On Friday, November 20th at 12:30pm, the MLab is presenting our Kits for Cultural History project on the University of Victoria campus, in David Strong Building C116. Drawing from media history and rapid prototyping methodologies, Tiffany, Katherine, Danielle, Victoria, and I will discuss our various approaches to prototyping the past. The panel will focus on the aims, motivations, and composition of the Early Wearables Kit (Volume 1 in the Kits for Cultural History series) as well as what we mean, both practically and conceptually, by “prototyping the past.”

The Wearables Kit prompts people to reverse engineer and reassemble an electro-mobile skull stick-pin intended for cravats, designed by Gustave Trouvé, built by Auguste-Germain Cadet-Picard, and exhibited at the Exposition universelle in Paris in 1867. Powered by a 1.5-volt zinc-carbon battery located in the wearer’s pocket, the skull was said to snap its jaws and move its eyes. To activate the battery, the wearer would flip the pocket battery from a vertical to a horizontal position. Once activated, the battery would trigger a mechanism (resembling that of an electric bell) hidden inside the skull, which was less than two centimeters in diameter. This combination of electricity with jewellery was not only unique for the 1860s; it also suggests the stick-pin was an early wearable technology.

To our knowledge, only one instance of this stick-pin exists in a memory institution today, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. However, it cannot be accessed, and it is not accompanied by the original battery. After significant research, including archival work and rapid prototyping experiments, the MLab wonders if the skull was ever fully automated. So, with the Kit, we submit our suspicions for conjectural manufacture: a combination of critical distance from early wearable culture with immersion in the particulars of the pin’s design.

The repository for the Wearables Kit is now online, and a poster for our “Prototyping the Past” panel is below. Hope to see you on Friday, November 20th!

Prototyping the Past

“Prototyping the Past” | A Panel Discussion
Tiffany Chan (MA, English), Katherine Goertz (BA, English), Danielle Morgan (BA, English), Victoria Murawski (MFA, Visual Arts), and Jentery Sayers (Assistant Professor, English)
Friday, November 20th | 12:30pm | David Strong Building C116 | Poster

The UVic Maker Lab will discuss their approaches to rapid prototyping and media history, with an emphasis on their Early Wearables Kit (Volume 1 in the Kits for Cultural History series).

Post by Jentery Sayers, attached to the KitsForCulture project, with the news tag. Poster by Victoria Murawski.


More about Jentery Sayers

Associate Professor, English and CSPT | Principal Investigator, MLab in the Humanities