love letters from outer space

Mysticism is just tomorrow’s science dreamed today.
– Marshall McLuhan

I’ve long had an interest in the notion of magical objects, particularly of the wearable kind. The possessive intimacy of jewelry naturally lends itself to the metaphor of hidden powers; of holding to oneself a filament of something greater. Skin, sweat, pulse, breath — we keep close these animate vessels, as we seek union with the ineffable forces of the universe.

In 2006 I had a fleeting idea for a project: a series of wearable objects that translated the often-unseen effects of space weather into a personalised, poetic experience. Solar flare sonnets and ambient auroras on our wrists; a little bit of technomagic to connect us to the whole. Love letters from outer space was born — at least in my head.

Which is where it stayed for the next six years, as life and other projects got in the way. But last week love letters came one step closer to reality — in fact, it became wholly real, albeit in prototype form.

Working with an incredibly talented and creative team at Media Lab Melbourne during their most recent project development sprint, over the course of nine days we fleshed out the love letters concept, expanded on the theme, and built three wearable objects that translate real-time solar and seismic events into intimate personal experiences.

As it happened, we also experienced the most intense solar storm since 2005 during the week of the sprint. Gotta love those synchronicities.

icarus.2 {solar flares}

Icarus.2 uses a thermoelectric heat pump connected to a Twitter stream of live solar storm activity to send an icy pulse to the inside of the wearer’s wrist when a solar flare or storm is active. As the inside of the heat chip becomes (very) cold, the outer side heats up dramatically, radiating warmth along the band of copper that encircles the cuff. The duration of the cold pulse is determined by the intensity of the solar flare or radiation storm in progress.

Icarus.2 {solar flare cuff}

karman’s waltz {auroras}

Kármán’s Waltz uses a small, custom-built electromagnet to activate a ferromagnetic fluid suspension in a glass pendant when the auroras are active. Feedback is triggered by a Twitter stream of real-time aurora forecasts, and is modulated by predicted strength of the auroral activity.

Kármán’s Waltz {aurora pendant}

wreath of namazu {earthquakes}

Wreath of Namazu uses a string of small vibration motors to indicate when seismic activity of magnitude 3.0 or greater is detected anywhere in the world. Each of the five motors is assigned a section of the planet based on geographic coordinates, and will vibrate if seismic activity is detected in that region. The magnitude of the seismic activity modulates the intensity and duration of the motor’s vibration.

Wreath of Namazu {earthquake necklace}

A huge thanks to everybody who helped make this project happen: Pierre Proske, Tim DevineAntoinette J. Citizen, Lauren Brown, Teresa BlakeSimon BermanJesse Stevens — legends all.