effect,
then leave.”

The dandy’s desire to defy everyone and everything, through which he attempts to affirm an undeniable
intellectual and spiritual superiority over all other human beings, will ultimately contribute both to his own
decline and to isolation in a sordid decrepitude, a state in which most dandies have ended their lives. From
this perspective, it could be stated that the „dandy” is at the same time „unique and alone”, an aesthete
mefisto who minutely directs each insignificant detail of his life, and ultimately, even resorts to planning the
details of his death, for a true „dandy” retains his elegance even in the face of the imminent end. In what
other way could one interpret Oscar Wilde’s famous last words who, being on his death bed in the stingy
room of a sordid Parisian Hotel, remarked with great amusement: „The wallpaper and I are waging a battle
to the death- one of us will have to go”, than as a last resort to preserve the specific „dandy” attitude of
detached indifference of a man who cannot be astounded by the trivial turmoil of a mediocre world? The
same behavior, in which the elegant gesture, the poise and foremost the noble casualness of the „dandy”
become ultimate virtues, can be retraced in Baudelaire, a bohemian „dandy” to the extent that such a thing
existed and could be talked about and, at the same time, an agile theoretician of „dandyism”, conceived both
as aesthetic program and life style. For Baudelaire, „ a dandy can never be a vulgar being. If he was to
commit a crime, he would still not decline from his status and position; but if this crime would have any sort
of triviality in its nature, nothing could save him from dishonor.” Being aristocrats of the spirit, the „dandies”
can therefore indulge in behaving „beyond good and evil,” in accordance with the Nietzschean precepts.

A charming demon, sometimes displaying an almost inhuman cruelness, the “dandy” is not entirely lacking a
specific tragic character, as the former glittering glories of the parlors, after a certain period of time, most
often have lived the rest of their remaining days in misery and oblivion. Much like the courtesans that shone
at the Royal Courts of Europe only to end up on the backstreets of the slums, these “masculine cocottes”, as
they have often been dubbed by their critics, conquered princes and noblemen, musicians and poets, glowing
like falling stars on the sky of the most exclusivist London society clubs before being ruined or taking their
own lives, in a last attempt to control, dominate and defeat the forces of nature. The dramatic aspect of
absolute solitude of the “dandy” determined most scholars researching the phenomenon to perceive him
rather as a “fallen angel” than as a “beast in a frock-coat.” The fascination that the character of the “dandy”
exerts on others is very much present today as it was in its age of glory, although one cannot speak of
“dandyism” in the true meaning of the term after the Second World War. The reader ultimately ends up by
feeling sympathy for Dorian Grey, believing him to be a handsome idealist wishing in vain to the material
and durable fulfillment of a utopia; the scholar comes to interpret Brummell’s insolences and jests at the
expense of his royal friend as a carefully constructed critique of an entire system in moral crisis. “Dandyism”
therefore reaches the point in which it receives new understandings and interpretations, transcends cultures
and unites ages; finding itself always in a space of liminality, never wishing to integrate but much rather to
stand out, it defines something far more complex than a simple absurdity of history. Being a “dandy” meant
much more than just being “fashionable”, it meant to adhere to a certain set of principles that defined a
particular life style.

For a better understanding of both past and present dandies’ set of values as well as of the multiple,
complicated faces of “dandyism”, Adriana Babeţi’s book Dandyism- A History constitutes itself not only in a
very well documented introduction into the thematic and chronological outline of the subject, but also into
an extremely convincing plead in favor of the „dandy” as a type of cultural hero. „Life as art”, a motto
embraced in the most literal sense by the „dandy”, representing one of the fundamental concepts of modern
and postmodern literature, and „dandies” themselves, with their complicated personality, which at times
borders schizophrenia, histrionic personality, or other pathological behavior disorders, are only a couple of
the arguments that support the idea of the “dandy” as a type of hero of modernity. For him, the mirror
symbolizes the supreme depth, whereas his own reflection in its silver surface is nothing more than a mere
awareness of corporeality, the bitter acknowledgment of the feeble body’s betrayal, subjected to disease and
death. The “dandy” is par excellence a sum of contradictory, often controversial, but always surprising traits
which history has chosen to disseminate in this veritable caste of the “frock-coat beasts” who, to use
Oscar Wilde’s words, he himself a famous “dandy,” have put only their talent into their work, to the extent
that they entertained artistic or literary ambitions, and their genius into their lives.

