At first glance, every part of this amazingly detailed wooden sculpture by Roxy Paine looks like a perfect replica of a fast food restaurant. There’s everything from a drink dispenser with cups and lids to a deep fryer and a soft serve machine behind the counter. But as you look closer—if you're observant—things start to look a little weird.
“It’s intended to kind of play with your memory of what a fast food restaurant is, your perception of what one is,” says Emanuel Aguilar, a director at Kavi Gupta Gallery, which represents Paine. “As you start exploring the piece in detail, you notice that it doesn’t seem correct, that there’s something off.”
Some parts of the hand-carved, life-size “restaurant” are from burger joints, while others are from KFC. Other components are deliberately dated—the coffee makers, for example, have glass urns that aren’t used anymore, but they sit next to modern touch-screen registers.
The artwork isn’t intended as a critique of fast food, but instead tries to question how we see things. “It’s something Roxy approaches with a lot of his work—this kind of translation of visual language,” Aguilar says. “He’s translating a real fast food restaurant into a different language, which is that of art, sculpture, and wood.”
Paine also uses a museum diorama to add another layer to what’s normally an everyday sight. “What happens when a person has to stand behind glass and view a space that is usually inhabited by other people?” Aguilar asks.
Paine has had a long interest in dioramas. As an art student in New York two decades ago, he used to go to the American Museum of Natural History to escape the ordinary. “The dioramas at a museum were intended to be this window where you can travel back in time, or to a different place on Earth, or space—dioramas have the power to transform whatever you were looking at,” Aguilar says.
More recently, the artist started thinking about the fact that instead of staring through the window of a diorama, we’re staring into the screen of a smartphone or a computer. “We very rarely go and experience something in person,” Aguilar says. “But there’s something very powerful about putting something behind glass, and encasing it and making this little world that can take you somewhere else.”
The sculpture, called Carcass, is up now at Kavi Gupta's Chicago gallery.