Instead of dispensing unhealthy snacks and drinks, one vending machine in Sydney’s CBD offers items that are better for both mind and body.
Intangible Goods, as the vending machine is called, is the brainchild of artists Elizabeth Commandeur and Mark Starmach as part of the city’s Art & About Sydney program.
Rather than being stocked with sweets and colas, the installation comes with “conveniently packaged consumables for the mind.” For instance, you can find bars and packets labeled with ‘purpose’, ‘imagination’, and ‘bravery’, among other treats for our emotional and mental needs.
The packets don’t come with instant hugs or instant friends, but they do contain empowering sundries such as maps, notes, prompts, and origami sculptures.
“We live in a society where, for most of us, our physical needs are largely met, but often our emotional and psychological lives go unfed,” said Commandeur and Starmach.
“In this fun, interactive artwork, we hope people find an unexpected way to talk about the things we all need more of in our minds, and increase their awareness of an important cause.”
Although the installation already finished its run last April 8, it was able to raise $6,330 for local charities such as beyondblue, the Mental Health Association NSW (WayAhead), and the Schizophrenia Research Institute at NeuRA.
“Art has the capacity to impact our community and break down stigma and isolation,” said Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore. “I hope this project encourages more people to think about mental health and to step up and help those in need.”
We were fortunate enough to have a quick chat with Commandeur and Starmach to find out more about them and their work.
Please tell us more about yourselves and your respective art backgrounds.
“We are a multi award-winning creative team. This art installation marks our first venture beyond advertising and has been informed by our shared experiences growing up in households affected by mental illness – namely schizophrenia.
“We both have family members who were diagnosed at a time when drug treatments were often worse than the illness and it was rarely spoken about in public.
“With backgrounds in advertising, we wanted to see if we could use the same tools, crafts, and techniques used in the manufacture and marketing of fast moving consumer goods (FMCGs) – but aim them a little higher up Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
“We felt that art was the perfect medium to soften the often heavy topic of mental illness.
“Here are our individual bios:
“Mark Starmach is a writer with a background in advertising, communications, and public relations. Having graduated from UNSW in 2011 with first class honours for a practice-based thesis entitled I was Here, and completing AWARD School at M&C Saatchi in 2013, Mark’s work has since been recognised by WordPress, Young Glory, and the Australian Cannes Young Lions two years running.
“Elizabeth Commandeur is a senior art director, with a background in visual communication, entrepreneurship, and jewellery design. With over 10 years’ experience in advertising, Liz has worked in Sydney, New Zealand, Hong Kong and most recently Copenhagen where she was Associate Creative Director at VICE Scandinavia. Her work has been awarded in Cannes, D&AD, the Webbys, FWA, Spikes, ONE Show and NYFestivals. She has also judged the Webbys, FWA, AIMIA and is an AWARD School Tutor this year.”
The project was commissioned by the City of Sydney. What was the project brief?
“At the beginning of each year Art & About Sydney opens up expressions of interest. We applied at the beginning of 2017, and went through over a 12-month process to complete Intangible Goods. Here’s the brief:
“We’re looking for ideas and works to temporarily transform public and unusual spaces in the City of Sydney’s local area. Successful ideas will form part of our year-long program, Art & About Sydney. From performers dancing off high-rise buildings to giant sculptures taking over public parks. Art & About is a series of installations and events that can happen in any corner of the city, at any time. We wish to engage, involve and inspire Sydneysiders and seek creative projects that share this aim.”
What inspired you to create Intangible Goods?
“It was very much a thought experiment. Our lives are often filled with these small things like toothpaste tubes and teabags, but there’s also these big intangible things in the background, our mental needs like belonging, happiness etc, and we wondered what it might look to combine the two.”
Could you share with us some of the items that are available from the vending machine?
“Please see our website for the full range of products.”
What response has your work generated? And what type of impact would you like Intangible Goods to have?
“Intangible Goods has been very well received locally and garnered international interest as well.
“It’s been featured in – The Guardian, Sydney Morning Herald, Mashable, LA Times, Jakarta Post, DailyMail, PSFK, Concrete Playground, The Urban List, Nova, 2Day FM, FBI radio, 2Ser and many more publications and blogs.
“For visitors experiencing Intangible Goods, our hope is to momentarily satisfy one of their needs – which according to the social media posts under #intangiblegoods on Instagram, has been successful.
“The packages that seemed the most popular were Imagination, Bravery, Purpose, Friendship and Chill (in that order). The least popular by far were Belonging and Structure.
“With upwards of 500+ daily visitors for the two week period, we sold approximately 3165 units all up, which at $2 each means the project raised $6,330 for local mental health charities.”
What are you guys working on next?
“Due to the unexpected popularity of Intangible Goods we are looking into an additional run of limited edition packs in the not so distant future. In addition, we would like to rehost Intangible Goods at more art festivals – Australia wide and internationally.”