Tuesday 10 October 2017

Jabberwock Pt.2: Bradford Industrial Museum visit.

Ah, Bradford Industrial Museum.  A lovely place in which to undertake an exercise in watching funding cut-backs.  I’ve been visiting the museum for years, and play a game called ‘what has been scrapped this time’ (Working Horses?  Gone.  Canteen?  Gone.  Staff?  Mainly Gone).  Still, we have the 5th richest economy on the planet, and all that...

Politics aside, this is still a fantastic place if you like the smell of machine oil and watching spinning bits of metal.  It reminds me of the old Birmingham Industrial Museum, before it became ‘Think Tank’ (and was squashed into a modern building, an entry fee was slapped on it, and it was filled with push-button games rather than industry).

Mainly dedicated to the local woolen/mill industries, it is filled with many working machines salvaged from around West Yorkshire.

I like the punchcards on this machine, and using some nod to these would tie-in nicely with some established tropes of the Steampunk genre, such as the legendary Difference Engine and Lovaelace&Babbage's early computer designs...

Perhaps a little out of time frame, but the aesthetics of the dial (etched white on black background) is rather nice...

Some inspiration from this horse-drawn fire appliance, which looks a tad anthropomorphous anyway with this eye-like portals at the front.  Also note the vertical-boiler... something similar, but for propulsion, might be rather nice for my own design.

These large drill bits... teeth of the monster?

Lamps like the ones on the tram, for eyes perhaps?

Nostalgia aside, onto the relevant exhibits.  Really I was looking for odds and ends which might fire the inspiration, so most of the photos were of random gauge-glasses, pistons, and the like.  At this stage I still had no proper plan for what the Jabberwock would look like.  The museum is mainly dedicated to the powered machine, the weaving engine and the printing press (there are also vehicles, but at the time of the visit the transport gallery was mainly shut for roof mending… most of the vehicles are locally-built cars though, which would stray the project into Dieslpunk territory, firmly outside the Alice timeframe I've set myself to work in).

Well the research visit helped enormously, and led me to wanting to take a logical approach to the design of this monster.  In the books, the world beyond the Looking Glass is implied to not be real, but just a figment of the imagination of Alice, but there are some rather more ambiguous hints.  As far as the place itself is concerned though, and the creatures inside it, it IS real; that is, it operates as a place without Alice when she is not interacting with specific elements of it. 

What I mean is that the creatures she encounters have lives either side of their conversations with Alice.  So as far as I was concerned, the first point for me as regards this project is that Wonderland should be considered a real place.  That doesn’t mean I have a craving to walk through a mirror and live there or anything (though even with monsters, it sounds better than some of the places I've lived over the years) but it meant that some sort of real-world physics would apply.

Secondly, the world isn’t just wizards, prancing unicorns, and fairies, but has technology- for example Alice specifically travels by train at an early point in the story of "Looking Glass".  But I preferred the idea that the Jabberwock, this bizarre, one of a kind monster, somehow is alien to this world beyond the looking glass, and this led me to consider that it might have got there in the same way as she has; that is to say, would be a product of somewhere else, and it fell through into Wonderland somehow.

However, I couldn’t see any sort of machine in ‘our’ world which quite fit the bill.  I toyed with the idea of weaving machines and the like, and the whole Luddite rebellion against technology, the battles between Romanticists and the early railways, and the like.  But no one machine quite fitted with how I was thinking.

It did lead me to wondering if I could incorporate my own earlier Steampunk project work.  That earlier project was set in the Victorian past of “Britannia” (the alternate-Britain which was the setting of the Model Village and a few other projects).  Britannia is meant to be more advanced, technologically speaking, during Victorian times –in best Steampunk contrived tradition- so it would make sense for the Jabberwock machine to have originated in Britannia, yet another alternate-world in the same vein as that beyond the Looking Glass.  That would free me from having to slavishly copy any real world designs.

Thirdly, what would it represent?  I’d consider Wonderland something of a romanticised version of the world, in a way; when it was written, Victorian Britain was rocketing along, society changing by the implementation of machines and technology.  So this steam-powered Jabberwock monster could represent the intrusion of this terrifying machinery into the world, a metaphor if you like for technology trampling on nature and invading rural spaces, much as some contemporaries of Lewis Carrol saw things like the railways.  The industrial museum trip prompted thoughts about the mechanisation of the textiles industry, in a similar vein of thinking… The image of the monster being something like a self-propelled weaving engine perhaps.

Fourthly, it had to look like something that could work…  So that also prompted some logical questions.  How would it ‘operate’?  Would it be somehow self-aware, or under the control of some other creature?  Where would it get fuel, how would it move around, what was its purpose, why did it cause chaos and become so feared that people would be trying to kill it?

Fifthly, was I overcomplicating things, as per usual with my projects, and would anyone else give a damn about the logical reasoning?

I did a few rough sketches, but then realised I would need to do something practical, and make some models.  That, and I enjoy making models of course, but it was mainly because I was having issues with visualising all this in my head…  This would end up leading to a series of models in fact, as I tried different routes and themes, to see how they might look beyond just being sketches…

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