1.- The interviewees
Iain Clark (aka Agent Darling) is an award winning manufacturing jeweller and the instigator of Steampunk in New Zealand. A time traveller of great skill and cunning, he is timeless. He lives in a little cottage in a botanical garden in a little town in SE New Zealand with his partner and fellow Steampunk organiser Helen Jansen (aka Lady Helen Steampunk La Falconesse). Over the last 4 years, with the help of several others and the enthusiasm of the local community they have made Steampunk a national phenomenon and Oamaru is now as the capital of Steampunk in New Zealand.
2. The interview
2.1.- Steampunkers in New Zealand
This is our first ‘group’ interview, many thanks for accepting our invitation. Having this opportunity to interview you is very exciting for us, both for your long path in the Steampunk community and your vast experience in the fields of fashion and jewelry.
Q.-You have been pioneers of the Steampunk scene in New Zealand. Would you be so kind to tell us about its development process and current situation?
Helen Jansen (HJ).- He started it!
Iain Clark (IC).- I was making ‘steampunk’ jewellery before I knew it was steampunk. My Matauriki ring is a device for navigating the galaxies. Then I made a steampowered beer tankard for a dinner party as a talking point. This worked. So many people had ideas about how to modify it or make their own that I decided to put on an exhibition in conjucture with the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebrations as a showcase for Oamaru talent and extending the Victorian theme through the Science Fiction influences of Jules Vernes and HG Wells. From wondering how to fill a small room at the local gallery we ended up filling it and over flowing into the main street. Part of the success was that Weta Workshop were very generous and send a copy of all the Dr Grortborts portraits and ray guns to display. They have been very supportive ever since.
There were 6,000 visitors through our little town gallery in 4 weeks and people came from all over New Zealand. It even brought local people who were unaware that the town had an art gallery. We have had a hugely successful exhibition each year ever since.
Q.- Oamaru is New Zealand’s favourite Victorian and Steampunk traveller destination, why?
HJ.- Because we have been able to draw in the community and involve them in the excitement of the genre with street parties and various events. The District Council have put in a steampunk inspired children’s playground in the harbour area with the world’s largest pennyfarthing sculpture.
IC.- Oamaru is an unspoilt Victorian Town with fantastic original limestone architecture which provides an brilliant backdrop for anything Victorian and we have celebrated our Victorian heritage for the last 20 years. We are very lucky to have a visionary entreprenuer who created a huge steam train that sat in the middle of the main street for several months over 2010-2011. This put Oamaru on the map in a big way. He has since moved it round the corner and created a steampunk tourist attraction that is open all year round. There are all sorts of bits of steampunk right through the town, Iain’s time machine is in a Victorian Cafe, there is a steampunk surf board at the surf shop, one or two shops display Steampunk fashion.
Q.- Dear Helen, you are the promoter of New Zealand’s Fashion Show and Gala Ball in Oamaru. What are the expectations for the next event?
HJ.- We have had 2 very successful events and this year it is extending into a Festival over 3 days with murder mysteries, a street fayre, the history of steampunk, steampunk short story readings, a music extravaganza and dirigible/airship racing as well as the fashion show and gala ball. See www.steampunknz.co.nz. As a result of the activity in Oamaru there are other groups all over NZ popping up with their own brand of creativity and expression.
Facebook: steampunk NZ.
2.2.- Steampunk Jewellery
Q.- After this brief introduction about the Steampunk community in New Zealand, let’s ask a fundamental question regarding Steampunk jewelry: what’s Steampunk jewelry for you?
HJ.- Beautiful, intricate, and useful.
IC.- It is a fascination with the mechanical, using inspiration drawn from one’s surroundings. Although watch movements with crystals and other things stuck on made great costume jewellery I believe it is time to evolve the concept into the next stage.
Q.- May international Steampunk events in New Zealand, such us the Oamaru Steampunk Festival, be important for national or international Steampunk jewelers? How?
HJ.- it provides an opportunity to exhibit work but the festival is not a convention. There are no stalls.
IC.- The exhibition is a marvellous opportunity to show of craftmanship. Anna Repp from Chicago sent her jewellery over last year and people can have a stall at the Victorian Celebrations Fete.
Q.- Which influences should Steampunk jewelry have? Do you think that traditional Māori crafts could become a relevant influence for the Steampunk community of Aotearoa New Zealand? For example surface patterns such as spirals, ridges, notches or fish scales…
HJ.- Steampunk is going to evolve and draw influences from every corner of craftsmens’ imaginations. What keeps it steampunk? A base line of Victorian aesthetic. We already have a Maori artist in Oamaru who is heavily involved in the steampunk art world. Many steampunkers around the world use the influences of their indiginous arts and crafts.
IC.- Steampunk takes its influences from everywhere. Traditional arts and crafts are very significant I already involve these elements into my jewellery and I have used the ancient Maori/Polynesian navigational systems as inspiration for my Star Navigator ring.
Q.- Dear Iain, we have heard about your large scale creations. Tell us more about them, please.
IC.- The giant robot is now known as the Guardian of Oamaru stands on the Northern boundary of the town. I created this with my engineering partner, the lovely Lisa Storhannus and a friend, Graham Paton. It stands 5 m high and is made of about 3 tonnes of car parts. I was inspired by the work of the late Chris Meder who was an integral part of the success of the first exhibition with his monster chopper bike and excquisite birds made from scrap parts.
