One of the most acclaimed art collectives of our time.
At the seventh edition of the Havana Biennial in 2000, Los Carpinteros presented the work "Ciudad Transportable". In the form of camping tents, they raised ten structures representingthe iconic buildings that stand in any contemporary city. An apartment building, a military building, a church, a university, a hospital, a prison, a factory, a statehouse, a lighthouse and a warehouse where chosen as denotative elements of the basic architectural infrastructure that guarantees a functional city.
These symbolic bases of management, power and control divide urban spaces into interdependent plots - in this case, placed in a position of instability and fragility, which contrasts with the authority they individually represent. The “nomadism” of typical contemporary society is a destabilizing variable when it ceases to be an individual option and grows into dominant institutions that affect life in society as a whole.
The migrant never travels alone, it´s as if he carts alongside his entire formative system and the beliefs that shape his present: rather than carrying his home, he carries a city and its history. On one hand, the installation offers a light and nostalgic interpretation; on the other hand, it firmly reminds us of the impossibility of fleeing from these dominant structures. This is an omnipresent city, identical in its configuration, similar in its intentions - its oppressive units can be seen everywhere.
Each bill of the Cuban peso features a patriotic icon. The onepeso bill depicts national hero José Martí , and the three peso bill features the face of Che Guevara. There is no two peso bill in Cuba. In making themselves the protagonists of this fictitious bill, the artists insert themselves in the space reserved for historical heroes, and do so as manual labourers, showing the efforts of hard work. One of the readings of this workcould be a reflection on remuneration as a criteria of the value of work, at a time when the economic crisis resulting from the fall of socialism in Eastern Europe lead to the biggest devaluation of the Cuban currency. In the 1990s, oneAmerican dollar was worth 100 Cuban pesos, while the average salary was no more than 300 pesos per month. “Dos Pesos” is the follow-up to a previous work in wood made by Alexandre Arrechea and Dagoberto Rodríguez, called “Un Peso”, or One Peso.
Havana Country Club
The work“Havana Country Club” dialogues with a historical past. The University of Arts in Cuba today is housed in the installations and on the grounds which years earlier had been the prestigious Havana Country Club, with its imposing golf course. Formerly one of the strongest emblems of exclusion by the elite, the Country Club now has become a place of knowledge, reedited by the artists who depict themselves playing golf. This is not a simple reconciliation with the past, but a relativization oftwo models of life and society.
Marquilla cigarrera cubana
The work “Marquillacigarreracubana” remits to the visual culture associated with the Tobacco industry, historically more irreverent and free than academic artistic production. Cigar boxes feature illustrations which recount scenes from daily life, at times charged with subversive social commentary. Following in this tradition, Los Carpinteros proposes a surreal scene in which the artists interact with art history in a random and desacralized way.
In the forefront, Alexandre Arrechea, naked and smoking a cigar, appears as the protagonist, highlighting the exclusion of Blacks in art history, as the setting in which he is inserted is a hall of historical painting at the Hermitage Museum. A second figure, Dagoberto Rodriguez, also naked, dialogues with a painting on the wall. This work highlights the collective’splayfulness, also seen in the inscription which can be read as an artistic declaration by the group, which to this day has not lost, “the desire to keep playing”.
The word “plasticity” describes the work “Cuarteto” perfectly. A set of smoothly and perfectly melted instrumentsoffer a three-dimensional image of an artistic resource used in painting. We can see the surrealist vein of Los Carpinteros here in a contemporary expression of isolated objects at the apex of their decomposition, which brings us to imagine a fading melody as the instruments lose their defining form, just before they change their state and become abstract liquid matter.
The work “VDNKhToy” makes reference to the Monument to the Conquerors of Space, a110 meter high obeliskwhich represents a space ship taking off, constructed in Moscow in 1964 to celebrate the feats of Soviet space exploration. The monument is located beside the All-Russia Exhibition Centre (formerly Exhibition of Achievements of the National Economy) but popularly known by its Russian acronym VDNKh. In Los Carpinteros´ works, the victorious and commemorative sense of the monument is seen and even ridiculed by the alteration of colour, scale, and above all, material:
The original titanium is replaced by miniscule yellow pieces of Lego. The artists show their trademark humour in the work´s title, which associates an enigmatic and illegible reference of consonants to a possible toy, once again attempting to desacralize the emblems ofutopia. The Space Race, one of the fronts which took on unexpected proportions during the Cold War, was a project of symbolic supremacy in a world marked by friction between two models of society. The trophies of this battle, exhibited with pride at the time, today are viewed as grotesque reminders of the real incapacity of affecting or changing human life on Earthin any significant way.
“VDNKhToy” brings these contradictions to the forefront through an object symbolizing the construction of utopia and its temporality, with the ever-latent possibility that in an instant, it could all be undone. In the end, any future certainty is just as fragile as adding or removing a piece of Lego.
“Podium” presents a common object dislocated from its surroundings, which provokes discomfort but is laden with diverse meanings. A podium is an object which offers a space for words, magnifies the person who uses it and transfers the sensation of power involved in the privilege of influencing others through speech.
Celosía Poliédrica Flotante
The watercolour"Celosia PoliédricaFlotante" is a result of the junction between concepts from different fields.
On one hand, the botanical term celosia identifies the genre of a plant popularly known as Cockscomb. On the other hand, in Spanish, the word “celosia” immediately refers to architecture, in this case a decorative mesh structure that allows communication between two environments, usually interior and exterior, also known as cobogó, lattice or mashrabiya.
In this watercolor, modular elements repeat themselves as if they were part of a façade bringing an architectural aspect, while miming the morphological stage of organic plant growth. The ambiguity of the celosia illustrates a unique prototype, which harmonizes architecture and nature yet conveys a claustrophobic feeling.
Los Carpinteros take advantage of the unlimited freedom of the two-dimensional support to depict their reflection on space and give us a model that connects concrete abstraction with natural references. This model, however,is conceptually challenged by more than one rational component, the polyhedron, which in the field of geometry qualifies the ambivalent object, multiplying its possibilities. The title of the work warns that the result of this combination will be in constant mutation, oscillating between what is possible to delimit and the infinite, a chimera.
Trash - Shopping Cart
“Trash - Shopping Cart,” reinterprets a shopping cart in the form of a garbage can. This deformation leads to an inevitable new interpretation, making a connection between our consumerist society and waste. The work forces us to reflect on how we are induced to buy disposable merchandise to quench the thirst for profits, an imperative of the global capitalist system.
The 2004 work “Sandalias”sees an everyday object transformed into a three-dimensional city map. The cartography of Havana´s neighbourhoodsis brought to the sole of a flip-flop (orchancleta in Cuban Spanish) which highlights the connotations of the verb chancletear, Cuban slang for “wearing out the sole of your shoe”, or walking around the city.
At the same time, it symbolizes literallyhaving the city at your feet. This game of meanings is common in various object in this exhibition, such as the beds which embrace while they sleep, suggesting once more an object with its own soul and vitality, taking on human behavior and becoming a surreal object.