A Dieselpunk Art Odyssey
The dieselpunk vision
The Imachinarium is a staggering vision from artist Rafeal Lanfranco. Using a dieselpunk aesthetic, Lanfranco creates a world of retro-futurism — where mid-20th century industrial technology is repurposed into sci-fi endeavors of engineering.
Lanfranco creates this world using sculpture, along with various other visual arts. The Imachinarium is a collection of artifacts from a world we can not quite visit, only glimpse through this assortment of characters, machines and schematics that create the series.
The Mechamorph is an example of Lanfranco’s latest offerings to this ongoing project. It is a giant robot — part Gundam, part movable oil rig — armed with two bombs and running, no doubt, on diesel fuel. It is bolted together from an assortment of junkyard finds. It’s base is scribbled with hard-to-parse pictograms and mathematical equations. To read it, we have to become archaeologists of our own linguistic future, deciphering the alphabet’s fall and the rise of emojis.
This is storytelling through objects. When we witness the pieces together, we begin to build the stories and the world they appear in. And so, Lanfranco’s storytelling happens within us, seeded by the artwork, all starting with a single event in the lives of the series’ main characters.
The Odyssey Begins
The Imachinarium is a post-apocalyptic landscape littered with the broken pieces of a previous world. Torn metal bodies of manufactured beasts that no longer drink gasoline. Armatures of crumbled buildings that stand like the skeletons of an extinct race of giants.
Among this desolation scramble two humanoid creatures. They are Yute and Tocuyo. Yute is small and bright eyed, his tall headwear always pointing up to the stars where his mind wanders. He is an inventor, thinker, architect. Tocuyo is made of tougher stuff, tall and strong with a mind for doing. Tocuyo is a builder, maker, a test-pilot whose only phrase is, “The Light,” and who only writes in strange emojis.
Yute and Tocuyo work together in the Imachinarium, one generating the ideas and the other bringing them to fruition using the scraps of a previous age that make up their home.
Who am I?
One day, Yute slips while climbing a mountain of industrial rubbish. He hits his head and dreams for a time. Upon waking, Yute takes in the world and asks himself, “Who am I? Where do I come from? What is my purpose?”
Near him is a television playing an old commercial — the last echo of a fallen world. In these images, Yute sees a world full of humans. They bring their moving machines into a building where a man fixes him. Yute calls him the Mechanic, determined now to find this person who must have the answers to the new questions burning in Yute’s heart.
Together, Yute and Tocuyo take on the quest to find the Mechanic and get answers.
Lanfranco, Dieselpunk, and the Purposes of World Building
Lanfranco’s Imachinarium strikes the viewer at first with its visual verve. The mix of kawaii influenced character designs and dieselpunk approach brings to life these two characters and their search for meaning.
Dieselpunk itself carries an odd mix of visual cues. Drawing on industry and machinery made in the years surrounding World War II, the style then projects these materials and sensibilities to futuristic purposes. The rivets, grunge and weld lines all evoke a time of triumphant industrialism when scientific materialism fully inherited the minds of the West.
These evocative features made dieselpunk the style of choice for Lanfranco’s new world — one set in a distant future made up only of the remains of our current order. Yute and Tocuyo are putting together their machines using the past, fusing together the old and new. Such is the retro-futurism of dieselpunk.
The challenge of Individuation
This highlights important interior and exterior dilemmas we all face. The individual must always fashion themself anew out of the collective and personal past. To answer our own existential questions, we have only the materials of those ideas and dreams that now lie broken. Individuation is a process of deconstructing and rebuilding, the kind of process Yute and Tocuyo find themselves in.
On a grander scale, it reminds us too of entire economies that are struggling to develop. To industrialize, Latin American cultures must create their future out of the recent past of other places. And yet, caught in this strange split, they must not simply recreate. The challenge today is to obtain the economic gains of a previous order without succumbing to its consequences of ecological catastrophe and social injustice.
The Imachinarium Speaks
The dieselpunk sculptures of Yute and Tocuyo set us in compelling directions to understand the dilemmas that they remind us of in the first place. The characters work in their improvised garages and factories to invent, build and fly machines meant to discover the meaning of life.
The style of dieselpunk always brings our attention to the era when our world fully turned away from the spiritual and toward the material. That Yute and Tocuyo use the methods of scientific materialism in a spiritually transcendent quest opens up our understanding of our own path, the tools we have at our disposal and the purposes we might set them to.
The third element
While our minds are split between the rational thinker and the wordless worker, there is always a third element at play. There is a hidden third character, the Mechanic, who only appears as a flickering ghost on a television set playing out an undead signal transmitted by a culture long collapsed. Does the Mechanic hold the answers that Yute and Tocuyo seek? No. But it is in the seeking itself that our heroes set to rebuilding the world. By providing hope of answers, the image of the Mechanic has already created the purpose Yute and Tocuyo are looking for.
Lanfranco’s ever growing world of the Imachinarium continues to bring us new hints of how the quest for the Mechanic unfolds. In Panel Game the characters have assembled a game to pass the idle hours. In Retro Flying Suit they’ve created a set of wings for Yute. Each piece gives us the outcome and beginnings of adventures large and small, always tending toward the Mechanic, toward answers to big questions — questions we are all asking.