Trying to fully grasp the complexity of a dandy’s personality by putting it into words resembles, from many
points of view, with the attempt of crossing a dangerous labyrinth at night, without a flashlight. Any attempt
to define the phenomenon leads almost invariably to a list of different notions that are not, however,
completely able to fully exhaust the term. Trying to explain dandyism proves to be all the more difficult as
the relative bibliography referring to the subject seems to be simply insufficient to a full scale analysis
regarding the emergence and popularity of the phenomenon. Nonetheless, Adriana Babeţi’s work manages
to offer a response to the dillemmas aroused by the emblematic and mysterious figure of some of the most
famous dandies, attempting a partial, although inclusive, definition of what dandyism could possibly
represent. To answer the same question, I dare to reproduce the author’s definition, hoping that it might
clarify and complete the few aspects of “dandyism” that I chose to discuss in the above mentioned pages.
Therefore, here is a list of possible solutions to the problem of defining “dandyism”, in almost alphabetical
order: “alive abstraction, angelic, aristocracy (e new type of), art, artifice, asceticism, association, attitude,
caste, ceremonial, code, corporation, cult of the self, demonism, doctrine, heroism, aestheticism, ethics,
experience, historical phenomenon, figure of speech, form, frivolity, ideal, idea, institution, game,
legislation, manner, martyrdom, mystique, myth, life style, fashion, mundane, morale, narcissism, nihilism,
religious order, paradox, social practice, principle, profession, imaginary projection, reaction, religion,
rebellion, revolution, Satanism, script, sect, seduction, system of defense, state of mind, stoicism,
spirituality, style, strategy, fraud, universe, utopia, vanity, vocation ”( Adriana Babeţi, Dandyism- A History,
p. 16 ). And this list could continue. If one were to take each of these notions separately and analyze it, even
if partially, in the context of manifesting dandyism, this would require an exhausting effort that would
stretch over the course of several years, without ultimately succeeding in exhausting all possible
interpretations. “Dandyism” escapes its definition with diabolic artfulness, in the same manner in which no
“dandy” got caught in the cunning wiles of an emergent mass society. They have remained detached,
standing out even when in misery, corrupted, immoral, adored, decadent, nihilists, and fascinating, often
constituting themselves into astute observers of the social evils and versed critics of imposture and
hypocrisy.

The typology of the detached observer is also exemplified in the 19th century by the character of the “flaneur”,
meaning that particular individuals that strolls through the streets of the city in order to better sense its
atmosphere, to experiment it or, as Baudelaire wrote, to “live” it. If the “dandy” is an English prototype par
excellence, the “flaneur” seems to belong more to the French culture, out of which it borrows its name. By
extension, Paris is the capital city of the “flaneur” to the same extent that London was the centre of
Dandyland. In English, “flaneur” means the “gentleman stroller” whose main passion seems to be observing
the daily life that throbs in the well-lit boulevards or in the side alleys of the big cities. The “flaneur” can,
therefore, be understood as a referent of urban life and culture, thus being indissolubly linked with
modernity. Similarly to the “dandy,” “the flaneur” appears to be a cultural prototype that emerged in an age
of transition, in which the phenomenon of urbanization instilled in individuals a feeling of alienation of the
self that was often experienced as an immense inner void, a helplessness of regaining one’s own identity. As
a result of this anxiety, the “flaneur” tries to understand the “brave new world” of the city, in which the
individual easily gets lots in uniform masses of pedestrians, while the violence, the filth and the vulgarity of
the periphery becomes intertwined with the shimmering lights of the luxury boutiques and with the
ostentatious opulence of residential neighborhood. In a manner of speaking, the “flanuer” has a double role,
namely that of observer and participant to the urban life. Like the “dandy,” the “flaneur” belongs to a
borderline area and, more specifically, to that liminality between detached observation and active, even
passionate involvement into daily life.

Moreover, the “flaneur” and the “dandy” are closely linked together by a series of invisible threads, having in
common some very unexpected traits. Apart from embodying manifestations of modernity that emerged as
possible replies to the crisis of the moral values represented by the old aristocratic society, the two characters
are also connected by a common theoretician, who is to be identified in the emblematic figure of Charles
Baudelaire who, while pleading in favor of the “dandy” in The Painter of Modern Life, succeeds in
establishing the dominant definition of the “flaneur” as well, in which the city becomes a space of
investigation and of interrogating the self. Moreover, an extravagant action such as walking one’s tortoise on
a leash through the boulevards of Paris can be easily qualified as equally belonging to both dandyism and
flaneurism. The “flaneur” and the “dandy” are thus transformed into interchangeable characters that could
be easily intersected, transgressing a rigid delimitation of the two concepts. A product of the Industrial
Revolution, much like the “dandy” himself, the “flaneur” attempts to repress its side effects by refusing the
Ego’s leveling as well as its diminishment to an indiscernible mass consumer. As in the case of the “dandy”,
the “flaneur” manifests a certain preoccupation for aestheticism, although his interest is not carried out to
the same extent; more specifically, the “flaneur” is interested in the aesthetic nature of the urban landscape,
desiring for a harmony of shapes and volumes that had profound reverberations in the development of the
idea to recreate the accomplished mixture of natural elements with urban architecture.

But if the “dandy” manifests an utter indifference, coldly and ably planning his every move, attentively
examining each attitude with a dedication specific to the British spirit, the “flaneur” is a Gaelic by nature,
who roams free, without any particular purpose, apart from that of delighting himself, like a true gourmand,
in the savor of his city. Moreover, unlike dandyism, flaneurism seems to be available, at least in theory if not
in practice, to the descendants of Eve to the same extent as it is addressed to males. If dandyism is an
exclusively masculine manifestation, being characterized by misogynism or at least spernogynism,
flaneurism appears to be more accommodating to the idea of gender equality. Since the urban space is in its
essence an open space, in which the daily interaction between social classes, ethnic groups or between the
majority and different other minorities becomes possible, it is practically impossible to understand the
“flaneurs” as a closed, exclusivist caste with only a relatively few, privileged members, as in the case of the
elegant dandies’ doctrine. From a certain point of view, it can be stated that “flaneurism” is more accessible
to the masses, since it was not restricted neither by the exclusivist regulations or admittance terms of a
certain society club, not by the rigid conventions of a singular social class.

