Full steam ahead with steampunk

Members of the League of Victorian Imagineers (from left) Helen Jansen, Iain Clark, Sally Hope,...
Members of the League of Victorian Imagineers (from left) Helen Jansen, Iain Clark, Sally Hope, David Maclean and Patrick Barry reflect on a record-breaking steampunk exhibition. Photo by Sally Rae.
The recent steampunk exhibition at the Forrester Gallery proved a record-breaker, with about 6000 people flocking to view it. Sally Rae speaks to members of the League of Victorian Imagineers about their passion for "tomorrow as it used to be" - and their plans for the future.

Steampunk enthusiast Iain Clark expects the response to next year's steampunk exhibition to be even "hugerer" than this year.

Not that you will find hugerer in the Collins dictionary but then, with steampunk, anything goes.

It was Mr Clark, a manufacturing jeweller, who had the idea of a steampunk exhibition to add an extra dimension to Oamaru's Victorian heritage celebrations.

Initially, he and his fellow steampunk enthusiasts expected something quite small.

It turned into the best attended exhibition in the 25 years of the gallery's history, many drawn in by the oversized motorcycle and creative tractor on display on the grassed area opposite the gallery.

"It's taken on a whole life of its own," Mr Clark said this week.

This year had been all about introducing people to the concept of steampunk and they were now defining - or redefining - it for themselves.

People were now "snaffling up" bits of brass and copper to build steampunk items.

Mr Barry had a workmate whose daughter had taken over the garage and was now "steampunking everything in sight" and it was encouraging people to have an appreciation for engineering, he said.

Asked why he thought steampunk had caught on so much, Mr Clark said: "It's unique, it's quirky and it's something people can do themselves and that's part of the essence of it."

Next year, the League of Victorian Imagineers wanted "anybody and everybody" involved.

There were plans for another exhibition, with the "cream of the crop" exhibited in the Forrester, and other exhibition spaces used around the town.

The award-winning Weta Workshops, which was involved with the exhibition, was keen to continue its involvement.

Schools have already been approached about the possibility of using steampunk as a theme in their curriculum next year.

Mr Clark is working on more steampunked USB devices and also has plans for a time machine and his own rayguns.

A steampunk ball was in the pipeline for Queen's Birthday weekend, with a steampunk fashion competition and parade.

Sally Hope, who is also chairwoman of the heritage celebrations organising committee, said the exhibition "broadened the base" of people who attended the celebrations.

For many, it was an introductory event for the celebrations.

Forrester Gallery curator Else Mackenzie said the exhibition was "stunning" and it had attracted visitors who would possibly not normally visit the gallery.

Waitaki deputy mayor Gary Kircher said steampunk was a worldwide phenomenon and there was an opportunity for Oamaru to be the New Zealand "capital".

It was quirky and, while it did not appeal to everyone, it did have a worldwide following which the district could tap into and create opportunities for a different type of visitor experience.

From the council's point of view, the record-breaking attendance at the gallery was "absolutely brilliant", he said.


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