Coming soon to the Mark Twain House Museum: The disembodied brain of Edgar Allan Poe.
Amelia Earhart’s, too.
And the brains don’t just sit there. They marinate in bubbling fluid in weirdly glowing glass cylinders, while contraptions attached to the cylinders record and project the thoughts that continue to obsess Poe’s and Earhart’s minds from decades beyond the grave.
“True! Nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am, but why will you say that I am mad?,” Poe says, with a raven cawing in the background. “The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then am I mad?”
Those are Poe’s real words, from “The Tell-Tale Heart.” But of course, these are not real brains. (Darn!) After all, who’d know where Earhart’s brain was, when her remains have never been found? And Poe’s body rests in peace in Baltimore’s most somber tourist attraction.
The brains and the elaborate contraptions that house them are the fantastical creations of Joey Marsocci. The Middletown artist, whose professional alter ego is Dr. Grymm, is the curator of the new exhibit at the Hartford landmark, “Steampunk Bizarre: The Unknown.” Work by Marsocci and 20 other steampunk artists from around the world will be featured in the 147-piece exhibit.
But the first question most people would ask is, what is steampunk? Marsocci said it’s a science-fiction art form that grew into a subculture, which is based on an odd premise.
“What if the steam-driven age continued into the world now? We’d have airships and dirigibles instead of planes,” he said, and other technology that operated at a contemporary level, or at a science-fictional level, while looking very 19th-century. “It was taken originally from the masters … Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Mary Shelley and Mark Twain.
“Twain … wrote the first story on time travel, ‘A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.’ He was friends with Nicola Tesla and was fascinated by electronics,” Marsocci said. “Time travel is a big part of the steampunk world.”
Materials used in steampunk design are those that were available back then, primarily brass, mahogany and copper.
Marsocci says the word steampunk was coined in the late 1980s as a Victorian equivalent of the high-tech fiction genre cyberpunk. But steampunk fans can point to pop-culture elements from decades before that: the submarine in the 1954 Disney movie “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” the TV show “Wild Wild West” and the 1985 movie “Brazil.”
More contemporary examples of steampunk are the movies “The Golden Compass” and “Hellboy” and the TV show “Doctor Who.”
In addition to designing steampunk items and toys — he did a Queen Amidala doll in Hasbro’s “Star Wars” line — Marsocci, a native of Coventry, R.I., writes books about steampunk, one of them with his wife Alison DiBlasio. (The have a 21-month-old son, Jack.)
He said the appeal of steampunk — which is characterized by elaborate engineering — is a rejection of the overly sleek aesthetic of contemporary design.
“We live in a very plastic sleep world, shiny, with very little look to the design aspect of things. … It’s not that there’s no design to technology [today], but they’re so trimmed down and sleeked down, the opposite of what the Victorian age would have done,” he said. He compared a computer to an antique Singer sewing machine. “The sewing machine had exposed gears and belts, and is still works today. A computer will die in five years.”
So one of the pieces of art Marsocci will bring to the Twain show is a working iPod, redesigned in a Victorian style inspired by Mary Shelley.
All of Marsocci’s works are grounded in bizarre flights of fancy: He designed a massive gun designed to alter the atmosphere and control the weather through crystals and steam power; in addition to Peggy, a robot encased in a glass globe, with brass hands and bulging eyeballs. “She’s Dr. Grymm’s secretary,” Marsocci said.
And of course, there are his “brainstorm machines,” also called “Edgar Allan Poe Nightmare Inducer” and his “Amelia Earhart Navigational System.” The machines were heavily influenced by the 1995 cult classic “City of Lost Children,” a seminal steampunk film.
“I put historical figures’ brains in a jar, retelling the end of their life,” he said, adding that in his narrative, “Poe is insane and not exactly sober.”
In a serendipitous marketing twist, this year’s Silk City Flick Fest, which takes place Oct. 13-16 in Hartford, also has the theme of steampunk, and will show “City of Lost Children,” as well as the steampunk drama “Steam Driven.” Silk City organizers and the folks at the Twain are working together to spread appreciation for the steampunk aesthetic.
The Twain also will show a documentary, “I Am Steampunk,” about Dr. Grymm and his traveling exhibit. In addition, the exhibit will feature a book signing by Michael Kupperman, author of the graphic novel “The Autobiography of Mark Twain, 1910-2010,” which speculates what experiences Twain would have had if he had lived during those years.
Artists featured in the show are Mark Adams, Danny Ashby, Nate Buchman, Mike Cochran, Brad Harrison, Kelley Hensing, Don Higgins, Brett Kelley, Kiara Leistikow, Jessica Lilley, Jeffery Lilley, Mike Marchand, Tim Marchand, Joey Marsocci (“Dr. Grymm”), James Muscarello, Kathryn Paterwic, Daniel Proulx, Nick Robatto, Bruce Rosenbaum, Justin Stanley and Thomas Willeford.
“STEAMPUNK BIZARRE: THE UNKNOWN” opens Oct. 1 at the Mark Twain House Museum, 351 Farmington Ave. in Hartford, and runs through Jan. 15. The opening reception begins Oct. 1 at 5 p.m. with a screening of “I Am Steampunk,” music by the Psyche Corporation at 6 p.m., and a book signing by Michael Kupperman at 7:30 p.m. The opening event is free. All other days, admission to the exhibit is free with regular museum admission, which includes a tour of the house, or $6 for the museum only. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Sunday, noon-5:30 p.m. Details: 860-247-0998 or http://www.marktwainhouse.org.
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