What links both dandyism and flaneurism, understood as phenomena of modernity, with Steampunk is
precisely this concept of situating oneself in a liminal cultural space which takes shape at the crossroad
between two different ages. While trying to distinguish itself from the products of mass society by rejecting
irrational consumerism, Steampunk defines its principles by grossly differentiating itself from the standing
values of a society in crisis. Steampunk is therefore the product of a new period of transition, in which we
experiment the passage from the industrial to the cybernetic, and from manufacturing to customer services.
Aestheticism also plays a significant part in Steampunk’s self-definition process, whereas the use of ironic
detachment and tasteful humor give the remembrance of steam engine’s époque a touch of profound
originality, thus permitting to avoid the criticism of simply being a nostalgic manifestation of the incapacity
to adapt to the requirements of a increasingly competitive society. Steampunk is a manifestation of late
post-modernity, a continuously evolving idea, a “living” concept that breaths through its various forms of
artistic expression and ceaselessly moves between innovation, content, form, and means of communication
or exposure. Similarly to “dandyism,” it cannot be captured in the confining cage of an exhaustive definition,
especially since Steampunk wishes to be a revolution of the mind, a rebellion of the creative spirit against the
mass production of art objects. Apart from reviving the monocle, the top hat and the frock coat, Steampunk
has rediscovered an entire world of elegance and good taste, in which innovations could constitute the work
of a passionate amateur, and technology was not completely separated from the human factor. Steampunk
means to the “unique and alone” in a society of indiscriminate masses, to be a craftsman in a computerized
civilization, to be distinct and distinguished in a world of serial products. Starting with dandyism and
flaneurism and continuing with Steampunk, the aim of all such similar phenomena, born out of the
opposition against a dehumanizing leveling of mind and spirit as well as out of the refusal of indiscriminately
consume all emergent socio-cultural values, was to ostentatiously assert individualism, to proclaim an
authentic Ego, and to retrace the steps of a self that had been alienated by the machinery of both a prevailing
cultural ideology and of an ethics in which personal identity is sacrificed in the name of a diffuse and aloof
humanity.

***
Dr.ASI
An interview with Dr. Adrian-Silvan Ionescu

By Adrian Ionita and Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia

click pentru versiunea română

[Dr. ASI © Dr. Adrian– Silvan Ionescu]

When speaking about Adrian-Silvan Ionescu, nothing could define better Steampunk than the obstinate
refusal of being regimented into an age of mass consumption, in which the sociocultural framework has
come to be determined by an assembly-line manufacturing of objects and individuals alike, and in which
the indiscriminate absorption of non-values seems to be the new “steam engine” of the contemporary
world. More than simply being an imaginary voyage into the age of steam, Steampunk is preoccupied with
recovering a cultural heritage that nowadays virtual world seems to have completely forgotten. If many
feel that humanity has now entered the age of post-history, the eccentric daydreamers sporting mutton
chops and goggles, and armed with a top-hat or a frock-coat, with or without a Steampunk vision, are
here to alert us that, far from experiencing the end of an age, the contemporary society should look into the
future by rediscovering the past.

Adrian- Silvan Ionescu adheres to the principles of Steampunk to the extent that, being more than a mere
nostalgic dreamer, he is an experienced scholar of the past and a true aficionado of the spirit that defined a
century of radical changes; moreover, he enriches Steampunk with the specific flavor of unveiling a world,
belonging to the Balkans, aroma of Turkish coffee, Phanariot garments and the Bucharest of the 19th
century.
Adrian Ionita: Who are you, Dr. ASI? May I call you so, as long as you like to sign your messages in this
way?

Dr. ASI (laughing): Of course you can, old pal! Please notice that I am using a 19th century Western way of
appellation. Well, I’m a 19th century guy, and a dreamer, a great one... (stressing) Mostly a dreamer!

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: Somebody asserted somewhere that the 19th century is a completely different
planet. How do you perceive this planet?

Dr. ASI: I don’t necessarily regard it as a different planet; it is still our planet, but a world that,
unfortunately, we have rediscovered a bit too late. It is the very singularity, which sparked both the 20th, and
21st century; it represents our very origins, so I believe that considering it to be another planet altogether, it
is a bit out of place.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: What do the inhabitants of the 19th century look like? Who are the
“characters” of this world?

Dr. ASI: These characters are nothing more than our everyday common people, seen from a regular point of
view - people who live, work, and make love once in a while – though less frequently. They hate each other
with all their hearts and, unlike us, they enjoy the option of challenging their adversaries to a duel – a
solution worthy of admiration, for a pointed gun or a drawn sword can set one’s passions free. I fully
subscribe to the way Lord Byron unleashed his anger with various fellow citizens by randomly firing his gun
at various inanimate objects, in the outskirts of the city or on his properties.

This certainly is the century of great adventures and of great dreams. Everything had to be discovered,
founded, everything had to be built. We have nothing left to make or invent nowadays. This is why we get
bored, why we long for more cars, more houses, and even for more women: because we cannot commit to a
single idea, a single object, a single work of art.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: How does the present look as seen from the point of view of the 19th century?
Has the future turned out to be what it was desired or, perhaps, hoped to be?

