Guest Curator – Maduncle Cliff, Steampunk part 1

February 8, 2010

Cliff Overton
Cliff Overton © all rights reserved.

The Museum was recently visited by artist, tinkerer, and ‘Steampunk’, Cliff Overton, who runs the ‘Antipodean Steampunk Adventures’ blog, and is currently exhibiting some of his works at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford as part of their ‘Steampunk’ exhibition. We caught up with him to find out more:

Hi Cliff, would you tell us a little about this ‘Steampunk’ business, what it means to you, and how you got interested in it?

Well – Steampunk found me really, in that a dear friend of mine showed me a website with a picture of a computer keyboard made from old typewriter keys (google Datamancer for more). I looked at that and thought, ‘that looks like the sort of things I build for the fun of it’ so I guess I was doing Steampunk stuff before I knew about Steampunk. I have always collected parts of old things and then tried to put them together in new ways.

A lot of this was my rebellion against my chosen proffession at the time – that of an Industrial Designer. Everything I did professionally had to look new and sleek and hi tech – wheras my art using found objects was very ‘function followed form’ based and more ad-hoc in design outcome.

One of my first builds - circa 1997 (I still have it).
Cliff Overton © all rights reserved.

One of my first builds – circa 1997 (I still have it).

So I did more research on Steampunk via the web, got on some forums, made some friends, met up with a few local devotees at a flea market in Camberwell and things have snowballed from there.

I needed a moniker – so I returned to my past as an industrial designer and re-adpoted the name ‘maduncle’ given to me by a shop owner who was selling some of my furniture many years ago.

I think a big part of the steampunk subculture is around having a steampunk persona you can develop. I am modelling myself on the Victorian scientist/inventor philanthropist type. Although I am yet to get myself a genuine vintage collapsable silk topper that fits. (big hint here – got any spares in storage?)

Although I do have an Etsy site and I do sell some of my work, I am not in it as a business. It is more of a ‘show and tell’ exercise, and then I pass on the finished item at a reasonable cost to an admirer. The greatest compliment is getting commissioned work, that shows the growing interest in the Steampunk style as a medium for other products.

My first commission - the 'Damnation PS3' for the launch of the computer game of the same name. 2008.
Cliff Overton © all rights reserved.

My first commission – the ‘Damnation PS3’ for the launch of the computer game of the same name. 2008.

I would like to see a ‘proper’ exhibition of Steampunk art here in Australia – a lot of the work in Europe and the USA is stunning.

Right now I am making a new series of objects called ‘Specific Devices’ inspired by my visit to the Powerhouse Museum. Some of them will look old and purposeful, without anyone (including me) knowing their real purpose. Others will have a real use (such as the examinerscope I built recently).

Q. So what did you find in the Museum’s collection that inspired you?

babbage difference engine
Collection; Powerhouse Museum

The absolute ‘oh how I wish I could sneak you out past the guards and take you home’ stand out item was the Photography by Powerhouse Museum © all rights reserved

That was a very ‘steampunk moment’ for me. I would love to build a complete one – I have seen a working Meccano one so it can’t be that difficult…

Device2A
Cliff Overton © all rights reserved.

Other than that, all of the old scientific devices on display (well – all the brass ones) and of course the steampowered section. The old brass devices did inspire me to make my first ‘specific device’.

What is particularly intertesting for my wife Tanya and I is that we did not know there was a real Strasbourg clock, let alone a replica in the Powerhouse, and we will be in Strasbourg in September. So we are already planning a special visit to the life size clock, now we have seen the model.

To Be Continued……..

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