Christian Marclay’s Bottled Water

Christian Marclay, Bottled Water, 1990 (Glass bottle and magnetic tape)

In the fall of 1989, Christian Marclay created Tape Fall, an installation for the exhibition “Strange Attractors: Signs of Chaos” at the New Museum. For this show, he used over 150 reels of tape prerecorded with the sound of dripping water. As a continuation of the installation, the artist created Bottled Water, a special multiple for the Museum. Marclay filled 150 bottles with tape from Tape Fall, silkscreened a text on the front of each bottle, and sealed each one with cork and sealing wax stamped with its edition number.

The New Museum

Ration Type K Packaging: Morale Series

Kratscolor Following the thread of military packaging, we come to the packaging makeover of “K-Rations” from the latter part of World War II. (Photo on right: from US Army Models)

“Rations Type K” were developed by inventor and public health scientist, Ancel Keys, which may (or may not) explain the “K” in K-Ration. (There is debate about that.) The boxes were manufactured by the Cracker Jack company and were similar in size and material to Cracker Jack boxes.

Originally the packages were generically labeled: “Breakfast,” “Dinner” and “Supper.” Towards the end of the war they were redesigned (as part of a “morale” initiative) to make the three meals more easily distinguishable with 3 new color-coded / pattern-coded designs.

Who handled the graphic design? Some anonymous, government-employed graphic designer? An advertising agency of the time? K-Ration boxes were featured in the Brooklyn Museum’s 2001 exhibit, Vital Forms: American Art and Design in the Atomic Age, 1940-1960, as one of many examples illustrating the impact of organic form on graphic design.

(Photos of the “new” boxes and their contents, after the fold…)

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Miniature MRE boxes


Similar to dollhouse packaging, but with more of a GI Joe aspect: miniature MRE and WWII rations boxes.

What’s the story behind these these tiny (1/35 scale) boxes?

Whether a full-scale mock-up of an objective or a small
sand table, the terrain model is an invaluable tool for the combat
leader to visualize fully the battlefield. All combat S2s should be
proficient in the process of creating functional models in a variety of
circumstances and conditions…

The “nuts”
and “bolts” of the terrain project is the terrain model kit. The kit is
a simple box containing the basic tools that you will need to construct
any terrain model… It might contain laminated cardboard cut-outs of
meal, ready-to-eat (MRE) box pieces.

The Terrain Model: A Miniature Battlefield
by Captain John T. Chenery
Military Intelligence Professional Bulletin

MiniatureRations Some DIY, some from kits—photos via:

(An MRE kit sheet, after the fold…)

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Sand Bags & MRE Boxes

Mancarrying-box “This is where we pour the words into a jar, as if they were water. As if a jar of water was the same as a river. This is where we try to make a coherent narrative out of chaos.”

Nick Flynn
The Ticking Is the Bomb

Just finished reading Nick Flynn’s “The Ticking Is the Bomb”—a memoir in which he traces the connective tissue between his life as an expectant American father and the political and cultural implications of the Abu Ghraib torture photographs.

I’ve been a fan of Flynn’s writing since I picked up his first book of poetry, Some Ether at the library a few years back. The Ticking Is the Bomb may be his best work yet. While it might seem a risky gambit to interleave ones own stories in between stories of Iraqi torture victims, the effect is bracing. Rather than just compartmentalizing these disturbing news stories, as we often do, Flynn succeeds in showing how post-9/11 torture policy might just implicate us on a more personal level.

What does it have to do with packaging? Two ubiquitous examples of military packaging played major roles as props in many of the Abu Ghraib photos: the sandbag (re-purposed as a blindfold/hood), and the “meal, ready-to-eat” (MRE) box that detainees were forced to stand on while being subjected to torture. There was also a Huffington Post article about the use of these boxes and their appearance in the background of many of the other photos. (See also: Product Placement at Gitmo)

(More after the fold…)

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Blended Soda Brands Bottle


While researching Coke/Pepsi mash-ups in connection with the previous post, I happened to see this photo (above, left) from Andy Beach’s Reference Library.

