Steampunk Treasure Boxes

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was recently accepted into Galleria Carnaval ( in El Morro New Mexico and decided to continue some little sculptures I call Steampunk Treasure Boxes. I made a few of these back in 2011 and had a great time fabricating them. It seemed like a good fit with Galleria Carnaval as the boxes are whimsical and textured with vintage electrical parts. I start with a piece of wood, some are pretty wild in shape, and hand carve out an interior chamber.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Then I weld up a sort of hinge out of a large nut and bolt (aged, rusted, etc.), I complete it with copper wires, coils, ceramic insulators and other components from the 1930-1960’s with occasional parts from more recent eras if they have the right look. Something about the scale of the box and its relation to the other parts, their textures and forms, excites my romance about older technology.


Grunge Machines

Grunge Machine is the name I gave to an early electro-mechanical sculpture I made in 1984 when I had a studio in the Citadel Cannery in San Jose California at the edge of Silicon Valley. A broken, run-over-by-car, cassette boom-box called to me as I was “scavenging” with art buddy Raymond Avalos. Our frequent scavenging tours took us along alleys and train tracks where we’d find marvelous materials to make art out of. I felt like the damaged metal framework, abraded wires, cracked plastic should be memorialized in some way that could incorporate the still-working motor. It needed a reanimation that would harken to its previous existence while infusing it with reckless form, rending, tearing it, re-birthing it. I tore down most of what was left and built it back up. New forms and shapes seemed to start oozing out of the scraps. Bending some metal freed up the flywheel, little parts turned erratically-life! Wires tangled into parts of circuit boards, caked with road grime. Some gloss black spray paint began to unify the jumble of junk. Bright red LEDs (many people didn’t know what those were back then) became a theme against the gloss black lending theatricality. It took on the feel of a robot in recovery, limping, getting back to work, though it now had a new mission. It felt a bit boring for the motor to simply run continuously so I wired them up to a custom electronic timer circuit I designed that featured slightly random intervals. Each Grunge Machine is unique, though there have been some sub series developments such as the “Blasted Cassette”. Cassette tape was the common way of listening to music back in the 1980’s so finding busted or discarded mechanisms, such as that first broken cassette machine, became fairly frequent. The humor inherent in rejuvenating wrecked or cast-off devices has long been a popular point with the Grunge Machines, especially along the lines of nostalgia.

To date, parts and mechanisms keep gathering around me so the series continues. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Grunge Machine: Black Blossom, mixed mediums and electronics, 15 x 9 x 7 inches. 120 VAC. No on/off switch-continuously running. 1980’s portable cassette with static audio. Central tassel twitches (video cassette rewind mechanism) intermittently every few seconds. Red LEDs.

LED Chaser Tube

LED Chaser TubeI saw this really cool thing in a video about early computers that used vacuum tubes to make calculations. One type of tube had a ring of lights inside the end of it that chased each other in a sequential circle giving the impression of rotation.

I’ve always been charmed by the look of glass vacuum tubes from an early age when much of the electronics in things like radios and televisions used them. If you took the back cover off while the device was on you’d see a little forest of small glass bulbs, glowing white/amber. These were accompanied by resisters, capacitors and coils, all arranged on a brown board with lots of wires going all over. There was a smell of something hot and sort of melting. The warmth from the tubes was seeping out right at you.

Back in the 1980’s I found some large vacuum tubes (used in radio transmitters) at a flea market in San Jose California that I made into decorative lamps, by mounting the tubes above the big 6 amp transformers needed to light up the plate inside them and make them glow. They used a huge amount of power, and got very hot, but they sure looked beautiful. I experimented with a way to try and make them look beautiful like that, but not draw so much power. Using a small torch I melted a tiny spot on the side of the glass tube. The vacuum inside the tube caused the glass to melt inwards until it eventually burst inwards with a hole just big enough to wiggle a tiny “grain-of-wheat” light bulb into.  These are the little lights you often find in model railroads that only need 6 volts and very little current. If you held the tube so the wires were behind it, it looked just like a normally powered-up tube, but didn’t get hot at all. An electronics engineer friend in the Silicon Valley saw one of these on a sculpture I was making and commented on how cool the vacuum tube looked. He started looking all a round for the big 6 amp transformer that should have been there to give the tube its power. “Now wait a minute…There’s no…(still nosing all around) wait, you can’t just…” “All right (resignedly) how did you get that tube to light up?” I clued him into my little secret. “Looks convincing, doesn’t it?” “Yes, it does!” he said laughing.

