Tomates by Los Carpinteros
Tomates by Los Carpinteros

Los Carpinteros come this month to London’s Parasol Unit for their first major London show. The duo, Marco Castillo and Dagoberto Rodriguez, have wowed critics and the public alike with their playful take on Latin American conceptualism in which ideas, influences, ideologies and world views collide.

Their sculptures possess layered, simultaneous meanings, brought from collisions – rather than simple juxtapositions. A fusion of cultures particularly found in Cuban music informs much of their work, as in the case of the melting musical instruments of Cuarteto Rebelde.

Often using humour, Los Carpinteros make work about possible futures that never were; utopian visions of how past ideological systems might have played out. Robotica is a Lego construction that looks like a spacecraft, or something prised from Russia’s Institute of Robotics and Technicial Cybernetics. It is also a paean to the wonder of child’s play, while paralleling Barthes’ idea that every ‘writing’ contains, within it, the seed of a utopia.

Cuarteto Rebelde by Los Carpinteros
Cuarteto Rebelde by Los Carpinteros

Their thrill and excitement in the production process is palpable as you talk to them, as is their generosity in sharing their ideas and openness to collaborations. It’s something that they reflect on and acknowledge that is part of the Cuban system, where they were trained to think of how their work could be of maximum social benefit.

17m is a clothing rail of 200 black suits, the number about the same size as a military unit. The shape of a star, a typical military symbol, cuts through them all in a solid block. The piece was made using an operation that required surgical precision, an internal armature allowing the highly-finished cutting and support of the suits as they were hanging.

In Tomates, there is a vigour and explosive energy emanating from the idea of 200 tomatoes being seemingly hurled across the gallery space, producing violent and messy splatters on the white walls. Looking not dissimilar to a Jackson Pollock action painting or Niki de Saint Phalle’s Shooting Picture, the piece vividly evokes the austerity protests in Spain.

Key to the work, however, is the realisation of a trompe l’oeil effect. The tomatoes are in fact ceramic, cast from previously splattered vegetables, with said splatters emphasised through watercolour. The ceramic tomatoes remind us of protest and spontaneous gestures, while providing a wider and more reflective context. On the surface, Los Carpinteros seem to be whimsical, but there is deep political engagement too. It’s a tension that gives their work a peculiar power and ability to captivate the viewer.

Los Carpinteros is at the Parasol Unit, 14 Wharf Road, N1 7RW until 24 May
parasol-unit.org

Robotica by Los Carpinteros
Robotica by Los Carpinteros

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