Perfect Melon

2018-present

VR installation + virtual envents + marketing campaign


Abstract



Perfect Melon is a “community-building” marketing campaign from the fictional Perfect Melon beverage corporation, presented as an interactive installation.  The corporation intends to cultivate a consumer community entirely mediated by the corporation itself.  For the campaign, the corporation hosts a VR flavor experience in which attendees enter a virtual pavilion floating above an infinite melon field and are tasked to find the “perfect” melon.  Attendees assess melons by slapping them, listening to their sounds, and sampling their flavors via a taste display.  Once they select a melon, their choice is folded into the corporation’s commercial beverage formula: a mix of all chosen melons.




Timeline


2018    July
Art and Science Seminar with Gabby Luu, Jas Brooks. Perfect Melon is born.

2019    April
Studio visit with Julie Walsh. Showcasing the first iteration of Perfect Melon installation prototype.

2020    April
Interview with Mike Sula from Chicago Reader. Join the Virtual Quest for the
Perfect Melon
.”

2020    May
Perfect Melon receives Student Creativity Grant from UChicago Arts

2020    Sept

2020    Oct

2020    Oct
Perfect Melon Virtual Happy Hours performance in collaboration with Altered Festival

2020    Nov
Perfect Melon Virtual Happy Hours performance in collaboration with Weston Game Lab


Team Bio


The Perfect Melon team consist of members Jas Brooks, Gabby Luu and Li Yao, who came together through an Art and Science Seminar in the summer of 2018.

Jas Brooks is an artist and PhD candidate at the University of Chicago focusing on wearable devices that interface directly with our senses of smell and taste. Their artwork addresses intimacy, human relations, and the amplification of aesthetics via new modalities.

Li Yao is a Chicago-based VR/XR artist, organizer and educator. His work focuses on the way our sense of realities is shaped through architecture and corporation’s media campaigns. Li has exhibited in various venues including Altered Festival, The Wrong Biennale, Ars Electronica 2018, and Mykono Multimedia Festival. He received his MFA in Art and Technology Studies from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2018, and his BFA in Fine Arts from the School of Visual Arts in 2016.

Gabby Luu is an artist and graduate from the University of Chicago, where she studied Art History (BA ‘19) and the Humanities (MA ‘19). Her research interests include contemporary East Asian Art, and her Master’s thesis focused on intersections of the body, race, politics, and masculinity in Who’s the Daddy (2017) by Wong Ping. Gabby worked in both non-profit museums and a commercial art gallery, and continues to pursue a career in the arts.


Installation


Once the viewer enters the space, they will be greeted by Perfect Melon’s corporate scientists. Visitors will be free to participate in the VR experience, or while waiting for their turn, may view prototype materials from the projects’s development and watch video advertising produced by the Perfect Melon corporation in the installation’s waiting area.


When the VR headset is available, the consumer enters the virtual pavilion and begins the quest for the perfect melon.

At any point in the VR experience, the consumer can utilize the controllers to slap the melons and use the customized taste display to taste them. The consumer must determine the melons’ quality through the audio, haptic and taste feedback.


Inside the virtual pavilion, the consumer would review countless amount of melon ascending from the melon patch below. The pavilion acts as a manifestation of the Perfect Melon’s corporate persona—one that functions as a mediator of consumer’s sensorial experience, as well as a manipulator of their sense of reality.

The style of the pavilion is inspired by the concept of the picturesque— an aesthetic theory in architecture and gardening that informed the design of the Crystal Palace (1851). Home to the 1851 Britain’s Great Exhibition, Crystal Palace was built entirely by prefabricated cast-iron scaffolds and the largest glass panels of its time. The unique structure of the Crystal Palace works as a lens that frames the scenic garden of Hyde Park into a series of pictorial views. For Perfect Melon’s virtual pavilion, we aim to capture the transparent quality of the Crystal Palace and channel its spirit as a mediating apparatus.

In Perfect Melon’s VR display, the virtual pavilion moves the consumers along the invite melon patches by floating above the ground at a visible distance but never touching. The Perfect Melon’s virtual pavilion facilitates the viewer’s reality by orienting their movement and mediating their sensorial experience. 


