Micro Steampunk Robo-beetles


Written by Tshepo Mokoena
Photos and illustrations by Scott Bain
03 Sunday 03rd April 2011

Australian-based artist and graphic designer Scott Bain has a pretty damn creative way of expressing his frustrations with human behaviour. The beetles he sculpts into centrepieces for steampunk dioramas aren't just a sight to behold. Really, they combine his interest in old-school taxidermy with his message on the human obsession with controlling nature. As far as he's concerned, it's a little ridiculous how we are so into mechanising other species, either for profit or just the hell of it. We had a chat with him to find out more.

First of all, why beetles? What made you choose this particular creepy crawly to explore the Victorian elements of taxidermy that you've mentioned your fascination by?
I have had the idea since I was young, watching how insects move, jerky, mechanical, like wind-up toys. I always imagined them as being operated by someone inside. Now nature is pleading for help. It is something that needed to be expressed in the works.
Urban Camouflage
Once settled on beetles, where did you source the little guys from?
The insects and parts for the work are sourced from worldwide antique stores, markets, salvage, and anywhere I can find interesting parts.
Which tended to come first: a concept for each piece, or a plastic figurine you'd stumble across that you could then build a concept around?
The shape of each insect lends itself to the different scenarios. The concept always comes first, then I have to go and find the parts I need to create the vision. I go on some very strange shopping missions! 
How did you collect all the bits and pieces to create the machine-like innards?
The insides are made of anything small and mechanical I come across that will fit with that concept. I find parts that look interesting and will work with the scale of the piece.
Human Infestation
From inception to wrap-up, how long did the Micromachina project take to complete?
For about three months our lounge room coffee table was transformed into a small operating theatre, working on two or three at a time in various stages of disassembly, cleaning or repurposing.
We see that you have a background in graphic design. Can you take us through that? How do you feel it impacts your creative process now?
Yes, over 20 years as a graphic designer has given me the ability to visualize concepts and plan the process. Creating Micromachina is pure imagination and creativity and gives me 100% artistic freedom. I should have started this years ago.
Pre-Emptive Swarm
Your site describes the wasteful and often selfish behaviour of human beings in relation to other life on the planet. How much do you feel the small scale of your work is a reaction to that?
All artwork and design starts with a concept first, a purpose. Micromachina was created as a social comment on humans' destructive and capitalist nature. Personally I think we don't have much time to change our ways. Time is running out if we continue on the same path.
Would you consider working on a massive scale too? At which point do you think your lifestyle views would be compromised for the sake of creating something beautiful?
Micromachina will stay small or go even smaller, to make people stop and take notice of the smallest things in life. I feel guilty using real dead insects in my work, but they were already dead, and now they are spreading a message worldwide. Someone can do the same to me when I die to make a point.
How much did any childhood experience of model-building help you with Micromachina? Did you start this off with no prior experience in small-scale work?
I did a bit when I was a kid, and have now rediscovered the techniques and given it a twist and brought it into the art works. I have experimented in various art forms for years and have found something unique, which was my aim before exhibiting. Tweezers, a steady hand, holding your breath and swearing helps.
What have been some of your favourite reactions to the project so far? What do you hope viewers will take away from it?
I love seeing people getting up so close to the work, seeing the tiniest details, then realizing the insects are real. 'Ewwwwww... Wowwww...' Most people wouldn't get down on the floor and study a dead cockroach, so I have brought it up to their level. The most amazing thing is the reaction worldwide and the open environmental debate it is generating. I bet the dead roach on my floor didn't think it would be seen in London, Berlin and Paris!
Your work clearly has a political and almost apocalyptic element to it. How much further do you think human behaviour will take this exploitation in the nexy fifty years? Do you see a feasible alternative?
I certainly hope so, but I think humans will drain and tax every natural resource first, then fight over the scraps. Governments are about gathering money not about humanity or nature. There needs to be a 'major' cultural shift very soon to reverse our self destructive course. 
Finally, what's next in the pipeline for Micromachina? An entire army of crickets? A battlefield of mechanised locusts?
Funny you should mention crickets and locusts... we have just had a locust plague swarm our city, clouds of flying insects around every light. I could have collected millions of dead ones! There is something different on the operating table. Stay tuned!
Indeed. Head over to www.micromachina.com to keep up to date with Bain's next move and see more of his work.

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  • Guest: senorsatan
    Thu 14 - Apr - 2011, 18:32
    I think the work your doing is absolutely superb. Had I the time to try making one myself, Id love to have a go. But I am a writer of sci-fi horror, heavily influenced by the likes of Dick, Herbert and Heinline. At some point in the near future, I'll begin work on a novella involving an industrial planetoid that utilises enormous cybernetic insectoids both for mining and mass transportation systems. Upon completion, I would be happy to post it online, with links to your site and if you chose to return the favor it would be greatly appreciated. Also,I found the pic at the top with the stag legs on a trolley, quite reminiscent of the nighttime lab scenes in westworld. Has anyone else noticed the similarity? Keep up the good work. Artemis.
  • Guest: tea_party00
    Tue 05 - Apr - 2011, 09:09
    If you are interested in that, you might be interested in this: www.amandasautopsies.com