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May we suggest

Reviews / December 18, 2008

Tony Romano and Tyler Brett: Carchitecture, and Cautionary Ingenuity

Tony Romano & Tyler Brett Township Condo 2008 Courtesy of Clint Roenisch Gallery

If houses are blueprints for living, the shelters in Tony Romano and Tyler Brett’s art propose a radical new lifestyle with a porousness between inside and outside, above ground and below ground, stability and mobility.

In their recent work, the artist duo (also known as T&T) provides upbeat, Photoshopped renderings and tabletop maquettes that imagine off-the-grid survival after an apocalyptic disaster. Their approach melds Swiss Family Robinson–style ingenuity with the comically inverted logic of Fred Flintstone’s Bedrock. Upcycling and downsizing are given equal billing. Sparse and spindly coniferous trees hint at massive deforestation while doubling as living structural uprights. Small crews of resourceful back-to-the-landers generate heat and light by harnessing hydro, solar, wind and geothermal power. Some live and work on elevated platforms supported by pylons (the better for evading flood, fire and pestilence). Others burrow beneath the desert or construct condo towers and townhouses beneath the earth. Scavenging among the relics of modernism, they demote geodesic domes to the status of vestigial follies or halve and invert the once-futuristic structures to trap precipitation.

With not an animal in sight, the back-to-basics economy is predicated on manual labour. Among the adaptive strategies rendered with delightful precision by T&T, the most notable is “carchitecture.” This hybrid architecture entails jury-rigging defunct cars to create an outhouse (Caprice Latrine), a shower stall (Solar Shower) and the entrance to a mine shaft (Desert Bunker). Their revisionist take on the drive-in movie deploys a hollowed-out car hood as a projection booth for a mini-theatre inside a black hut.

Brett and Romano’s environs, while crisply delineated, remain symbolic and somewhat opaque. Without the cues of their titles, the ostensible purpose of their assemblages of scaffolding, pulleys, conveyor belts, funnels, chutes, hoses and bike parts is elusive. T&T’s compromised future makes up in cautionary ingenuity what it lacks in advanced technology. While the duo is tilling the same topical turf as senior Canadian sculptor Kim Adams, the breadth and quality of their output and the poetic reach of pictures such as Night Lights (a black-on-black nightscape with only pinpricked stars for illumination) cements their reputation as unreconstructed originals.