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Artists Made a Can of Undrinkable Coca-Cola— But Why?

by Sarah Fonder on 02/23/2024 | 3 Minute Read

As the climate crisis rages on, news about wildfires, droughts, heatwaves, and a looming water catastrophe dominate our feeds. The amount of doom surrounding the issue is such an increasing source of stress for modern humans that most of us would readily agree something should be done about it as soon as possible. Of course, the scale of the problem makes it difficult to figure out exactly what to do. Over the years, this has inspired many flashy public statements in the form of Extinction Rebellion marches, runway shows by the late Vivienne Westwood, and even, somehow, throwing food at art. While the goal of these efforts seems to be to spread awareness, each has been questioned for its success and sincerity. Moreover, the general response to most art about the climate isn’t much different than looking at another terrifying news piece about it: okay, now what? And what does this do?


One recent showy attempt at addressing the uncomfortable truth of global warming comes in the form of The Undrinkable Can, an art object mass-produced by the anonymous creative group QSTNMRK? It attempts to take on Coca-Cola by designing a red can with no pop tab and no label— just the brand’s trademark white ribbon fashioned into a reaching hand met with a middle finger. But why? Coca-Cola is such a huge company that an abuse of power doesn't come as much of a surprise. The ask isn’t clear until looking at the back of the can, where the project announces its intention loudly with, “YES, YOU’RE FUCKED.”

Here, the project clarifies its grievances in the way its art couldn’t: by describing Coke’s effects on public health and the climate crisis. While anyone familiar with Michael Bloomberg will know it’s not exactly a revolutionary take to lambast soda for being unhealthy, the Undrinkable Can’s central complaint is the brand’s contribution to the water crisis in Mexico, where they extract millions of liters a day. Its effects on public health become discernible when the project’s website describes how the breadth of this drought has made Coke more accessible for Mexicans than water itself. This information makes sense of the absence of the pop tab, as well as the question on the back of the can: “What if we can’t drink a coke [sic] for once?”


But it takes a lot of work on the viewer’s point to get to this conclusion— which might not be a problem if the project’s political organization didn’t feel sloppy enough to invite, well, question marks. The back of the can’s aforementioned call to action is riddled with typos, from its outrage at the company’s extraction “of 400 billion litters [sic] of water” to its contribution to a 21% increase in the risk for “kidney dissease [sic].” While the website makes a solid case for support in its manifesto, the reputably sourced facts they use to call attention to the drought in Chiapas come without links for anyone interested in learning more. The project promises to donate 100% of its hypothetical, vaguely gambling-based profits to three water-based charities in Chiapas, but it doesn’t disclose which. And say, what’s that can and its display case made out of anyway? 

While Undrinkable Can rightfully invites distrust in one of the most famous corporations in the world, it doesn’t make much effort to garner the trust of its prospective patrons, leaving us with the question as to who that middle finger on the can is really directed towards.