This work is a large sculptural object resembling a lighthouse that is laid on its side on the floor of a darkened gallery space. The only light in the room in which the object is displayed is emitted from a lantern that forms one end of the sculpture. The main body of the lighthouse consists of a long, white, hollow cylinder with a row of four rectangular openings running down one of its sides at evenly spaced intervals. These holes resemble windows with the glass missing, and they appear black due to the fact that the interior of the cylindrical form contains no source of light. At one end of the structure is attached a circular wooden platform with a metal balustrade around its edge, and in the centre of this platform is a cylindrical enclosure made from glass and a grid of metal bars, topped by an octagonal dome. This forms the lighthouse’s lantern, and the bulb that illuminates the room is held inside it. Due to the fact that the work is shown in a darkened room, the light from its lamp is always clearly visible, and its short distance from the ground means that strong grid-shaped shadows of the balustrade and the metal bars are cast onto the gallery floor. Although the structure is hollow, it cannot be entered by viewers because the ‘windows’ are too small and there is no door, and the compartment containing the lamp is also too small for viewers to enter.
Felled Lighthouse was made by the Cuban artist collective Los Carpinteros (‘the carpenters’) in 2006. Although established as a trio in 1991, since 2003 the collective has consisted of two members – Marco Antonio Castillo Valdés and Dagoberto Rodríguez Sánchez. The pair have produced all of their work under the name Los Carpinteros since studying together at the Instituto Superior de Arte in Havana in 1991–4. Felled Lighthouse was made for an exhibition of Los Carpinteros’s work that was held at the Habana Gallery in Havana during the ninth Havana Biennial in 2006. At that time Los Carpinteros often produced works in collaboration with fabricators, and this is likely to be the case with Felled Lighthouse.
Many of Los Carpinteros’s works feature lighthouses, a motif that Sánchez has said reminds him of the lighthouse at the entrance to the port of Havana, so that ‘every time I see a lighthouse, I think of Havana’ (Sánchez in Trinie Dalton, ‘Los Carpinteros’, BOMB Magazine, no.78, Winter 2002, http://bombmagazine.org/article/2441/los-carpinteros, accessed 10 November 2014). The use of the word ‘felled’ in the title of this work implies that the lighthouse has been deliberately toppled over, much as a woodcutter would ‘fell’ a tree. Los Carpinteros stated in 2010 that Felled Lighthouse is their ‘most politicised work’, adding that ‘We expected this symbol of fallen power to be censored, and were surprised when it wasn’t’ (Los Carpinteros in Merrily Kerr, ‘An Interview With Los Carpinteros’, Flash Art, no.270, March–April 2010, p.102).
Felled Lighthouse was created at a time when Los Carpinteros were also producing works made up of small fabricated buildings that addressed architectural concepts. These included Transportable City 2000, a set of lightweight tents each designed to serve as a specific municipal building (including an apartment block and a hospital), forming a city that could be moved around rather than being rooted in a single place. This concentration on the built environment was pursued alongside Los Carpinteros’s ongoing interest in creating objects that resembled or even functioned as pieces of furniture and household items. In 2012 Los Carpinteros described their fascination with such objects as follows: ‘Things fabricated by human hands always show somehow a way of thinking, a way of behaving, and even sometimes political notions’ (Los Carpinteros in Gareth Harris, ‘Interview With Los Carpinteros: The Other and the Same’, Art Newspaper, 5 December 2012, http://www.theartnewspaper.com/articles/Interviw-with-Los-Carpinteros%3A-the-other-and-the-same/28102, accessed 10 November 2014).
The artist and critic Tonel (Antonio Eligio) has argued that Los Carpinteros are exemplary of a generation of artists (including Fernando Rodríguez and Sandra Ramos) that came to prominence in Cuba in the 1990s who were more cautious when addressing social issues in their work than their predecessors had been in the 1980s (see Contemporary Art from Cuba, exhibition catalogue, Arizona State University Art Museum, Tempe 1999, p.45). Los Carpinteros have acknowledged that their decision to work in this way was a result of the considerable censorship and punitive measures that were applied to many artists in the late 1980s, which caused a significant number to leave the country during the early 1990s (Kerr 2010, p.102).
Brian Dillon, Jane Rendell, Ralph Rugoff and others, Psycho Buildings: Artists Take on Architecture, exhibition catalogue, Hayward Gallery, London 2008, reproduced p.92.
Rachel Weiss, To and from Utopia in the New Cuban Art, Minneapolis 2011, pp.213–16.
Supported by Christie’s.