This has been so successful that Lisa and I were commissioned to make a giant boar and this now stands outside North Otago Motor Group on the main street through town. People look for the Toyota parts in it.
Q.- We have been very impressed by your awarded Star Navigator Ring Matauriki. How did you come up with this idea? Is there a place for Steampunk fine jewelry?
IC.- I love the stars. As I gaze up into the heavens on a clear night I wonder how I would navigate and explore such an incredible space.The Matauriki ring is the end point of a series of rings that evolved over time. As I made one I could see the potential for something else, to expand and elaborate on ideas and so made the next. As I did this I would watch the appendices to The Lord of The Rings. Richard Taylor’s comments about the level of craftmanship that he expected from his workforce lead me to dig deep into my own resources.
Absolutely there is a place for fine jewellery in the steampunk genre as there is in any genre. It is a form of artistic expression. I have a fascination with complicated detail and stories. My entry into this year’s NZ Jewellery Competition is called London by Gaslight. It illustrates the tension between desire and unattainability as the wearer is tied into the neck piece and the garnets represent drops of blood from the person who tried to get too close. The tops of the gaslamps are spiked preventing her from freedom of movement.
More breathtaking fine jewelry can be found at Iain Clark’s website: icj.co.nz.
Q.- Could you tell us a bit more about your technical preferences? For example, do you have any favorite materials, patinas, decorations, etc.?
IC.- All my jewellery is made by hand, from the drawing to the sawing and the engraving. I work primarily in sterling silver for prototypes and first runs which means I can make limited edition pieces which can then be made in other metals. I like working in palladium and 9 carat white gold with a high platinum content.
Traditional oxydation for sterling silver and black rhodium are the patinas I use and whilst CAD is an attractive option for providing complex detail, I prefer to use hand decoration because of the challenge of materialising my creativity using traditional resources and a bit of ingenuity.
Q.- Do you think that men’s jewelry should receive more attention?
HJ.- Men look wonderful in jewellery and the western culture is relaxing over expressing themselves in this way.
IC.- Yes. Traditionally in New Zealand men would wear a wedding band or a black onyx or gold signet ring with a stone. Now with international influences men are feeling more comfortable with larger pieces and I have seen some enormous rings coming out of the States. My rings are made to cater for a finer look despite the size and be worn on a daily basis.
Q.- For the average person who is afraid of spending ‘too much’, what advice would you give him or her when shopping Steampunk jewelry?
HJ.- There is plenty of steampunk costume jewellery which serves the purpose for the daily ‘out there’ look. Go with your heart. Save up for a special piece.
IC.- A well made piece or a good piece will give you pleasure for many years and become part of your collection.
Q.- As a jeweler of international renown, what would you advise to other aspiring Steampunk jewelers? What challenges do you think Steampunk jewelry designers face?
IC.- Creating the steampunk look. Just as there are period influences in all jewellery, art deco, art nouveau, we want people to look back from the future and say that is definitively steampunk.
Q.- Which direction do you think the future of jewelry design is moving in? Are there any trends you see happening in Steampunk jewelry in the near future?
HJ.- In the near future there will more development of fine jewellery.
IC.- Good design follows function. Each culture has its own trend so it is too broad to identify any specific trend in the steampunk world. Victorians had a love of the small mechanisms and little hidden secrets. Steampunkers are already influencing exclusive watches. It is mainstream high street costume jewellery in the UK. We see the influences in fashion.
Q.- Have you ever heard about 3D printing? Could you make any prediction regarding technical advances and their impact in the jewelry industry?
HJ.- 3D printing is going to be a wonderful cheap way of reproducing anything in plastic resin. It can be coloured and adorned to fit the genre. Steampunk is a rebellion against the ubiquitous plastic world we live in. There is a demand for hand crafted, quality jewellery.
IC.- 3D printing and CAD design represents an opportunity to create the mechanical design of the steampunk world in fine detail. Phineas Squid here in New Zealand has already produced a few items.
Q.- Is there anything else you would like to add?
HJ.- If there is anyone who would like to exhibit at the 4th “Steampunk: tomorrow as it used to be” exhibition in Oamaru in October this year please contact us through www.steampunknz.co.nz and we are happy to consider entries to next year’s Steampunk NZ Fashion show too.
IC.- As far as steampunk jewellery designers are concerned we need to keep pushing and challenging ourselves rather than settling for something comfortable and easy. I put myself in the mindset of a craftsman working with Peter Jackson who has come and said, “I’d like you to make some pieces for my next film”. This means you have to push yourself and exceed your own expectations so that the world will be fascinated and intrigued by your creation.
Disclaimer.- The opinions or statements expressed in this interview are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect the views of Decimononic.
3.- Next interviewee!
On the 15th of June, we are publishing the interview for Kevin Steil (aka Airship Ambassador). Based in Bellevue (Washington), Kevin is a prominent figure in the international Steampunk scene, awarded by his spreading role of the Steampunk current events and literature.
Remember that all the published interviews are available for your delight: ‘Steampunk jewelry tonight with…’ the brief interviews series by Decimononic.