Once the customer selects a melon, their choice is folded into a formula for the corporation’s commercial beverage, which comprises a mixture of each users’ chosen perfect melon.

The production of the Perfect Melon beverage requires the consumer to unwittingly contribute their direct labor in the corporation’s creation of a fictitious “perfect” flavor. The perfect flavor doesn’t exist. The nonsensical quest for perfect flavor kick-starts the consumer into a self-propelled venture of infinite selection and comparison. The act of selection is self-propelling because the act itself gratifies and affirms the consumer’s aesthetic sensibility. Much like the protagonist in Italo Calvino’s Marcovaldo at the Supermarket (1963) had experienced, the joy of the consumption begins at the process of selection. Choosing the “right” product signals the consumer’s knowledge and ripe experience.



Response to COVID-19: In April, 2020, Perfect Melon was featured in the Chicago Reader by leading restaurant critic, Mike Sula. The article discusses the project’s inception, aims, and future in the midst of the pandemic. We are painfully aware that engaging with a shared VR headset and flavor display will be difficult after a pandemic. Therefore, we are investing into a sanitization protocol that is transparent to the audience, drawing from dental and restaurant practices. Within the installation, the team performs as corporate scientists, running the VR flavor display and sterilizing all equipment between uses. While high-end restaurants present their chefs in an open kitchen as a reminder of their credibility, our installation instead places the cleaning process and sterilization equipment in full view to instill trust within the audience.





Marketing Campaign


Perfect Melon Co. is interested in how international food, flavor, and beverage corporations seek to 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 (e.g. advertisements) we engage with. These concepts are well illustrated in Givaudan’s “engage your senses” campaign and in a quote from the Coca-Cola Company: “the product of the Coca-Cola Company is not Coca-Cola… In fact, the product of the Coca-Cola Company is advertising itself.”


Responding to consumer needs during the pandemic, the corporation produced advertisements to encourage community efforts in fighting the pandemic. Modeled after COVID-19 advertising launched by major corporations, these commercials seek to address current anxieties while centering Perfect Melon’s corporate interests.

A chief goal of this programming is for viewers to consider how corporations use marketing to reinvent their relationship to consumers, especially by posing themselves as essential community members during the crisis. For example, GrubHub’s divisive Restaurants Are Our Family” campaign, which ignores the predatory relationship of GrubHub upon restaurants by focusing on the consumer’s need to support restaurants. Among the potential events includes a virtual happy hour for UChicago, which will include overt product placements, advertising, and the team performing as the corporation.




Virtual Events


Perfect Melon team has arranged a series of interactive online events including Virtual Happy Hours and Virtual Tours, to further expand the narrative of the Perfect Melon Company.  From October to November 2020, we have hosted Perfect Melon Virtual Happy Hours via Zoom, in collaboration with venues such as Altered Festival and Weston Game Lab.

The Virtual Happy Hours is an absurdist experience where audience enters into a secret corporate recruitment program disguised as a casual online hangout. The audience will meet the scientists behind this bizarre and “ground-breaking” company, while participating in melon-themed activities, including Madlibs, Four Corners, and Consequences.

All of the Perfect Melon team members would play as the company’s employees, going by the name of Director Gabby Exocarp, Community Manager Jas Cucumis, Social Media Manager Li Rind.

Each of the audience would be assigned an employee name and title according to their birth month, birth day, and first name. They would be referred by their new identity for the remainder of the event.

To fully utilize the features of Zoom,  we have designed customized virtual backgrounds for different purposes. The name tag would help the audience to get to know each other and can be kept as a souvenir. The four corner background would allow audience to participate in the Q&A style Virtual Four Corner.

We have also take reference of different genres of online interactions such as cocktail tutorial and ASMR. As the interludes of the interactive games, we also inserted Cocktail Minute and Perfect Melon ASMR as one-to-all, visceral telecommunicating experience.

In the Spring of 2021, Perfect Melon will launch the next phase of the online event, Perfect Melon Virtual Tour, where audience will get to explore the virtual pavilion and different corners of the corporate campus. Please stay tune :)







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