Dr. ASI: It is very difficult to say, because everyone dreamed of an Utopian world in the 19th century… and a
utopia always remains an ideal, for dreamers or nostalgics. Those who do not dream and live in a cold-
hearted reality feel no resentment for what that reality has to offer them. It is hard to tell what they dreamt
about and how many of those dreams we’ve managed to materialize to this day. Take Jules Verne for
instance – he predicted all the future technological achievements: the flight to the Moon, ocean diving, the
eighty-day-around-the-world journey which now takes much less…

Usually, there is a long way to go between wish and reality and the result is mostly disappointing. The ‘lost
generations’ have always sparked debates, from Hemingway and his contemporaries, whose flight was
grounded by the Great War, to the post-WW II change of values entering under the “red” and “blue” spheres
of influence. I have in mind Germany’s great drama: it was united and, in 1871, became empire after France’s
defeat, just to be torn between democracy and communism after 1945 which was felt by Germans even after
the re-unification in 1990s. I doubt that this is what they expected from the new century.

Adrian Ionita: Since you are involved in academic research, I’d love to hear some words about the research
done in Romania, with focus on the 19th century.

Dr. ASI: The nineteenth century is a formidably recompensing century for a researcher or passionate
collector of the past era, because the 19th century is the century of national renaissance in Europe, America
and the whole world. It is the era in which stable national boundaries were created in the vast majority of
countries and fundamental discoveries in the scientific and industrial areas were taking place, not to speak of
the latest geographical discoveries. There were a few Romanian historians who devoted their studies to this
magnificent century, to begin with the greatest of all, N. Iorga, without forgetting A. D. Xenopol and G.I.
Ionnescu-Gion – all working and publishing their books at the turn of the century or in the first decades of
20th century. In mid and late 20th century there were others, such as Cornelia Bodea, late Paul
Cernovodeanu, Dan Berindei, Ioan Bulei, Nicolae Isar, Mihai D. Sturdza, Alin Ciupală, Mihai Sorin
Rădulescu and Gabriel Badea-Păun (who now lives and works in Paris). During the communist regime it was
difficult to publish an accurate rendering of 19th century national history for the censors couldn’t allow such
thing. It was out of question to publish, for instance, a correct covering of King Carol I’s reign or to stress
Queen Marie’s contribution to the 1919 Paris Peace Treaty on behalf of Romania. By the way, Queen Marie’s
very interesting diaries were published beginning with mid 1990s, after the great changes produced after
Ceauşescu’s 1989 downfall.

Adrian Ionita: How was perceived the 19th century in the educational system under communism?

Dr. ASI: Nevertheless, as an object of study in the past decades, at least in Romania, the 19th century was
ignored, and nothing can be more relevant for me, than the fact that during my studies at the "Nicolae
Grigorescu" Institute of Fine Arts, between 1971 and 1975, in the Department of Art History and Theory,
there were two antithetic attitudes among students: one interested in the Middle Ages and the other in
Contemporary Art. No link whatsoever between this two extremes in the broad field of studying and
understanding the complexities of the past. I was attracted to the 19th century mainly because of its
extraordinary wealth and opulence and especially because of its lack of bibliography, which demanded
retribution. I can take great pride in that over the past 36 years I have become a creator of bibliography
concerning the matter.

During my years as a student, the 19th century was a damned century, an age that did not attract any
researchers. The so-called "academic" painting was considered to be a stilted, bombastic manner of painting.
As you probably remember, it was derisory labeled “firemen’s painting” . This high-blown style of painting
started to receive a great amount of interest roughly from 1980s to 2001-8 and literally ravaged the antiques’
market. Things that one could run across, let us say, weapons or numismatics or photography, and which
one could purchase in 1975 for derisive amounts have now reached astronomical prices. Works that could
have been purchased for under 100 dollars or francs in the 1970s or 1980s are now valued at thousands or
even millions of dollars.

Adrian Ionita: You worked for the National Patrimony, a position which I assume, gave you a closer
contact with the antiques market in Romania.

Dr.ASI: Yes, I worked for the National Patrimony; it was about the same time in which I started collecting
objects. Considering that, at that time, there were strict regulations concerning museum curators that
worked for the National Cultural Patrimony of Bucharest as well as for the Patrimony’s branches throughout
the country, who were not allowed to start their own art collection under the pretense that it was an unjust
competition towards those who wanted to start a collection but did not have the same knowledge and
experience that we had, as graduates of a institution for higher education and museum employees, I diverted
my attention towards small objects, even derisive objects, obsolete, the objects of material culture, namely
clothing. To this day, I have a rather large collection of 19th century garments, which I wear constantly on
special occasions, to gallery openings, balls, book releases, and items of military clothing that I equally enjoy
in displaying at vintage parades or other events connected with certain historic or military commemorations
or ceremonies.

Adrian Ionita: You wear these garments. How did other people react when they saw you wearing vintage
clothing, straight out of the 19th century?

Dr. ASI: I assumed my status of outsider, especially in the years spent under communism, when the
bourgeois past was condemned, because I was an outsider starting with my middle school and high school
years. If I come to think about it, my whole life was a dream, my daily existence is merely accidental, the fact
that I dress like everybody else is an exception, from my self-imposed rule to wear a tuxedo, a frock or a
jacket for the extremely important moments in my life. These passing daily garments are just a mask. My
real clothing is the frock coat, the cutaway or the military uniform, as the case may be, because since I live in
a dream I confront our ancestors from the 19th century. I don’t read contemporary newspapers, I don’t
watch television, and I rarely have any contact with daily realities. I am not interested in such things because
they do not converge with my passions, with my inner life and the rhythm that leads me.

