The work of Los Carpinteros – Cuban duo Marco Antonio Castillo Valdés and Dagoberto Rodríguez Sánchez – is almost always described as funny or jokey. Yet their humour isn’t really the laugh-out-loud sort, more a kind of brazen playfulness. At its best, the pair’s work hits you with a combination of the slightly sinister and the goofy – as in the installation ‘Tomates’ (pictured), which consists of hundreds of porcelain tomatoes seemingly mashed and pulped against the gallery walls. They also bear the splashes and dribbles of real tomatoes, which the duo threw before adding their crafted replicas. It comes across like something between a bloody massacre and a glorious food-fight. ‘Candela’, meanwhile, is installed in a nearby room, where initially rather naff-looking LED flame shapes end up creating an atmosphere of hellish conflagration.
This sort of tongue-in-cheek approach, however, is less successful when specific cultural references are invoked. One rather obvious jibe involves a huge, soaring replica of a Soviet building made entirely from Lego bricks. Nearby, another sculpture echoing a famous modernist apartment building in Havana, is constructed from loudspeakers, as if to suggest giving voice to its anonymous inhabitants (though no sound actually plays). And ‘17m’, the largest piece of all, is perhaps the biggest disappointment: an immense rail on which hundreds of identical suits are hung, each with a Cuban star-shaped hole tunnelled through its chest.
It’s a shame, because in the upstairs galleries it’s the other way round, with the duo’s drawings and small maquettes exploring notions of utopian architecture in ways that feel pensive and generous. Their imagined ruins and bread-loaf-shaped constructions are still joking around – but, like the best comedy, it’s effective precisely because it doesn’t try too hard to impress.