Rebuilding History Peace By Peace

Tomatoes, LEGOs and the conga are the building blocks of society in Irreversible, Los Carpinteros thought-provoking new installation at the Sean Kelly Gallery that examines the interplay between historical events that shape society and the nameless individuals who live them.

Irreversible begins with Tomates, a barrage of porcelain tomatoes infused with watercolors splattered in protest against the gallery walls. Divorced from any particular political context, Tomates symbolizes the persistent struggle for change throughout history and reminds us that revolutions are often precipitated by nameless individuals.

Jerrica Pope and Lauren Kelly. Photo by Marisa Office.

The individual’s role in history evolves through a series of sculptures that deconstruct monuments from bygone eras. Robotica mirrors a St. Petersburg research center, built in 1968, dedicated to engineering, technology and robotics. VDNKh Toy echoes a 1964 titanium tribute to Soviet space exploration, evoking a rocket trailed by a sweeping plume of exhaust, and Podgaric Toy emulates a 1967 memorial of revolution in Podgarić, Croatia. The sculptures play with the historical significance of their models by cheerfully reconceiving them in glossy LEGO blocks of red, yellow and black, thousands of nearly identical bricks whose individual potential is simultaneously realized and subordinated en masse.

VDNKH Toy by Los Carpineteros. Photo by Marisa Office.

Los Carpinteros retrieve two individuals from the anonymous masses in Cachita and Emelino, portraits of the artists’ relatives in backlit aluminum mimicking tributes to Che Guevara and Camilo Cienfuegos displayed in the Plaza de la Revolución in Havana. According to the artists, these relatives are “representatives of the people of the same generation, who lived through the Revolution, but who did not benefit from it.”

The final piece in the show moves from the political significance of change to the personal. Conga Irreversible, Los Carpinteros’ first video installation, depicts a performance orchestrated by the duo for the Havana Biennial in 2012: a comparsa of hundreds of dancers and musicians along the Paseo del Prado in Havana performing the music, lyrics and movements of the conga entirely backwards. The inversion of the familiar causes immediate and palpable discomfort, like stroking velvet against the nap. It is evident in the spectators lining the paseo, who struggle to walk against the backward flow of the parade or remain notably immobile. One or two people try to dance, but never quite catch the rhythm, leaving us to wonder whether it is possible to ever truly reverse that which is ingrained in us.

Tomates. Photo by Marisa Office.

Los Carpinteros is comprised of Marco Castillo and Dagoberto Rodriguez, who formed the collective along with Alexandre Arrechea in 1991. (Arrechea left to pursue a solo career in 2003.) The name, which means “The Carpenters,” reflects the artists’ decision “to renounce the notion of individual authorship and refer back to an older guild tradition of artisans and skilled laborers.” Their work is featured in the collections of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Los Angeles County Museum of Art; The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; and The Tate Modern, London, among others. The solo work of Alexandre Arrechea, No Limits, can be seen now through June 9 on Park Avenue between Park Avenue, between 54th and 67th streets.

Article by Marisa Office