Like a classic pair of Levi's jeans, there are some designs that exude a certain amount of timeless style. Despite their technological obsolescence, the visual appeal of nixie tubes and metal exteriors still capture the attention of artists everywhere. As a part of Levi's "Make Our Mark" campaign, Matthew Epler and Mark Klebak were asked to modify vintage items into web-enabled tools. Teaming up with New York's Fake Love and agency AKQA, they created a typewriter, video camera, still camera, and guitar that could post to social media.
Each of the antique items were redesigned to communicate with a web interface. Raspberry Pi was chosen to be the brains inside the pieces, and everything was programmed in Python. Wi-fi modules were placed in the devices so they could take advantage of hotspots as they moved across the country via Levi’s Station to Station tour. The devices used AtMega328 chips and custom boards that housed the chips and controlled peripheral LED lights and buttons. RFID bracelets allowed artists to log into their social media accounts and post to Twitter, SoundCloud, and Instagram.
The 1901 Underwood typewriter was updated to post messages to Twitter. Nixie tubes displayed a three digit readout to count down the number of remaining characters. The 1953 Gibson ES-125 guitar’s RFID reader was connected to a Mac Mini via bluetooth to record music and send it to SoundCloud. The 1953 Bolex B-8 video camera was enabled to capture 15 seconds if video for Instagram where the user could either take snippets or record in one shot. The 1939 Graflex Speed Graphic still camera also posted to Instagram, and offered artists one of six filters to choose from before they completed their work.
By updating the devices, the artists combined the charm of vintage design with the utility modern technology. Users could grasp a sense of history and work with familiar platforms. Both the devices and the artwork they produced were shared across the country, showcased the talent of guest artists, and established the Levi’s brand.