The Difference Engineers: Reinventing Steampunk

2011, Culture, Ontario Science Centre, Temporary Exhibit
costume, counterculture, event photos, history, promotional materials, science, science fiction, steampunk, textile, victorian
About This Project

Date: March 4 – May 24, 2011

Partner: Ontario Science Centre

Venue: The Idea Gallery at the Ontario Science Centre

Project Members: Grace Lam, Samantha Morel, and Catherine Woltz


This exhibition aims to familiarize the public with the Steampunk movement, which is finding its way into the mainstream popular culture. The exhibition does so by reviewing many of the different answers to the question ‘What is Steampunk?’, and exploring topics important to the Steampunk movement, such as: the role of technology in society, alternate histories, the significance of Steampunk appearing in mainstream media, and the importance of aesthetics to everyday life.The exhibition also intends to promote cohesion within the Steampunk movement by presenting certain of the differing perspectives within the movement as equally valid.


This exhibition was intended for the very broad, family-based audience of the Ontario Science Centre, and so was written at an 8th-grade reading level. It was created with the Steampunk community in mind – we expect many steampunks will visit it during the upcoming Steampunk convention (the first ever in the Greater Toronto Area).


This exhibition is displayed at the Ontario Science Centre in the Idea Gallery. The mandate of this space, as described on the Ontario Science Centre’s website, is to “provide the opportunity for talented young and emerging artists and researchers to display innovative projects that blur traditional boundaries between art, science, design, and technology”.


The exhibition was supported financially by the Faculty of Information. The opening event was supported by donations from friends and family. Objects on display were loaned to us from by local steampunks. All graphic design was done pro bono by Tina Tsai and Damian Zuch of Deville’s Workshop, and all printing was done, also free of cost, by the Ontario Science Centre.


Making contacts for the exhibition began in August 2010. Planning and research took from then until the end of December. The writing the text, collecting the images to use with text, and collection of objects from contributors for display began in January and lasted until February. Installation took place from March 1st-March 4th, 2011, when the exhibition opened with a celebratory Steampunk masquerade-themed gala at the Ontario Science Centre. The exhibition will close May 24th.


Information is presented primarily through text and graphic panels which make use of Steampunk’s rich signature aesthetic style. Also used to illustrate information are many Steampunk devices, costumes, and pieces of art created by members of Toronto’s Steampunk community, as well as two historic Victorian objects from the Ontario Science Centre’s collections. Also included in the exhibition are three video clips, each roughly 2 minutes in duration – they show interviews with a variety of the local Steampunk community’s members, and answer the following three questions: How do you define Steampunk?; How is Steampunk a part of your life?; and Why does Steampunk appeal to you?


Advertizing for the exhibition and its opening event was done through the Ontario Science Centre’s website, through the Toronto Steampunk Society (online), through Steampunk Canada (online), and also via postcard flyers distributed around the University of Toronto campus and throughout the city, especially in locations where those interested in Steampunk tend to frequent (particular vintage and thrift shops, bars, etc.). The exhibition was also advertized on the podcast ‘GeekNerdDork’ from, a Toronto website presenting news about video games, comic books, movies and related events.


So far, we have received a large amount of positive feedback in regards to the exhibition. The opening event was attended by approximately 200 individuals, many of whom were members of the Toronto Steampunk Society – local steampunks at the event enjoyed the exhibition, and contributors who were able to attend the event were pleased with the way their objects were being displayed and with the exhibition as a whole. The employees of the science centre with whom we have been working have informed us the exhibition is a great hit, and that many visitors at the centre during the March Break stopped in to see it.


We would like to thank the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Information; Matt Brower; the staff of the Ontario Science Centre; Tina Tsai and Damian Zuch of Deville’s Workshop; the Toronto Steampunk Society; the members of Site 3 coLaboratory; Chris Warrilow of Fantastic Creations; the Hart House Film Board; Florian Liedtke of Machina Obscura; Kate Beaton, the artist/author of Hark! A Vagrant); Laura Bydlowska; Lisa Laurin; Robin Leblanc; Jessica Speziale; our artists, photographers, object contributors and interviewees; the East Asian Studies Department at the University of Toronto; and last but definitely not least, our friends and families for their unwavering support.