Dispensing with Mars bars: A different kind of vending machine


Ever pushed button E3 on a vending machine and had a poem come out instead of a Mars bar?

Well, now’s your chance.  Because there’ll be an art vending machine at Footscray train station as part of Big West Arts Festival from 20 to 29 November.

Isn’t this a delightful idea?  It has a lot in common with the spirit of mail art in democratising art and circumventing the whole paraphenalia of its legitimation. And using a vending machine to dispense art also shows up the real lack of equivalence between what can and can’t be commodified, between what can and can’t be consumed (no matter how promiscuous becomes our application of this verb).  So in a strange way, dispensing art through a vending machine — the ultimate machine of commodification — de-commodifies it. 


What’s even more delightful is that this is part of an honourable tradition.  Because it turns out art vending flourishes in many places around the world, and in each place it is experienced as a delightful, and wholly original idea.

The creator of the Footscray exhibition is “art-vend” and as the creator says on his or her website:

I’m going to admit that while I came up with art-vend independently, google serves to trump everyone who thinks they have an original idea.  Matt LeClair of www.callithump.org has a wonderful site about [art] vending machines …

And in turn, Matt LeClair makes the same wry observation:

Art vending machines tend to operate for a short time in limited areas. So much so that most people encountering an art vending machine for the first time believe that it is the first of its kind and that its creator had come up with a completely original idea. In fact, many of the people who run art vending machines often believe they’re the first ones to think of it. I must confess, Callithump! shared the same conceit. We were blissfully vending up in Orono, Maine, telling a more worldly friend about what we were doing when they said, “Hey, just like Art*o*mat ® !” Art*o*mat® even had a machine in Maine …

As George Orwell said in Coming Up for Air:  “Whatever thought you think there’s always a million people thinking it at the same moment.”


More about the Big West Festival anon. And for a postscript on art vending machines:

In the meantime, check out the Art*o*mat® page that shows their vending machines.  They’re works of art in themselves:

By the way, if you want to submit an artwork, poem or story to be included in the art-vend exhibition in the Big West Festival, you’ve got a few more days.  Contact art-vend.


Image: courtesy of Clark Whittington of Art*o*mat®


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