Nerds, M&M’s, Skittles, Starbursts, Spree, Dots, Bottle Caps, Razzles, Whoopers, Life Savers, Jujubees, Twizzlers, Gobstoppers—a quick sample of candy names shows how far candy can stray from anything natural.
If you weren’t already familiar with a candy such as Nerds, you’d have a hard time figuring out what you were about to eat. The weird pebbly shapes wouldn’t tell you much. Neither would the slick Crayola colors. And even if you learned their official flavors, you wouldn’t be much better off. You might guess the taste of “Double Dipped Lemonade-Wild Cherry” or “Surf 'n Turf-Totally Tropical Punch,” but how about “Electric Blue,” “Pinktricity,” or “Snozzberry”? Nerds, like any of the more synthetic candies out there, aren’t so much a product of nature than an expression of culture. Similar to plastic or concrete, these candies are projections of our desires. We mold little sugary gods in our own image and smack on them.
And these candies reveal that we savor not only sugar, but also silliness, a fact the Dutch artists Lernert & Sander make clear in their performance piece, “Color Correction.” The two artists took a kilogram of Discodip and spent nine hours separating the tiny dip-bits into piles of discrete disco colors.
Their piece raises interesting questions about our need for order, the purpose of work, and the use of pixels to create digital color. Most importantly, it defamiliarizes the way in which we see the Discodips and Nerds of the candy world. That is, by bringing such a systematic approach to such a silly food, Lernert & Sander alert us to the design strategies that define candy and synthetic products more generally.
Watching them painstakingly dismantle the visual "fun" of the Discodip, we’re asked to see what we’ve asked candy to become for us and what we want from it. The core appeal of candy may be hardwired—our brains seek sugar—but the shapes that candy now takes tell us less about our nature than, in the largest sense, our taste.