Yesterday we were contemplating the Coke/Pepsi duality and the implications of mixing them both together—and here now is a suitable container for exactly that sort of cross-branded, hybrid soda. (The composite picture on the right is my clumsy attempt to build an airtight case.)

But what is it really? An artwork? A gag gift? A glass-blower’s project? The posting on Reference Library is cryptic. Ebay is mentioned…

I emailed Andy Beach for further clarification and this is what he said:

“I did get it on eBay. The seller described as a ‘mistake’ or factory defect bottle. He had a bunch of other early Coca-Cola bottles and seemed to be knowledgeable. I bought it because it was just plain cool and weird. My gut tells me it was possibly a salesman’s sample, or a sample to show the bottle manufacturer’s capabilities. There are no marks on it. I’m calling it Coke/Pepsi but there is nothing really that confirms that. The curves are definitely Coke bottle curves or very similar. The other half is similar to Pepsi, but who knows really where this oddball came from.”

Other interpretations of this arcane object? Anyone?

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

The Concept of Coke & Pepsi


Conceptual art: two takes on the idea of Coke and Pepsi. Jonathan Horowitz, above with “And/Or” and Ciprian Muresan, below with “Choose”—(photo via Risknfun’s Flickr Photostream)

1. Jonathan Horowitz

In 2008 Horowitz had an exhibition entitled Obama ‘08’ that documented the red state/blue state cultural divide. The gallery was carpeted half in red, half in blue—(a piece entitled,“Your Land/My Land.”) On election day the gallery functioned as a place to watch the election results and—this being the blue city-state of New York—those in attendance were certainly pleased with those results.

… But beneath the jubilation at this ground-breaking victory was a critique that ran throughout the exhibition, of the bipartisanship that divides the USA, concisely summed up in one piece: a vending machine selling Coke and Pepsi (Coke and/or Pepsi Machine, 2007–8). Whether it comes in a red or a blue can, the contents are basically the same. Freedom of choice is just an illusion.1

Kirsty Bell
Frieze Magazine, Issue 127, Nov–Dec 2009

ArtForum had a similar interpretation of the dual-party soda-machine:

Nearby, a soda
vending machine (Coke and/or Pepsi Machine, 2007) offered us the
archetypal consumer-culture menu of non-choice as choice, difference as
sameness: Pepsi as the blue candidate, Coke as the red candidate, a
reference to the corporatization of politics and the politicization of

Jonathan Horowitz: Gavin Brown’s Enterprise
ArtForum, Jan, 2009 by Joshua Decter 

In a smaller scale version of “And/Or”—the competing soda brands are simply handcuffed together like unfortunate rivals on a chain gang —(also calling to mind: Martin Kippenberger’s beer-can handcuffs). About the political content in his work and the soda can 2-pack, Horowitz says:

JONATHAN HOROWITZ: Everything is political, and everything’s a lot of other things, too, but human interaction is more interesting to me than shapes and colors. I don’t really try to make work that’s political, though, and I don’t really try to make work that’s funny—I try to make work that’s intelligible and about things.

CHRISTOPHER BOLLEN: Do you get a rise out of your own work?

JONATHAN HOROWITZ: Sometimes. But more the idea of the work than the work itself. I don’t like to have any of it around me. The materiality of it gives me anxiety. Maybe I'm afraid that it will all fall apart, or maybe I’m reminded of how I can never really get anything exactly right. Oh, but on my desk I have a can of Coke and a can of Pepsi that I attached together with a section of plastic six-pack rings. That, I think, I got just right.

Jonathan Horowitz Interviewed by Christopher Bollen
Interview Magazine

On left: Horowitz’s 2007 “Coke and/or Pepsi Machine”; on right cover of “And/Or” Klaus Biesenbach’s book about Horowitz’s work. (Note: really it’s a paperback book—my photo is faked)

2. Ciprian Muresan

Choose-sequenceCoke and Pepsi are also brought together in Ciprian Muresan’s “Choose” video—but in a different way.

