Gumball Universe

What can Gum Ball Machines do for modern society? 

Why put zines into vending machines? 

What does the zine-o-mat mean for the digital age?


Vending machines innovated society: human to machine communication. Buy something without talking to a person, interact with an automat. Compared with modern machines, mechanic vending machines are simple, change a coin into a sweet, a football card or a little sparkling something.

Gum ball vending machines are nostalgic. Everyone knows them from the urban cityscape. Forgotten or vandalized, they are a dying breed like American penny candy stores, newspaper and magazine kiosks, or advertisement columns. Today the red metal boxes of these familiar machines face extinction, containing multiples like faded gum promising banana milkshake tastes or offering ill-fitting vampire fangs.

Now, people get their serotonin kicks from digital mini-game purchases. Gum Ball Universe plays with the memories of the sweet and sticky past. That silent, decisive moment when you put in a coin, turn the knob, the sound of something rolling out of the machine’s belly, that sensation, paired with a gentle disappointment, depending on the tiny treasure that pops out, is the base for a new kind of hacked vending machine.

In contrast to our multi-option-swipe-reality, these Zine-O-Mats dispense microzines, Fluxus-like art pieces and notes of culture. Zines are avant-garde and subcultural information carriers; paper megaphones for empowerment.

The colors of the Risograph-ink or paper visually remind of candy. They also speak symbolically to gift economies – markets based on trading and solidarity – that power most artist book fairs. They question the human-machine relation and how the digital world changes urban space. Somewhere between mystery and malfunction, gimmick and genius, the gum ball machine is at the heart of kiosk culture, we redefine these technologies as hubs for information and calls to action, repurposing them as micro museums.

Gum Ball Universe is a project by Nina Prader (ladylibertypress) and Malte Spindler (luckypunchpress).