Installation, 2000

Jeff Scanlan (US)

An impossible bottle is a type of mechanical puzzle. It is a bottle that has an object inside it that does not appear to fit through the mouth of the bottle. The illusion therefore resides in the question: How was the object put into the bottle? The items inside the bottles were put in through the neck of the bottle, and each bottle is completely ordinary, purchased off the grocery store shelf. The bottles have not been cut, heated or cooled and the bottle was not blown around the item. The bottles have not been manipulated in any way, shape, or manner. Each item inside the bottles is still perfectly usable. For example, the deck of cards are complete, with all 56 cards including Jokers and advertising cards, and in perfect order. You can play a round of golf with the golf ball, and the tennis shoes can still be worn. Impossible Bottles have been around for centuries, but were popularised by Harry Eng. Harry Eng (1932-1996) was a magician, inventor, school teacher and educationalist by trade but he will be best remembered for his passion for making people think. This is demonstrated best by his impossible bottles, some of which have sold to collectors for thousands of euros. The art form is very guarded, and when Harry died, he took many of his secrets with him. However, nowadays a very small group of people worldwide are following in his footsteps and learning the art of impossible bottle making.

Artist's Statement

“In 1996, I read an article about the passing of Harry Eng and his incredible bottle art. I wanted to learn how these bottles were made. Unfortunately, because this art form is so difficult, time consuming and secretive, not much information was available. I decided to think like a magician. I spent the next three and a half years breaking many bottles and ruining hundreds of decks of cards, along with other objects, in pursuit of this art form. I finally achieved my goal when I put a bar of Lava soap, still packaged, into a bottle. Since then, like Harry Eng, I’ve put decks of cards, baseballs, ping-pong, tennis, and golf balls into bottles. I’ve also put pairs of scissors, padlocks, corkscrews and pairs of gym shoes. I feel like I’m keeping Harry’s legacy alive by re-creating his bottle work.” — Jeff Scanlan