Dr. ASI © Dr. Adrian– Silvan Ionescu

Adrian Ionita: As far as reality is, from your point of view, let me know if you are involved in any lucrative
activity: where are you working? When and where do you find the documentation for your books?

Dr.ASI: I have the fortune to work in research, at the "Nicolae Iorga" Institute of History, and I don’t have a
strict schedule that starts at 8.00 or 9.00 in the morning and ends at 4.30 in the afternoon. I work at night,
when everybody else is sleeping. I begin writing around 10.oo pm and finish around 3.oo am. This doesn’t
mean I rest in the morning; on the contrary, I am very active in the morning, I go to the National Archives, to
the Romanian Academy’s Library, I visit various museum collections to gather my research material, but the
time in which I reevaluate this research takes place at night, it is a moment of quietude, interior balance and
the time of day in which radio stations have a decent music, classical music, music from the 1920s or 1930s,
jazz, which are perfect to create the musical background that allows me to work. It is also a time of re-
encountering a certain historical period, much more suited to this kind of activity than, let us say, the
trepidation rhythm of the morning and simultaneously the mandatory request of complying with an
established schedule. This is only a minimal account of my activity, without including the detail that the
research is restricted by a deadline and in two years and a half time I have to hand in a paper about my
research which is also expected to be a very good one

As for my imaginary journeys into the 19th century, which started all the way back into the communist era,
during the regime of Nicolae Ceausescu, I insist on making a very precise distinction. They were my way of
escaping those horrid, impossible socialist realities, and thus of saving myself from imminent madness,
alienation or suicide. If I hadn’t ventured myself into those journeys into the 19th century with the help of
garment and costume, or my personal readings and writings that, thank God, were not censored, I perhaps
would not have been here today. However, I cannot state that the communist regime placed me under
surveillance or persecuted me on account of my habits of escaping into the 19th century.

Silvia- Alexandra Zaharia: Have you had any other alternatives before exploring the 19th century?

Dr. ASI: Not really, I would have not wished to completely alienate myself into this realm of daydreaming.
So the 19th century completely satisfied my needs and I have preferred it over anything else. Maybe it would
have been beautiful to live in the Middle Ages as well, maybe even in the 18th century, but it was too much
“dirt” and too much “powder” for my tastes; they would not have done me much good. On the other hand, in
the 19th century, mankind had been introduced to showers or, at least, there were bathtubs in which one
could bathe so one would not smell like sweat from a considerable distance, in a similar fashion to a knight
returning from a crusade.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: You spoke earlier about Hemingway and “the lost generations”. Living in an
imaginary 19th century, do you perceive yourself as belonging more to the European cultural space, or to the
American?

Dr. ASI: I don’t believe that the 19th century actually displayed such a huge gap between Europe and
America. The cultural mindset was not very different on the two sides of the Atlantic, since America, even
long after the 1800s, had constantly been in Europe’s shade. Nowadays, most middle-class Americans live
with an illusion of Europe; they are very proud, for example, when they know how to speak a foreign
language- German, French or Italian. Concerning American literature, until Walt Whitman- who practically
can be considered the first national poet- all the other writers have written in the style of Europe, even the
subjects were American; but the way of writing and the manner of representation, were closely connected
with Walter Scott. Fenimore Cooper has numerous passages that could easily have been signed under the
name of Walter Scott. And the music was practically non-existent, America had composers only in the 20th
century.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: Later on, the lost generation even sought refuge in Europe...

Dr. ASI: The call of Europe is pretty obvious, isn’t it? Ezra Pound was a passionate admirer of Europe, and
Italy in particular. Hemingway, Fitzgerald, they all lived with an ideal image of Europe. One could state the
Europe’s dream was America, and America’s dream is Europe.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: What about the Wild West? Where does Buffalo Bill fit into this scenic image?

Dr. ASI: The Wild West and Buffalo Bill are already profoundly American symbols. We are referring here to
a strictly American product, as well as to the great symbolic strength of that frontier spirit that haunted the
mind and ultimately contributed to the making of a nation. What would America have been without the Wild
West? If they hadn’t possessed this aspiration towards conquering the wide unknown spaces that unfolded
before their very eyes, they would not have reached the contemporary stage of development. However, to
this very moment, America still remains insufficiently explored. There are certain areas that seem so wild
that one’s first impulse is to start drawing maps or colonize them. It is a world of dualities. On a highway that
stretches across Montana or Wyoming if you don’t have a mobile and your car breaks down, then you can
consider yourself lost to civilization. I would say that the frontier spirit is very much still alive today, even in
the most developed urban areas. I had the most striking sensation of experiencing the Wild West to the
fullest in Arizona where, while listening to the stories told by locals, I felt like I was just about to enter the
time of taming the West.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: You had this passion for Buffalo Bill since you were a child. How did it evolve
in time?

