Cleaners accidentally throw away Swiss artist’s ‘Unhappy Meal’ sculpture

When an artist plays with the reality, it can have unintended consequences.

Cleaners accidentally throw away Swiss artist’s 'Unhappy Meal' sculpture
Carol May's 'Unhappy Meal'. Photo supplied.

That’s what happened to Switzerland’s Carol May recently when her “Unhappy Meal” sculpture was thrown away by cleaners during the hotel-based Harbour Art Fair in Hong Kong.

The work was being displayed in a hotel room converted into an exhibition space along with other pieces by the Swiss art collective a-space.

Like many of May’s pieces, the “Unhappy Meal” sculpture aims to shed a critical light on consumer culture. It resembles the traditional bright red and yellow boxes available at McDonald's restaurants around the world.

But there is a twist: the familiar smiley face has been turned upside down.

“A lot of my pieces involve very small alterations to familiar items: changes that aren’t maybe obvious at first glance,” May told The Local.

Unfortunately, in this case, cleaners at the Hong Kong hotel were also unable to spot the difference and threw away the artwork valued at around 350 francs.

Cleaners quickly rescued the piece from the trash, but it was battered beyond repair.

“Initially I didn’t find it funny at all,” May said. “But later I realised it meant my imitation had been a success.”

Based in Zurich, May has long played with ideas of the divide between reality and appearance. In 2013, she carried out a piece of performance art which saw her pretending to be beauty contestant winner, standing on the street with a sash reading “Miss May.”


Photo: Carol May.

“I am not pretty enough or tall enough to be a ‘Miss’ but it was amazing to see how differently people reacted to me when I gave myself another identity,” she explained to The Local.

Many of May’s works also examine the seductive nature of advertising, which has particular relevance in a place like Zurich which can seem awash with money. “I myself am seduced by advertising all the time. It happens to all of us: we think about what we can have or do. But not everything that glitters is gold.”


Art project shows the scope of Switzerland’s extraordinary glacier loss

An art project has shed light on the sheer scope of Switzerland’s glacier loss in recent years due to climate change.

Art project shows the scope of Switzerland’s extraordinary glacier loss
Photo: Studio Oefner/ETH Zurich

The project looks to “visualise 140 years of glacial retreat through an interactive network”. 

READ: Swiss glaciers shrink ten percent in five years 

The project is led by Swiss artist Fabian Oefner, who has reproduced the receding glaciers using neon lines which contrast with images of the glaciers as they currently stand. 

In a collaboration with with Federal Institute of Technology Zurich and Google mapped the shrinking glaciers over time. 

READ: Swiss 'glacier initiative' collects 120,000 signatures 

“Im interested in the concept of time and how change shapes the way we see reality”, Oefner says. 

Using drones equipped with LEDs, Oefner used real representations of glacial loss as the frame for the project. 

“I looked at maps where you could see the glacier in its current state and dozens of lines drawn on the map in front of it. Each of these lines represented where the glacier was in the past few decades,” Oefner said. 

“I wanted to find a way to transport the scientific data and bring it into reality”.