The burning question of the week: Can Knoxville actually support an entire steampunk festival this Saturday?
First, let's examine the phenomenon itself--because it takes quite a bit more effort to be a steampunk enthusiast than, say, a Trekker sporting an off-the-shelf Star Fleet uniform and tricorder. You're pretty much on your own here, left to your own creative devices--there aren't that many alternate-universe 19th-century Victorian steam-power retro-futuristic shops around. So, by necessity, steampunkers must employ a good deal of fortitude and craftiness in order to display their passion for this particular science-fiction sub-genre.
But the organizers at Paulk+Co, the downtown art studio near the interstate overpass above Magnolia Avenue, are confident we have a steampunk culture here ready to be unleashed. Last year's debut Steampunk Carnivale gathered some 600 attendees, and this year's carnivale promises even more attractions, including Humaya Tribal Fusion, Ananda Dance Co., and Sandsation Dancers; Biz'Cirque and Mountain Meridian Hoops; music from Sidecar Symposium with Lulu Skidoo and headliner Hudson K. Then there's Steampunk Storytime, workshops, costume contests, the documentary film Steamtrunk Carnivale, and over 50 vendors. Without a doubt, this makes the Steampunk Carnivale the most unique of Knoxville festivals--a fusion of makers, fashionistas, retro-ites, and science-fiction geeks. Can these disparate pop-culture forces unite?
We asked Steampunk Carnivale co-organizer Virginia Adams for her thoughts:
Why did you decide to start the carnivale last year?
Paulk+Co had been working on a sculpture on and off for several months. When it was completed, Justin said, "The Minigun is so f--king badass, it deserves a party Toots!" I took that as a challenge, who throws a party for a sculpture? Paulk+Co does because we are art obsessed. Being the event curator that I am, the gears started turning (ha ha) and Steampunk Carnivale was born. Steampunk Carnivale tuned into an amazing display of visual art, performance art, fashion, and personal expression. Our number-one goal at Paulk+Co is to make and promote great art; the event naturally morphed into everything we are all about, it's pretty awesome...
Did you expect much of a turnout?
I always expect our events to be fun and entertaining, but the response on social media a week prior to the event was honestly overwhelming. I had to make the decision to cancel interviews on the local television news magazines because I knew we weren't prepared for the entire East Tennessee region to arrive. We are prepared this year, with more staff, more offerings, longer hours and activities for kids. I was blown away at the number of families that showed up last year!
Are you steampunkers yourselves?
We are a specialty fabrication shop working primarily in metal and concrete sculpture, so our aesthetic is very industrial. Our signature on every sculpture, our logo and all branding efforts, is gears and that's a steampunk given. We have a great appreciation for beauty and art, since we are artists ourselves, but no, we don't walk through life dressed in steampunk costumes.
What is it about the style that appeals to you?
We like the duality of it. It's industrial and romantic. It's refined and gritty at the same time. It's out of the box yet steeped in tradition. It's historic and futuristic. It's beautiful and sometimes grotesque. It's always interesting, it's always sexy and it's always thought-provoking--all these things speak strongly to us.
Does Knoxville have a steampunk culture?
Apparently so--over 600 people showed up last year, proving it!
For non-steampunk enthusiasts, what should they expect to see at the event?
Expect the unexpected. You can learn how to make awesome art in a variety of makers workshops. You'll see very cool demonstrations. There will be dancing girls, live music, costume contests, and even a robotic chimpanzee. A short film inspired by last year's event will be screened. Additionally, Paulk+Co will premier our latest sculpture, The Gunship. Guests will be amazed and astounded, their minds will be expanded and they'll leave with a smile on their face.
Steampunk Carnivale • Paulk & Co. (510 Williams St.) • Saturday, June 7 • Noon-10 p.m. • $10 • steampunkcarnivale.com