“…a Romanian boy mixes Coke and Pepsi into the same glass. In defiance of the old taste test marketing campaign, he gleefully drinks the brown concoction. In a country like Romania, where consumer goods are relatively new (since the fall of communism) drinking cola is a political act.  …Putting both colas into the same glass is in contradiction to the title of the piece, there is no choice to be made.” 2

Luke Siemens in his blog post,
Younger Than Jesus:
Ciprian Muresan

It turns out, the Romanian boy is the artist’s son, Vlad.

Ciprian Muresan’s video Choose… part of a significant body of work dealing with the father-son relationship, sees Vlad Muresan mixing Pepsi and Coca-Cola in a glass. The child’s prank rings, in the context of Muresan’s practice, pre-apocalyptic: a glimpse of the moment when carefully marketed differences merge in the same viscous paste, a rehearsal for the collapse of identities. –Art Tattler

The artist stipulates that the work with his young son is, in fact, collaborative

We “collaborate” before on different projects like the video called “Choose” …when he have this idea of mixing the same quantity of Coke and Pepsi in the same glass, because for him the taste was not such different, but the image of the brand, yes.

from an interview with Ciprian Muresan
in Art Review, October 7, 2009

(See a portion of this video, after the fold…)

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Florida Water Soap


I wrote about Florida Water at length back in September of 2008, but having recently picked up a bar of their soap at Pathmark, I figured I might as well post another photo.

The illustrations are are notable for having been designed in the 1800s by George Du Maurier, the author of Trilby. (See also: Svengali)

Randy Ludacer
Beach Packaging Design

Packaging as Opening Title Sequence


In some films (& televisions shows) the titles and opening credits are conveyed via packaging. In 1, 2 & 6 the packaging is used to highlight certain ethical issues about various products—(tobacco, factory-farmed foods, and munitions). Sometimes the packages which appear in the credits support some specific plot point—(as in 3, 5 and 6, for example.) And sometimes, the point is more metaphorical—(as in in 4’s cardboard cut-out world, for example.)

1. In “Thank You for Smoking”—Jason Reitman’s first film—the title design and typography (by Gareth Smith of Shadowplay Studio) were made to resemble cigarette packaging.

“…Jason Reitman, the film’s director, came to us with the idea of using cigarette package designs for the opening title sequence. He had actually created a rough sample quicktime in which he superimposed basic text titles onto images of cigarette packages that he found on the web. It captured the tone of the title sequence nicely, and gave us a great starting point. We extensively researched cigarette package design and were amazed by its sheer variety. We did start to notice, however, that certain elements were often used: the colors gold and red, bold graphic lines and shapes, and images of heraldry. There were, of course, many exceptions. But if you look broadly at cigarette package design, these elements seem to be what make a cigarette package look like a cigarette package. There's something very serious and regal about most cigarette package design.”

2. In Robert Kenner’s “Food Inc.” (title design and typography by Big Star) are made to resemble food packaging and grocery store signage.

(More opening title sequence packaging, after the fold…)

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Packaging & Plastic Fruit


Nestle’s I Frutti di Fruttolo: strawberry yoghurt in a strawberry-shaped pack*.

The earliest example of realistic plastic-fruit-shaped packaging that I know of was the ReáLemon (and Jif Lemon) lemon-shaped packages, but I’d be surprised if there weren’t other examples.

“…single portion, strawberry-shaped containers, filled with strawberry yoghurt held together by a small net. Young consumers find this format very attractive and it makes it easy for them to enjoy the product on the go, giving them the chance to take their little Fruttolo strawberry with them everywhere.”

CB’a Design Solutions

Plus, each strawberry is sealed with some leaf-like green foil:

“Child-sized servings of strawberry yogurt feature an induction seal shaped like a leaf to complete the fruit effect. For single-occasion beverages and foods, a seal can eliminate several grams of shipping weight per container.“

Food Packaging News

Some people save the ReáLemon’s lemon-shaped packaging for outdoor plastic gardening projects. I wonder if anyone’s using the Fruttolo strawberries in a similar way?

(A footnoted digression about the top photo, after the fold…)

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