Dr. ASI: Buffalo Bill has marked my youth as well as my adulthood: after I had read all the material I could
find translated into Romanian in the 1970s-1980s, when I first came to the US, in 1991, the first book I
bought from a second hand store in Kent, Ohio, was his autobiography. Wasn’t this a sign from him, sent to
me over time, that it would be imperious for me to handle his Romanian posterity? I believe it was…

During my adulthood, this passion evolve pretty much in the same manner as the interest for Native
Americans, namely in the direction of scholarly research. I had access to the American Library in Bucharest,
and later to American libraries and museums on the continent, I could travel and retrace the steps of all
these heroes of the West and, at a certain point, I came to discover that Buffalo Bill had visited the Romanian
lands: he traveled through Transylvania, Banat and Bucovina in 1906. This discovery kindled my interest
and I started to research his Romanian tour. I published two substantial articles about it, and in the near
future I intend to write a book, in a bilingual edition, because we are dealing with an interesting character
and, ultimately, a protean figure. He managed to disseminate this myth of conquering the West until First
World War, even though the Pacific Ocean had been reached around the year 1890 and the westward
expansion was over. He offered the American Dream not only to America alone, but to the whole world; he
reconstituted and reenacted it for generations that followed. The mere fact that, at Disneyland in Paris, there
is a Buffalo Bill Wild West Show playing every night which is assaulted by a predominantly American public
is a sign. America no longer has such a show, but Europe still does.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: You are also interested in the history of fashion and costume. How did the
industrial revolution and the rapid technological development influence men’s fashion in the 19th century?

Dr. ASI: Men’s fashion was influenced to the extent that men stopped being as elegant as or even more
elegant than women, as it was the case in the 18th century, until the French Revolution, and switched to dark
tonalities, sometimes bordering the macabre: black, very dark gray, brown. These have rapidly become the
habitual colors for men’s clothing, wanting to inspire seriousness, perfect morality and pragmatism. They
came through a British channel; the English were the ones who managed to impose this achromatic tendency
of men’s attire, and this succeeded in remaining a dominant principle of men’s fashion to this very day. I can
even state that the British are still the most elegant men in contemporary society, with an impeccable design,
even if they are ready made commercially.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: What about the „joben” (top hat)?

Dr. ASI: It was the hat of the ball room attire. It is still mandatory in the United Kingdom for a whole series
of official festivities. Here ( in Romania n.n.), no one wears it any longer, of course, but I consider that to be
a great pity. I like that you said „joben”, because this specific word identifies the top hat only in Romanian
areas. Some time before 1840, a French salesman named Jobin came to Bucharest and open a store that,
managed by his widow and sons after his death, existed in the capital until around 1890. As it happens, half
of the 19th century in Bucharest was under the dominance and guidance of Jobin’s store. Nowhere in the
world would one be able to encounter someone who, unless that person is Romanian, could say anything
about the word „joben”; they would simply not know what that is. Usually, it is called, top hat, cylinder, pipe,
night pot and other such terms that, most often, were meant to reveal a somewhat derisive attitude towards
the accessory.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: To what extent is the spirit or mentality of certain age reflected in garments,
and other elements of material or spiritual culture?

Dr. ASI: I believe it can be reflected to a great extent. Firstly, from an economic point of view, the
economic state of the country becomes extremely eloquent through fashion. For example, sometimes
garments can constitute themselves in an attempt to deny a harsh economic reality: during the communist
era, especially during those last years of lacks and deprivations, one could have believed that Romanians
were one of the wealthiest inhabitants of this planet. I think there was hardly any woman in Romania, and I
am not referring here only to the ladies of society, that would not possess at least a fur hat, collar, if not even
an entire fur coat. This happened because people saved money and there was nothing else on which they
could spend them. To conclude with, the economic state of a certain country is completely reflected by
garments and fashion, with each historical period having its ups and downs. The age of the mini skirt, to give
another example, was determined by a crisis in the fabric industry.

The steam engine of fashion actually resides in a series of mentalities. What all the great fashion designers
are doing today is simply a spectacle, what can be seen on the catwalks of major fashion shows is rarely worn
in a stylish high-class society. Mentality is extremely visible in the manner in which shades, colors, textures
or designs are chosen or predominate. Each individual is a self-reliant entity that wishes to stand out or, on
the contrary, to remain unnoticed.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: What do you think nowaday’s fashion would say about society?

Dr. ASI: That the contemporary world is false, because we go to the office wearing very elegant clothes, and
in the week-end we are as scrofulous as possible. This is the mentality of a nation that does not have the
power to find itself and fulfill its culture, a nation constantly under siege, from the Roman campaign of
emperor Traian and until the Soviet occupation of 1945; unfortunately, this siege seems to be never ending.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: From this point of view, was the 19th century more consistent in its
manifested attitudes or tendencies?

Dr. ASI: From a certain perspective I could say that it was, because it had a political elite endowed with a
solid backbone and knew how to impose a specific point of view but especially because, at least from 1866
until the First World War, those that ruled the country were truly Europeans and had the necessary
connections in the greater European arena to be a credible partner and to be treated as equals. Isn’t it
formidable that just before the Great War, the Romanian currency could be equaled with the French franc?
While as, nowadays, the gap between us and Europe is sometimes extremely wide. It is rather sad actually.
We need a political class that would function as a cultural and spiritual aristocracy. But I do not enjoy talking
about politics, as it is a subject that often gives rise to animosities and heated polemics.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: Nowadays politics, religion or material welfare can become tabu subjects in an
everyday conversation. What were the tabu subjects in the society of the 19th century?

