You can buy a Coke for very little money almost anywhere in the world. In fact, in many places, it’s said that it’s much easier to procure a can of soda than fresh drinking water. To Dutch artist Helmut Smits, this was a frustrating example of how mass consumer culture can take precedence over basic human needs. It also seemed absurd to him that up to nine liters of fresh water are required to create one liter of Coke. To draw attention to this paradox–and to actually do something about it–he created The Real Thing, a contraption that turns Coca-Cola into pure, drinkable water.
The distillation machine, which Smits built with the help of Synthetic Organic Chemistry students at the University of Amsterdam, was debuted last month at the Sense Nonsense exhibition at Dutch Design Week. The mechanics of the apparatus are fairly simple: As Coke is boiled, the released water vapor is funneled into a glass. Minerals are then added to ensure the water’s potability.
It’s not the most efficient way to produce drinking water and not exactly replicable on a mass scale, but it is a creative way to start a conversation about our global priorities.