The tubes I saw with the chaser lights in the video about early computers must have had small lights in them too, possibly neon. I decide to make a similar object by using a decade counter chip run by another chip that provides a clock signal. In place of lights, I assembled a rig of bright red LEDs. I had to cut the tube away from its base and cut out the original electronics to fit the LED assembly in their place. I’m really happy with the result! You can see a video clip of this thing in action at my KARF website:



One of my favorite aesthetics in the mixed medium sculptures and installations I make is fluids. Fluids suggest life, change, evolution. They can signify tears, blood, flow, gradual or rapid ripples, possibly something uncontrollable and inexorable, joyous and fertile, especially if bubbling is involved (yum!). However, working with them can be pretty tricky in several ways. One is evaporation. One isn’t keen on having to top-up fluids in an artwork often. It occurred to me years ago at my Silicon Valley studio, as I was making a mad scientist wall sculpture, that the most appropriate fluid might be some kind of oil. I wanted my mad scientist helium-neon red laser tube to cast its beam into a fluid that would glow. 30 weight motor oil seemed to work at first, and had a gorgeous honey amber, gooey sense to it, primordial. Unfortunately it didn’t refract enough light throughout.

In the background I hear “…slings and arrows of outrageous skeletons…” from an engineer/artist friend Paul B. (a.k.a. Dr. Zrint in our mad scientist club).

Brake fluid worked for a while till it clouded up from exposure to air.

“ha Ha Hunh!” from behind a big black box marked I wouldn’t If I Were You. Zrint again.

Giggling, I went over to see what in hell was going on. Paul was motorizing a small plastic skeleton to dip in and out of a little vat of fluid in a sculpture he was working on. He wanted a fluid that was clear but wouldn’t evaporate or become cloudy over time. He had struck on the idea of mineral oil for use in his installation piece.

Brilliant! I replaced the brake oil with mineral oil and added a bit of yellow food coloring until it had the tint I wanted, and would refract the most laser glow. Thanks Dr. Zrint!

The reply was “veni, vedi, zzzzzt!”

Liquids are a basic theme to KARF:JT (Kanobis Amplifier Research Facility; Joshua Tree) Research Station 2 that will reside eventually in the shed I have built in Joshua Tree. One of the fluid circulating systems uses oil and I have used water in a couple of other systems, however it is in nearly sealed vessels and I don’t think it will evaporate for quite a few years. Various trips out to make additions and modifications to the installation over the years will allow plenty of topping-up opportunities.

Oh, yeah, and the fluids variously bubble.Bubbling flask still

Research Station 2 detail of glass vessel with clouded liquid among tubes, clamps, displays, cables and wires.

KARF dedicated website

I launched a dedicated website a while back for the Kanobis Amplifier Research Facility (KARF) installations.KARF shed logotype 2

It features more information about the
inspiration for the installations, news and has a forum. Here is a link to it;

It is still taking web browsers a while to find it using keywords, but it’s slowly getting out there.  As always I look forward to your questions and comments.                      Steve Storz


cladding completed 72

Here is Shed 2 in Joshua Tree California awaiting paint and details of weird equipment that need to be bolted to the exterior. The viewing hallway is temporarily covered for protection from the elements. At the front corner is one of four 36 inch long steel rods that will be driven into the ground at each corner for stabilization and lightening conduction. There will also be an 8 foot ground rod at one of the corners.

Shed 2 basic construction completed

Shed 2 construction east view 72

Shed 2 under construction at site in Joshua Tree California

I made the trip to Joshua Tree and completed the basic structure for Shed 2 over the week of March 17-25, 2018. A special thanks to Aimee, for assisting at the beginning of the week when I needed extra hands and Victor Vincente of America who also lent a hand and took lots of documentation photos for me. The next trip will be to deliver Research Station 2 and the Mansard roof and do the finish work on the shed.

A very special thanks to my collector, Linda who hosted me and has provided the site!

New trip to Joshua Tree

A new trip to Joshua Tree, California, has been arranged. I will head out there to get started on Shed 2 March 17-25.  Anyone who would like to help as a volunteer (some compensation avail.) please contact me at A second trip later this Spring is in the planning stage when we will deliver the Mansard roof and Research Station 2.

Station 2 sound system

Each of the research stations in the KARF installations has its own sound system. I record and mix a soundscape that is specific to each station in addition to the sounds the equipment makes. Station 2 ( that will be installed in Shed 2 due to be built the first week of February, 2018, in Joshua Tree, California, where it will reside permanently), being themed around fluids and solutions, has a sound track that features voice transmissions of technicians and scientists talking about the science of Station 2. I wrote a script, recorded myself reading the parts, modified each voice track, and mixed in some other segments from other soundscapes I have done for other stations. The end mix will play from a 4 gigabyte mp3 player amplified through a scavenged car stereo. I had to hack the player so it would waken and go into play mode without anyone having to press the buttons on it. The photo shows the prototype setup on my electronics bench. Station 2 sound sys proto


KARF shed logotype 2 cropA new division of the Kanobis Amplifier Research Facility (KARF) has been approved in Southern California. The new installation will be located in Joshua Tree about 1 mile off hi way 62. The site is being donated by one of my collectors there. The structure designated Shed 2 will be constructed this winter and the research station (Station 2) and all its electronics should be in and running by spring 2018. There is also a new website dedicated to the KARF installations here:

Keep in touch.

Steve Storz