(American b. 1966)
70″ x 130″.
Courtesy of the artist and Marianne Boesky Gallery, NYC.
In “Scrutiny,” Roxy Paine creates an amalgam of various tools of observation, portraying the modern machine as the new arbiter of knowledge and power. Paine’s work implies the gaze and the intelligence of the artificial in his wooden models of various structures of surveillance. The visual prowess of the circle of machines becomes increasingly small, as the far-sighted telescope focuses finally upon a microscope. Interestingly, Paine inverts the hierarchical relationship intrinsic to the traditional gaze of surveillance in his representation of the tools’ unnecessary observation of one another, as the stagelike center scale is without a subject. Thus, the various devices of knowledge are ultimately without an object to study, which seems to parody the Foucauldian tower, a panoptic central structure from which all is visible. Therefore, though initially suggestive of voyeuristic control, Paine’s work instead highlights the ultimate emptiness that results from an excess of information. The uncanniness of these mechanized watchers is furthered by the irony Paine invokes through the contrast of the work’s material and its purpose. Like the rest of his “Carcasses” series, “Scrutiny” replicates the machine through the natural medium of wood. In this, the series inverts Paine’s acclaimed “Dendroids” series, composed of stainless steel representations of trees. Stripped and sanded, this carbon-based method evokes life, yet paradoxically constitutes the replica, echoing the tension of many of Paine’s art-making machines. These maple mechanisms blur the line between man-made and organic, creating a confusion that labels both as artificial. Ultimately, Paine’s erudite mechanisms are rendered motionless, trapped by the act of perpetual observation. Thus, the machines themselves limit the potential power that such scientific inventions would otherwise imply, begging the question of the purpose of progress.
Molly Donovan ’16