It’s just how you feel when you know it’s for real. It’s a hit! It’s a Coke! Coke is it!

In the 1981 Coca-Cola advertising campaign, “Coke Is It,” an impossibly handsome cast can be seen simulating prosaic moments of daily life that pose the audience with images of reality that seemingly relate to their own. The actors, assisted by a 80s-era narrative jingle, exude relaxation during a massage and emphasize their frustration by kicking the door of an overheated car. In each scene, whether it is seen or not, Coca-Cola is presenced by an implicit understanding that Coca-Cola is “real.” Better yet, Coca-Cola augments the real.

In Coke Is It, the use of an artificial surrogate mirrors advertising tactics. A hex-crawler robot is deployed to simulate beverage consumption by traversing the gallery floor in search of soda. Engineered with an on board camera, the robot—named C3 in a jesting nod to Coca-Cola’s failed low-carb soda, C2detects Cola spills and obediently proceeds to their location. Upon arrival, it drinks the soda through a straw connected to an electrical pump, consuming the spill until no liquid remains. Then, the robot sprays itself, released the cola onto its protective skin. The acidic compounds in Coke eventually eat through the skin, finding its way to the circuitry, and cause C3 to break down.

Stripped of emotive expression, the robot experiences its consumption in purely empirical terms. C3 seeks Coca-Cola. C3 finds Coca-Cola. C3 ingests Coca-Cola. And then, C3 dies. The performance amplifies the true effects of relentless consumption, highlighting the absurdity of behavior patterns performed in accordance with lifestyle desires. In the process, it inverts the logic of advertising. In commercials, human actors invoke an artificial, and ultimately unattainable life. In Coke Is It, a form of artificial life—the robot— reveals this lifestyle’s very real effects.