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 Insert the 40p and watch the precision engineered system prepare special weight-free nutrients for you. Then look in the mirror and watch the spectacular results as you visibly lose weight. This machine sucks a single grain of popcorn from a tub and transfers it to a chamber where it is heated by hot air until it pops. The mirror simply bends to distort your reflection, making you appear thinner


The idea seemed quite straightforward, but the machine took twice as long as I was expecting to get it working properly (about 2 months). The idea for a corn popping machine came from a commission 3 years ago from the Eden project in Cornwall for a tiny cinema (a garden shed) seating 11 people. A miniature popcorn machine seemed the natural thing to have outside a tiny cinema. 9 months ago the Eden project revived the idea and asked me to make the popcorn machine as an exhibit for their warm temperate biome. Then I decided to make a second version for the pier as a slimming aid. A friend – John Barret – suggested adding the mirror and even gave me a bit of plastic mirror, left over from fitting a Swiss hotel lift many years ago.

 Both versions were plagued with technical problems – 90% of the corns worked fine, but preventing the last 10% jamming the machine was tricky. The pier version was built with bits and pieces I’d scavenged or had leftover from other jobs. My worst decision was to use an old PLC without enough outputs – endless rewiring, additional delay timers and compromises.

It’s still not perfect – the heating time varies enormously. As the heat gun, chamber and tubing cool down, the length of heating time for the next turn increases. The heating has to be quite slow or the corn heats unevenly and doesn’t pop properly. The moisture content of the corn also seems to affect the heating time.   

The most satisfying part about this machine is seeing how totally obsessed people are watching themselves slim down in the mirror. From being quite distracted, they suddenly become totally absorbed. A surprising number seem to have no idea how the effect is achieved.


Instant Weightloss was the least popular machine in the arcade. I was never sure why – did it look too technical – was it too baffling – was it too boring waiting for the corn to pop - was the subject of weight too sensitive? I brought it home to make room for a new machine but decided I didn’t want to give up. I’ve always been proud of the mechanism – it wasn’t easy getting a single grain of popcorn to pop in a theatrical way – and obesity is more in the news now than it was when I first made it. 

Its never quite so exciting returning to past projects as working on new ones. I was struggling when Andy Plant suggested scales to weigh people and video of a weighing machine dial. There’s a whole history of very beautiful coin operated weighing machines so the dial became real rather than virtual. I replaced the top sign with a TV to run an attractor loop but again got stuck puzzling what to do with it. I talked it through with Gary Alexander and we got increasingly nervous about the video being a string of fattist jokes. I almost returned the TV monitor I’d bought but Gary suggested having a minimal slideshow of before and after pictures. 

The before and after people could obviously be celebrities in keeping with the posters for the arcade. I first tried Joanna Lumley, but she didn't work. However, world leaders seemed much more entertaining. It was fun putting the attractor loop together and it finally gave  me confidence in the whole rebuild.    




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