Los Carpinteros

Cardboard houses stacked with a plane whose underbelly is covered in arrows in the foreground.
Faena Art - Buenos Aires

Curator: Ximena Caminos

Los Carpinteros is one of the most exciting artistic collectives to have emerged from Latin America in recent decades. Since joining forces in 1991, Marco Castillo and Dagoberto Rodríguez have garnered international acclaim for their installations and blueprint drawings that merge aspects of architecture, design and sculpture in unexpected and often playful ways. The adopted moniker, Los Carpinteros, refers back to the older guild tradition of artisans and renounces the notion of individual authorship. Working between Madrid and Havana, the award-winning Cuban duo explores the interface between functionality and art.

Los Carpinteros: Dismantling the World
Essay by Paulo Herkenhoff

One might well start out by imagining all the things engineered by modern man being perverted by Los Carpinteros until the whole of their work coincides with the disconcerting totality of industrial society itself—or at least with such things as bricks and cities or beds and swimming pools. Yet such a prophecy shall never be fulfilled, for the mordant act of perverting everything in existence could never be accomplished in a subject’s lifetime, even if the subject were a group of artists.

Art History

Certain works in Los Carpinteros’ oeuvre instantly remind us of historic pieces of art from modernism to the present, by artists as disparate as Marcel Duchamp, the Dadaists, surrealist René Magritte, Joseph Beuys, Pop artists Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, minimalist Carl Andre, and neoconcretist Lygia Clark. Los Carpinteros may also be referenced diffusely to fairly recent Latin American art, as exemplified by the work of Cildo Meireles, Waltercio Caldas, Guillermo Kuitca, Jorge Pardo, Carlos Garaicoa, and Iran do Espírito Santo among others. The output of all these artists is reduced to the condition of stylemes that are devoured and metabolized by
Los Carpinteros in a discourse of their own, including the form and material conditions of the sign or rule of their agenda by the signifier. Ironically, there is a material vocabulary with technical connotations that takes shape based on the concept of styling within the system of industrial objects, in which carpentry and watercolor—as well as chrome metal or industrialized tents—all become material and sign.

The Name

The choice of the name Los Carpinteros corresponded to the symbolic construction of the artists’ social status. In the case of the Cuban group, the name grew out of the praxis of art, out of that which refused to seek the useless transparency of merely indicating the division of labor, leaving an authorial vacuum. The name was given by other people, however, who identified the work of the artists with materials, tools, and forms that pertain to the work of carpenters. Because they are neither architects nor engineers, the name indicates the specific nature of their work and problematizes manual craft for the execution of ideas in industrial society. This is not only an affirmation of manual labor but also an operation that occurs within the field of the superstructure, at the forefront of which lies the problem of the division of labor and its relation to the production of the exchange value of objects.

Economy of Pure Visuality: Manual Labor

The deliberate contradictions of the artistic practices, technical processes, images, and things produced by the group—in their double condition as artists and artisans—are inscribed within the historicity of collective existence. In the social process of knowledge, the art of Los Carpinteros chooses to replace cynicism with irony. The artists attack the separation between manual labor, technique, and imagination in the aesthetic object. The choice of the name emphasizes the “labor” factor in producing works of art—an evocation of the Aristotelian relation of techné as poiesis. The availability of materials in each place is a decisive factor in defining the form of an object constructed by them. A lighthouse can be a tent in Belgium, because the material is found there, or it might be a product of carpentry because wood is available in Cuba. What they have in common is that, to them, all materials must be correlative to human labor with regard to vocation or traditional trades such as plumbing or carpentry.

System of Objects

The universe of Los Carpinteros is centered on objects produced or constructed by man, that is, on commodities. Occasionally the transference or distortions of functions are modes of mutation of the logical regime of such objects. They established their discourse around 1995, a dramatic period in the life of that country, what with cold war Soviet protectionism suffering a collapse that was reflected in Cuba’s social dynamic and the u.s. boycott reaching maximum levels of effectiveness. Food and electrical power shortages resulted in rationing and long daily blackouts. In some cases the objects do not deal with technical deficiencies but with an economy of improvisation and precariousness, as in the tent-buildings of Ciudad transportable (Transportable City, 2000). Affluent consumer society can be seen only as the antithesis of the society of minimal, marginal, and rationed consumption. The irony and paradox staged by them are constituted in the consumption/ trash binomial that is planned obsolescence and the ecological imbalance of waste.

Their objects resist functional domestication (as in the case of gadgets or kitsch) or the extemporaneous, gratuitous associativity of forms and functions. They are operations in counterdesign. After all, revolutionary Cuba was never known for its industrial (or even gra- phic) design work. No matter how confusing the object’s identity, the convulsive beauty of these works does not stem from abjection or from the surreal quality of their structures but from the discomfort that they cause by establishing a world recognized as plausible but executed as the failure of a certain kind of instrumental reason. In the end, Los Carpinteros defend the existence of the world of objects at the brink of a total collapse of logic that affects the functioning of the world and the economy. [...]

About Los Carpinteros

Marco Antonio Castillo Valdes (b. 1971, Cuba) and Dagoberto Rodríguez Sánchez (b. 1969, Cuba) together form the collective Los Carpinteros. Contrary to the implications of their name, their artwork spans the intriguing and ambiguous space between conceptualism, activism, and formalism with monumental sculptural and architectural constructions. Works by Los Carpinteros are part of the per- manent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the Museo de Bellas Artes in Havana, the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary Foundation in Vienna, and the Centro Cultural de Arte Contemporáneo in Mexico City. Their commissioned installations are featured at institutions around the world; the most recent, The Globe—a latticed beechwood structure inspired by Enlightenment illustrations—opened at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in December 2015.

About Paulo Herkenhoff

Paulo Herkenhoff (born 1949) is the cultural director of the Museu de Arte, Rio de Janeiro. From 2003–2006, he was director of the Museu Nacional de Belas Artes, Rio de Janeiro. Previously Herkenhoff was adjunct curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at Museum of Modern Art, New York (1999–2002), and chief curator of Museu de Arte Moderna do Rio de Janeiro, Rio de Janeiro (1985–1990). He was also artistic director of the 1998 24th São Paulo Biennale, São Paulo (1997–1999), and curated the Brazilian Pavilion at the 47th Venice Biennale, Venice, 1997. Herkenhoff recently co-curated Brasil: desFocos (O Olho de Fora), Paço das Artes, São Paulo, 2008 and contributed to the publication Psycho Buildings: Artists Take on Architecture (2008). He has also published texts on artists such as Raul Mourão (2007); Guillermo Kuitca (2006); Rebecca Horn (2005); Julião Sarmento (2004); and Louise Bourgeois (2003).

Faena Art Center Buenos Aires
Aimé Painé 1169, Faena Buenos Aires, Argentina