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Tangible Magic and the Forevertron(24 Jul 2014)
By Miss Shannon Rollins
(Image from: http://damiensqueerworld.blogspot.co.uk/2014/05/forevertron.html)
I know I’d said that this post would be about Romantic Fabrication, but I’ve decided to mix things up a bit and talk about tangible magic and the art of Steampunk.
Tangible Magic is a term I use to describe the uncanny of the nineteenth century, from a Neo-Victorian perspective. The zoetrope, phenakistoscope, Magic Lantern, the early cinematic astonishment of Auguste and Louis Lumière, and outrageous acts such as Chevalier Blondin beguiled audiences, challenging their perceptions of reality. These acts defied the cultural understanding of their viewers, creating a dichotomy of sensations as the technology – or person, in the case of tightrope walker Blondin – could be touched, experienced, and known to be real yet the output outperformed its appearance. Thus, this term tangible magic seeks to define the tangential experience of being able to touch an object yet be confounded and delighted by its unknown abilities. For the zoetrope, the illusion of motion is the product of a simple trick on the eye, watching static images revolve through slits in the cylinder.
(Image from: http://www.stageninedesign.com/3d-zoetrope/)
Suddenly a moving image appears, delighting the beholder. This, in the nineteenth century, passed beyond the realm of the ordinary, creating what we can only conjecture as a sincere sensation of the uncanny. And, as we all know, this is an integral emotion in Gothic studies. And it is through this technologically based uncanny that bridges the gap between Steampunk art and the Gothic mind.
(Image from: http://steampunkjewelrybydreamsteam.blogspot.co.uk/2010/08/dr-evermors-forevertron-steampunk.html)
Initiating his build in the 1980s, Tom Every began piecing together the Forevertron is arguably the world’s largest scrap metal sculpture. It incorporates two Edison dynamos and the decontamination chamber from Apollo 11, just to name a few fascinating aspects joined together in this fantasy structure. Every, or rather his 19th century alter-ego Dr. Evermor, meticulously assembled the structure as a canon to launch himself into the heavens. Included is a teahouse gazebo, specially designed for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to view the spectacular ascension. Also included are an aviary orchestra to entertain the crowd, oversized insects, and a telescope so that those who doubt may view Dr. Evermor’s trajectory. In reality, this is a static amalgam of scrap metal, which cannot launch anything into the air, least of all a man. However, in the world of Neo-Victorian fantasy, the Forevertron need not work in contemporary reality; its job is to provoke imagination and enjoyment. In this way, it holds – and admittedly large! – space in the heritage of tangible magic. In this case, you can touch the metal, know the back story, enjoy the aesthetic, but in order to appreciate it on all intended levels, the viewer must bring their imagination – their own magic. In an interview with Wired’s Michelle Delio, Every explains: "Look, this isn't Disneyland," said Every. "I'm not here to entertain you. If you want to have fun here, you have to participate, you have to add your own thoughts into the mix. Boring people are totally bored here, but interesting people have a great time." In this interview, Every shows what I love about Steampunk. You have to love imagination, magic, whimsy, and your brain.
I likely will only have one more post here on the IGA blog, and I’ll spend the next few days thinking on possible topics. Same as last time, if there’s anything you’d like covered just tweet me @steampunkette!
Delio, Michelle. 18/10/04. 'An Artist's Junkyard of Dreams' Wired. http://archive.wired.com/culture/lifestyle/news/2004/10/65168?currentPage=all