Backstage Pass


Tara Brady meets a master of “Steampunk”. Now read on . . .

BONSOIR BURLESQUE. So long salsa. This year, it’s Steampunk or nothing. Bang-on-trend scene stealers, if not otherwise occupied with the relevant fictions of Michael Moorcock, Alan Moore and William Gibson, are currently making haste for the Sugar Club, the venue for Dublin’s new wave of Steampunk-themed evenings. Interested hipsters may also be located at the capital’s monthly Ferocious Mingle Meet, a fabulous dress-up bazaar for anyone who has ever wanted to live in a Victorian future directed by Tim Burton.

Down at the Mingle, even the least ostentatious fashionista will find plenty to admire around the Josie Baggley Company concession stand. These fine purveyors of gorgeous Steampunk jewellery have been producing conversation-starting miniatures for six years.

Rainey J Dillon, the artist behind the collection, is not too shocked to find herself in the middle of an unexpectedly thriving subculture.

“I’m not at all surprised that Steampunk has taken off in the way it has,” she says. “It’s been big in the States and France for years. But I am amazed by how many members of the Irish public arrive dressed up for the Mingle. It’s such a good buzz. Everybody is there to have a good time.”

She was, she says, already working in a Steampunk style before she was even familiar with the term. “I got bored with straight portraiture,” she says. “I was just deep into old things, taking them apart and reassembling them. I loved old materials and the craft involved and the character they have. I didn’t know what I was doing was Steampunk but I’m happy with the label. What I’m doing now is either Steampunk Chunk or Steampunk Fantasia, depending on my mood.”

Wilson soon waves us into a workspace that makes Aladdin’s Cave seem like Ikea minimalism. We’re not sure what the collective noun for a vast collection of Victoriana is, but whatever it may be, it’s pretty damned impressive.

Ancient bows, buckles, books, buttons and bolts occupy every available space. Over here, there’s a top hat decked out with flowers and back-to-front goggles for the discerning customer in need of eyes at the back of their head. Other there, a pocket watch has been rearranged in the shape of a bird of paradise.

“There’s nothing like opening an old watch and letting the little springs fly,” says Dillon, who cites director Terry Gilliam, Czech animator Jan Švankmajer and Alice in Wonderlandas primary artistic influences. “There’s nothing like rust. Look at this lovely rusty screw: twice a month I buy a batch of old screws and old watches and old bits, usually from France. Some things are hard to get. The little dolls I use are Frozen Charlottes and they’re quite rare.”

She holds out a teeny ceramic figurine no bigger than a child’s fingernail. “They’re over a 100 years old,” she says. “The Victorians used these little ladies for cooling down tea. They’re a favourite of mine. They pop up on lots of pieces.”

Each Josie Baggley piece, variously assembled from authentic period scrap, is unique. Each painting incorporates ancient fonts, forgotten playbills, Gothic flair and a little story. That rabbit fellow hanging in Wilson’s kitchen, for example, is Alfred, an alcoholic Viennese magician whose career was destroyed by his propensity for falling off the stage.

“I think Alfred looks a little like John Malkovich around the mouth,” says Dillon. “His act used to involve pulling a child from a hat. My rabbits are not to everyone’s tastes. But some people love them. I have customers in America who keep coming back for rabbits.”

Californian artist Joanna Spinks owns a Dillon rabbit original. Regular customers have even commissioned Josie Baggley wedding jewellery in lieu of diamond rings.

“There’s only so much you can do with beads and stones,” says Dillon. “I like the idea that people who own a piece can spot each other in a crowd but when they look up close, their pieces will be completely different. Even if I wanted to replicate it myself I couldn’t: no old lace cut-off is ever exactly the same as another, no pocket watch comes apart in exactly the same way. It’s magic.”

The Ferocious Mingle Market takes place on the second Sunday of every month at the Dublin Co-Op Market, Dublin 8;