Dr. ASI: There were many such subject, one could not talk about sex, for instance, in the same manner as it
is talked today and with so much dedication so to speak. And I believe that it was a good thing: there was a
greater purity in the practice of social dialogue. In essence, it is a private matter to the same extent that
religious belief is with most Americans. Why should one discuss about one’s passions, sensual successes or
failures? It is an extremely trivial thing, and triviality should be kept where it actually belongs, at the
periphery, in the slums, amongst servants and coachmen.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: What were the essential things to be learned and assumed by every gentleman
or lady of society?
Dr. ASI: First of all, they had to know how to act in society, how to eat without disparaging the other guests,
or without greedily gulping up a whole plate. It was a „must” to display at all times the appearance of
moderation and self-control in any action one performed in society. There was an economy of gestures, one
would not raise one’s voice, but rather it was self-implied that one must make one’s presence known through
one’s posture alone, through the importance of the uttered statements. All these are lost...

We are talking about a society in which one had to know how to present oneself, a man could not appear in
society without combing his hair or, when talking about a lady, with stains or wrinkles on her dress, with
dirty gloves, or with unpolished boots. Although it is true that in Bucharest at least this last demand was and
is hard to satisfy.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: What were the essential things to be learned and assumed by every gentleman
or lady of society?

Dr. ASI: First of all, they had to know how to act in society, how to eat without disparaging the other guests,
or without greedily gulping up a whole plate. It was a „must” to display at all times the appearance of
moderation and self-control in any action one performed in society. There was an economy of gestures, one
would not raise one’s voice, but rather it was self-implied that one must make one’s presence known through
one’s posture alone, through the importance of the uttered statements. All these are lost...

We are talking about a society in which one had to know how to present oneself, a man could not appear in
society without combing his hair or, when talking about a lady, with stains or wrinkles on her dress, with
dirty gloves, or with unpolished boots. Although it is true that in Bucharest at least this last demand was and
is hard to satisfy.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: How would you describe the culinary particularities of the 19th century?

Dr. ASI: We can talk about various trends regarding this aspect as well. Until the 1830s, in the Phanariot
period, one could talk about a traditional cuisine that was heavily influenced by the Orient. The predominant
meals included moussaka, baklava etc. After the Russian occupation, the culinary arena began to be
dominated by French cuisine, with refined sauces and a diversity of wines designed to accompany the
courses of fish, steak or catch; this remained the rule until the end of the century. Traditional food was
accepted in society as well, but at all the chic restaurants in the major cities the menus were written
exclusively in French. Generally, one ate well; one drank well also. An interesting detail is that, until the
Russian domination, meals were not accompanied with the consumption of alcoholic drinks. The Russians
were the ones who introduced champagne, vodka and others.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: How many courses did a regular meal have?

Dr. ASI: In the time of the Phanariots, around 14-15 courses; host and guests basically tasted a little bit of
each. After that, the French cuisine included around 4 or 5 courses. When the dinner was finished, the
gentlemen would retire to the study for brandy and cigars, while the ladies remained in the salon.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: Did you manage to instill the interest for this historical period in your
students as well?

Dr. ASI: To some of them yes, I did and I had a great satisfaction at the end of last year when, teaching the
history of photography and giving my students the assignment to make 19th century style photographs, after
years and years, this was perhaps the first time when all my students, almost without any exceptions tried to
make beautiful photographs and I could even organize an exhibition that managed to stir everyone’s
enthusiasm, from the university’s dean to the other students. Some students, from other majors, even
attempted to steal photographs from the exhibition, because they liked them so much.

Silvia-Alexandra Zaharia: Other future plans?


Dr. ASI: To write the book about Buffalo Bill and complete a history of Romanian photography, which I
already started working on. I would still need to write three or four other chapters, among which one about
war photography, referring to the First World War, and a second one about amateur photography. I look
forward to the year of 2013, for the reenactment of the Leipzig battle, and to 2015 for the bicentennial of the
battle of Waterloo.

Adrian Ionita: Dr. ASI , about re-enactments of famous historical battles, your The 6th „Dorobanţi”
Regiment. and your recent visit at Eastman Kodak in United States, we will talk at large in our next issue of
Egophobia. It was such great pleasure having you with us today. Thank you, old pal!

Dr. ASI: Looking forward to it, a pleasure indeed.

[to be continued]

[Dr. ASI © Dr. Adrian– Silvan Ionescu]

***
Charlie and the Number Factory
by Flavia Darva

click pentru versiunea română

Charles Babbage © photo Smithsonian Scientific Libraries

I live in a continuous Postmodernism. I got used to the thought that everything has already been done.
Everything has been written about, in every way, everything has already been painted in all manners,
everything has been sung in all the commutations and combinations of instruments and voices. What am I
left to do but to carry in my purse a pair of quotation mark, filled with extemporizations? The space
between us is full with things already made. We just combine them to obtain something New. We pick a
sentence here, a concept there, an image from above and we gather collages from elements of the past.

On the top of current conformism, the Postmodern flounders like an animal stuck in a blender: chaotically,
confusedly, complex, ambiguous and schizophrenic. It is the only current that could comprise by definition
the eventual counter-currents. The New is over, is gone, bye, bye, I knocked my head on the upper threshold
of history. Auch!

