Saturday, August 29, 2015

Art Deco, steampunk, Metropolis, Tesla and Sherlock: what do they all have in common?

I like the early Art Deco movement's style.
Art Deco is an influential visual arts design style that first appeared in France after World War I and began flourishing internationally in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s before its popularity waned after World War II. Deco emerged from the interwar period when rapid industrialisation was transforming culture. One of its major attributes is an embrace of technology. This distinguishes Deco from the organic motifs favoured by its predecessor Art Nouveau. ~Wikipedia
Art Deco's strong lines, streamlined aspects, and heavily graphic qualities are intriguing to me. I like them. Examples of the style range from the Chrysler Building

To the Chrysler Airflow

You might recognize Art Deco from the frequent use of strong sunbursts, like this Parker Duofold Desk Set

I became interested in this form of art after watching the incredible silent film Metropolis.
The appearance of the city in Metropolis is strongly informed by the Art Deco movement; however it also incorporates elements from other traditions. Ingeborg Hoesterey described the architecture featured in Metropolis as eclectic, writing how its locales represent both “functionalist modernism [and] art deco” whilst also featuring “the scientist’s archaic little house with its high-powered laboratory, the catacombs [and] the Gothic cathedral”. The film’s use of art deco architecture was highly influential, and has been reported to have contributed to the style’s subsequent popularity in Europe and America.
Here is the movie poster for Metropolis

The movie's premise was that automation created drudgery rather than relieving it, the movie was about machines and man, man and machines, and what we lose due to the nature of 'progress.' It really is an incredible movie, especially since the message resonates more even now than it did nearly 100 years ago upon its original release.
Roger Ebert noted that "Metropolis is one of the great achievements of the silent era, a work so audacious in its vision and so angry in its message that it is, if anything, more powerful today than when it was made." The film also has a 99% rating at Rotten Tomatoes, based on 116 reviews. The film was ranked No. 12 in Empire magazine's "The 100 Best Films Of World Cinema" in 2010, and it was ranked number 2 in a list of the 100 greatest films of the Silent Era. ~Wikipedia
But it wasn't only the message that caught me, it was the look. The film is visually stunning, a blend of machine and art, humanity and technology.

The architecture in the film was its own character.

This is the iconic picture from the film most people remember:
Pic of Freder arduously working a ten-hour shift on the clock machine

I love clocks, watches, the concept of time, and clock design. Clocks and time figure prominently in Metropolis:

Interpretation of time: One great example of German Expressionist mise-en-scene is in the scene showing the two clocks. Much is encapsulated in the spatial, semiotic and geometric relations of these clocks. The two social classes exist in different zones. The bottom clock counts off the time in ten hour increments for the workers. Implying that its readers have only basic numeracy skills. They are also systematically denied the rhythms of daylight and night. The upper clock uses a 24-hour system. This is intended for use by the managers, engineers and administrators; it relies on a more sophisticated mathematical concept. the numbers are literally higher as well, and the clock is placed higher in a position of privilege. 
Finally the relative dimensions are significant. the lower clock has a greater mass. This depicts the social crisis of capitalism graphically. In order for the 'haves',( the Club Sons) to have noticeably more than the ''have nots', they must be out of balance. The placement of these two clocks symbolizes the inner workings of metropolis in miniature: a utopia for the few on top and a dystopia for the many on the bottom. It is interesting to study the complex meanings of just one frame of Metropolis and to realize the depth of meaning that was expressed in this remarkable film.
And this gives rise to steampunk. They call Metropolis "A Steampunk Opera".
Steampunk refers to a subgenre of science fiction and sometimes fantasy that incorporates technology and aesthetic designs inspired by 19th-century industrial steam-powered machinery. steampunk works are often set in an alternative history of the 19th century's British Victorian era or American "Wild West", in a post-apocalyptic future during which steam power has maintained mainstream usage, or in a fantasy world that similarly employs steam power. It may, therefore, be described as neo-Victorian. Steampunk perhaps most recognisably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era's perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art.~Wikipedia
If Firefly had lasted longer, it'd have gone steampunk, I guarantee it. See? Almost there...


Steampunk has a fascination with watches and clocks because they exemplify the overall durability, design, and functionality of intricate machinery and mechanisms (mainly powered by steam, of course). So the Laughing Squid's promotion of a Steampunk Tesla watch caught my eye:

Tesla Watch, An Elegant Steampunk-Styled Analog Watch That Features Two Light-Up Vacuum Tubes on Top
The Tesla Watch is an elegant steampunk-styled analog watch from ThinkGeek that features a “weathered-brass look on metal findings, a leather strap, and two light-up vacuum tube LEDs on top”. The Nikola Tesla-themed watch is available to purchase online. ... The Tesla Watch goes with your steampunk aesthetic. With a weathered-brass look on all the metal parts, this analog watch features a leather strap. The highlights of this design, however, are the two faux vacuum tubes with red LEDs inside that you can turn on and off with the flick of a switch. Everybody will want to ask you what time it is so they can see your watch. Just remember to follow the answer with, “… 1875.”
LOL, I'm not SO into steampunk that I'd go this far, but I understand the fascination. In my tiny apartment I have one nod to steampunk, a glancing reference to intricate but highly functional metal mechanisms...the clasp to my prayer journal

It's interesting that art and design can incorporate futuristic elements of Art Deco and still give rise to the retro/futuristic look of neo-Victorian Steampunk. Cool.

So that was all probably way more than you ever wanted to know about art deco, Metropolis and steampunk. Unless it's these two PS's:
Nikola Tesla is the quintessential 'mad scientist', (10 July 1856 – 7 January 1943) was a Serbian American inventor, electrical engineer, mechanical engineer, physicist, and futurist best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system...(Wikipedia).
Futurists like Nikola Tesla and Jules Verne are well known to Steampunk/neo-Victorian enthusiasts. If you want to know more about the crazy scientist Tesla, Netflix has a bio-pic on him.

Speaking of neo-Victorian enthusiasts, fans of Sherlock with Benedict Cumberbatch know that the art design and costuming for that British series treads a remarkable line of keeping the Victorian roots of the inimitable detective intact by nodding to but not indulging in blatant Victorian pieces. Until this Christmas, when Sherlock and his trusty sidekick Doctor travel back in time to the original Sherlock's time of 1887!

ha ha ha Sherlock is wearing the hat. ;)

All I can say is AWESOMESAUCE! (hey, that's a word now)


Grace to You said...

I loved this...saved it to read over again later and finally found the time to do so. I never knew exactly what steampunk was before...really interesting.

Anonymous said...

Hey very interesting blog!