Donovan Brings Steampunk to Southampton

“Odd Beauty” at the Southampton Arts Center
This 2013 Vianney Halter watch was inspired in part by science fiction novels and the recent history of space exploration.

“What if the Victorians had access to digital technology? What would it look like? It certainly wouldn’t look like anything we see today, all of our digital devices wrapped in generic plastic. . . . It would be done in beautiful wood, brass, rivets, and there would be an exposed mechanical element to all of the devices.”

Thus spoke Art Donovan, an artist and designer, on the occasion of the world’s first museum exhibition of Steampunk art at the Museum of History and Science in Oxford, England, in 2010. Mr. Donovan, who lives in Southampton, was the curator of that exhibition, and now he has organized “Odd Beauty: The Techno-Eccentric World of Steampunk,” which will open tomorrow at the Southampton Arts Center and remain on view through Nov. 12. A reception will take place Saturday from 5 to 7 p.m.

Steampunk is often defined as a subgenre of science fiction or science fantasy that began in the 1980s, although its sources range from the mechanical drawings of Leonardo da Vinci to the writings of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne to the streamlined locomotives of Raymond Loewy, among many others.

“Essentially it is a celebration of the art and sciences of the Victorian era turned into physical form,” according to Mr. Donovan. He has noted that some Steampunk artists create devices such as clocks or lamps that work as they should, while others make fantasy devices without practical function.

“This unique exhibition,” he said, “gives me the opportunity to feature true Steampunk art by . . . those artists who invented and continue to define the style with their unique vision.” 

A lighting designer, Mr. Donovan uses a variety of materials in his Steampunk creations, among them solid mahogany and solid brass, but all of them incorporate “some sort of strange illumination or strange light bulbs.” He noted that his Siddhartha Pod Steampunk Lantern, inspired by Wells and Verne, resembles a time travel device.

Participating artists include Tom Banwell, David Barnett, Mike Cochran, Ian Crichton, Mr. Donovan, Dave Duros, Steve Erenberg, Cameron Forrest, Paige Gardner, Eric Freitas, Vianney Halter, Steve La Riccia, Vincent Mattina, Sam van Olffen, Clayton Orehek, Daniel Proulx, Saxon Reynolds, Filip Sawczuk, Todd Sloane, and Stephan J. Smith.

The exhibition’s public programs will feature a day with Paige Gardener, a Steampunk costume maker, on Oct. 7 from noon to 5; a gallery tour with Mr. Donovan on Oct. 8 at 1 p.m.; a documentary about the inventor Nikola Tesla and his ill-fated Wardenclyffe complex in Shoreham on Oct. 13 at 7 p.m., and “She Blinded Me With Science,” a talk and musical performance by Thomas Dolby on Oct. 15 at 6 p.m.