This is where Steampunk comes into play, the trend of reviving The Second Industrial Revolution. It
proposes a trip in the attic, where we are invited to touch and feel the dusty artifacts from the vast museum
of the past. Steampunk invites us to travel in time. To return back in time, to an age where there still was
room for fresh ideas without television channels and web 2.0, and our self-sufficiency - a buffer good enough
against cheap trends. It was a time when we sewed our own clothes, cooked our own food, and built our own
furniture – as true owners of our lives. A time when everything had the strange smell of New, of revolution,
encouragement, when the population doubled, people armored themselves with the past to step safely in the
future: in Victorianism.

In such an attic, inside a wooden chest with metallic lock there is a sepia photograph of a rugged, aged
character, with slightly disheveled hair and bow tie: Charles Babbage. Born in the last decade of the 19th
century, Babbage received an above the average education. When he attended the Trinity College in
Cambridge, the level of the courses in mathematics disappointed him so much that he organized, together
with a few friends, his own society for research: The Analytical Society. Shortly after, Babbage designed his
objective: to build a machine able to discard human error from mathematic calculations. Thus, he designed
different machines powered by steam, having a basal structure similar to that of our PCs. Backed by
governmental funding, his projects poured the foundation for modern mechanical calculations!

A replica of The Difference Engine @ London Science Museum

Babbage’s most remarkable project is the Difference Engine. He presented its design to the Royal Astronomy
Society in 1822, under the title “Note on the mechanical applications in the calculus of astronomic and
mathematic tables”, namely the calculus of polynomials through differential method. The Society accepted
the project and decided to support it, granting funds on numerous occasions.

But the Difference Engine was not easy to build: 25 thousand of unique parts, with a total estimated weight
of over 14 tons. The approval of the Society was only the beginning of an convoluted road: Babbage retained
a room of his house for the machine, built dozens of tools and molds for the parts and hired an assistant,
Joseph Clement, to help him. Moreover, he studied thoroughly the technological trends of the time for
inspiration and fought restlessly with bureaucracy to obtain supplementary funds for the Difference Engine

In 1827, due to severe family problems, Charles Babbage paused the construction of the machine. Although a
great progress had been made, its completion seemed farther and farther. People began speculating: the
Government’s money wasted? Had the machine proved to be a failure? Despite the gossip, the Government
continued to back the project with funds.

In 1830, Babbage was still working together with his assistant at the project, but the governmental funds
were insufficient, and the private ones – spent. Shortly after, the financial problem affected the relationship
between the two, and Clement resigned, refusing to return the designs and the tools he had used. Thus, the
project was abandoned in 1834, after 11 years of work and more than £23,000 spent, out of which £6,000
where Babbage’s own money. In the end, the building process of the Differential Engine left Babbage with a
bitter taste, writing “The drawings and parts of the Engine are at length in a place of safety. I am almost
worn out with disgust and annoyance at the whole affair”. In 1842, the Government officially abandoned
the project. .

The idea of the Analytical Engine came to Babbage during the time he spent away from the Difference
Engine. The Analytic Engine was a more complex machine, useful in any calculus, not only the differential
one – becoming the first general-purpose computer. The great progress, compared to the initial invention,
consisted in a system that allowed the Analytical Engine to use the results of the completed calculations as
data for subsequent ones. This feature of the Analytical Engine determined Babbage to describe the machine
as a snake biting its own tail.

The first plans of the Engine were drafted in 1835. Babbage, together with his assistants, created thousands
of drawings and sketches for a mechanism whose data bus would have measured 15 feet tall and 6 feet in
diameter, and whose memory would have been 25 feet tall. Babbage started to take the further steps to get
financial support, but encountered no luck. Nonetheless, he invested precious time in the continuous
modification and improvement of the initial plans.

The new discoveries and inventions proved their applicability on the Differential Engine as well, whose
second version, designed between 1846 and 1854, was three times simpler, but as efficient as the first one.
Babbage made no attempt to actually build it, but left its plans as a legacy to the Science Museum. Thus,
after almost a century and a half from the initial design, its prototype was built, celebrating 200 years from
the inventor’s birth. Between 1985 and 1991, the Science Museum team built the Differential Engine strictly
sticking to Babbage’s plans: it works perfectly. Between 1985 and 1991, a team from the Science Museum
built the Differential Engine following Babbage’s plans and it worked flawlessly.

His remarkable contributions did not stop here: from inventing the cow-catcher for locomotives to breaking
different codes for helping the Army and from writing essays on the encounter between mathematics and
religion, to the involvement in politics, Babbage manifested his creative spirit in various fields.

Charles Babbage has lost patience with time. From the idea contoured with graphite on yellowish sheets, to
the pounding of red-hot iron on the anvil, for unique pieces to be assembled in the workshop, his hands
knead the future. His exhaustive drawings evoke a tireless work for decades, which today seem improbable.
Because today, we became generic entities. Bottom-up, we are Converse, Levi's with Nokia in the pocket,
Adidas, iPod in ears, we have Windows and Office and Yahoo, we eat McDo, drink Coke and wash with
Nivea, sleep on IKEA, laugh on YouTube, check each other out on HI5, steal from the torrents and upload
our CVs on eJobs. In the Science Museum from London, the sepia photograph of a rugged, aged character,
with slightly disheveled hair and bow tie, sits as evidence that healthy thinking is possible, that any healthy
thought is the seed of a real future, of a new future. A future that we still can reside. Thanks, Charlie!

***