Guest Post : Antoine Jolivet, Great Locomotor of the TOSVaBe
It’s a matter of fact, Steampunk is rising everywhere in Europe. And also in Belgium, since a couple of years. Some people would ask “Where is that tiny land?” Just between France, The Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and the North Sea, you see?
As nothing is simple in our kingdom, we have two different communities: Flemish steamers, more oriented towards The Netherlands and UK, and French « Vaporistes », more or less connected to France.
Although it is always personal, what could describe the Steampunk “à la Belge”?
Maybe first of all, a certain human feeling: conviviality is always there, and friendship too. Belgians like to eat and drink together, and so Steamers do… But even more, projects are community affairs!
What kind of projects? Crazy ones, of course! Belgium is, self-saying, the land of surrealism. And so do we! From a delirious photo romance to a North Pole Expedition in the streets of Brussels, Belgians Vaporistes bring everything seriously under control… without any time taking themselves seriously! That could be another characteristic part of the thing.
With an average age around 35 (and up to 60 and more for the upper part), you could think Belgian Steampunk is an ancestor’s affair, but white hair (or no hair at all) doesn’t mean boring old-fashioned people! Eccentric humour and wild imagination are always on the top. With beer, juniper and chocolate, of course! And a certain talent for craft and DIY, Belgian is a master in resourcefulness!
They are still few steamers in the land, but, slowly, our number increases. At every meeting we can see more and more people wearing top hat, goggles and fancy dress with copper, leather and homemade steam machine with a lot of gears! Don’t miss the wacky explanations they give about those devices, it’s often a piece of hilarious poetry!
If English Steampunk is Victorian style, French Steampunk Imperial (with Napoleon III), Belgian Steampunk is more “Modern Style” or “Art Nouveau” oriented (with such examples as architects Victor Horta and Henry van de Velde), with a touch of turn of the century eclecticism, thanks to His Majesty the King Leopold II.
Contemporary artists like Panamarenko, with his unlikely zeppelin-shaped aero-sculptures and other strange flying machines, could be another inspiration.
And amongst our best Steampunk-oriented artists, I have to mention the amazing work of sculptor Stephane Halleux (and his famous “Mr Hublot”)!
Very exciting also are the lamps and machinery made by the genius light-tech Dom’s Dister, the beautiful corsets of Erzsé M., the strange steampunk animals of Claire Beauchamp or the Mad Morgane’s jewellery… Every Steamer here is an artist, in one or another special field.
If you are more into museums, I recommend the Museum of Fantastic Art or the Supernatural Sciences Museum : “Le Surnateum” and, of course, the “Chemin de Fer à Vapeur des Trois Vallées” (Steam Engines Museum) in Mariembourg and his museum in Treignes (Viroinval)!
Typical steampunk places are not so common in Belgium, except for some former industrial sites as old coal mine (“Le Grand Hornu”) or the Royal Greenhouses in Laeken (more pictures on the site of Luc Viatour.
Internet is also a useful meeting point for Belgian “Vaporistes” : “Belgian Steampunk” group on “French Steampunk (Forum)”, a lot of Steamers from Belgium on “Steampunk-fr.com”, and on Facebook : “Steamnation” (Belgian Steampunk Society) for the flemish part, “Steampunk Belgium” (group) for the french part, “Très Officieuse Société Vaporiste Belge – TOSVaBe” (Very Unofficial Belgian Steampunk Society) for Wallonie-Bruxelles…
If by chance you go for a walk in our country, please, come to the Belgian Side of the Steam…. we’ve got chocolates!