Perfect Melon is a “community-building” marketing campaign from the fictional Perfect Melon beverage corporation, presented as an interactive installation. The corporation’s intention is not to simply sell a soft drink, but to cultivate a consumer community entirely mediated by the corporation. The marketing campaign involves a VR flavor experience, in which attendees enter a pavilion above an infinite melon field and are tasked with finding the “perfect” melon. In VR, attendees assess melon freshness and flavor by slapping them, listening to their sounds, and tasting their unique flavors. Once they select a melon, their choice is folded into the formula for the corporation’s commercial beverage: a mixture of all users’ chosen melons.
We are interested in how international food, flavor, and beverage corporations distill experience and emotion into commodified flavors. This trend is an extension of capital realism: a state of reality that is molded by the products we consume and the commercial ecosystem we engage with. These concepts are well illustrated in Givaudan’s “engage your senses” campaign and in the Coca-Cola Company quote: “the product of the Coca-Cola Company is not Coca-Cola… In fact, the product of the Coca-Cola Company is advertising itself.”
Perfect Melon presents an intensified form of capital realism by creating a manufactured flavor experience that is integral to commodity production and community-building. The campaign reinvisions marketing practices. While typical marketing draws from consumers’ shared experiences or emotions, Perfect Melon instead manufactures an experience for the consumer tied to its beverage. Though engaged individually, viewers join the constructed community via their mutual participation and the incorporation of their palates into the commercial beverage. The project points attention both to corporate manipulation of consumers’ realities and to the widespread commercialization of lived experience.The project specifically highlights flavor’s deep link with contextual experience (e.g. eating Grandma’s cuisine for the first time). In turn, flavor is a powerful, capitalist tool: tasting is a vivid experience limited to the time of consumption, which leaves consumers with a craving to re-experience the flavor and recall the original moment of consumption. The Perfect Melon corporation capitalizes on this craving by concocting a beverage produced from viewer engagement.
Perfect Melon is supported by:
UChicago Arts Student Creativity Grant (2020-2021).
Jas Brooks is an artist and PhD student in the Human-Computer Integration Lab in the Computer Science department advised by Assistant Professor Pedro Lopes. Their experience includes the design and development of wearable devices that modulate/interface with our senses of smell and taste (for PhD research).
Li Yao is an artist and recent graduate (MFA ‘18) from the Art and Technology Studies department at the School of The Art Institute of Chicago. In recent years, virtual reality design has been Li’s direction of practice. Website.
Gabby Luu is a recent graduate from UChicago, where she studied Art History with a focus on Contemporary and New Media Art. Her experiences in numerous Art History courses, including Professor Ina Blom’s Phillipe Parreno’s Media Temporalities and Jeehey Kim’s Postcolonialism and Contemporary Art in East Asia, have established a theoretical backdrop and an exposure to contemporary art practices from which she draws ideas for Perfect Melon’s installation component.
Brooks, Yao, and Luu began development of Perfect Melon at the conclusion of an Arts and Science Seminar hosted by Jas Brooks in the summer of 2018. In the seminar, they discussed the integration of flavor into artistic practice and presented weekly readings of texts covering topics from affective and social computing to international food cultures. The weekly seminar meetings also included tasting sessions, where participants blindly tasted various melon flavored beverages and basic flavoring compounds in an attempt to better understand the impact of different tastes and the experience of tasting.