Puppies Puppies prefers the gender-neutral pronoun ‘their’ or ‘they’ when referring to their work, which is intentionally confusing. The LA-based artist’s canine moniker — a droll reference to kitsch Internet clickbait — intersects with the critique of authorship and the market it feeds, as well as more recent discourses around identity politics and anonymity online. Puppies Puppies often asks their spouse to conduct interviews and studio visits in their place, further undermining authorial authority. This, like much of their practice, which is either performance in costume (such as the artist’s SpongeBob SquarePants and Statue of Liberty guises), or cheap readymades sourced from the Internet, plays with the absurd and tends to shy away from declarative statements.
True to form, the first impression of their current show, Carlos, running at Berlin’s Oracle from June 4 to August 5, is that of ridiculousness. The space, a 20-meter shop front, is hidden down a nondescript arcade off Joachimstaler Straße in West Berlin. It looks more like an administrator’s office than an art gallery, with its stark fluorescent lighting, white walls, faux-tiled ceiling and basket weave-patterned floor.
On viewing the exhibition, the curator greets me at the door and takes me through the space, which is empty. My first thought is that the show has been de-installed, but he then presents the left-hand corner of the room where two identical keys — seven centimeters in length with round tops and strange-looking prongs — are nailed to the wall. Their duality is faintly reminiscent of Félix González-Torres’ twin clocks ‘Untitled (Perfect Lovers)’ from 1987; or odd stand-ins for the gender symbol for two females. The Torres reference, a modern memento mori, is not without irony. A booklet that accompanies the exhibition has an interview with Puppies Puppies’ father, also called Carlos, who served in the US Air Force as a commander in a nuclear silo. He explains in the transcript that the keys are believed to be replicas of the originals used by the Russians to launch a nuclear attack. Carlos found them while looking for similar Cold War memorabilia on eBay.
Immediately on the wall to the left, is the electrical fuse box for the space. The keys are in the spot where you would expect to find them in a regular office. What is both absurd and frightening is that these unremarkable looking keys in this banal space could have been used to cause mass nuclear destruction that would have meant certain death for both sides in a conflict. A collective complacency about this fact is echoed by the triviality of the artistic gesture, because clearly this threat is not something we can resign to history. In January of this year, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists moved the Doomsday Clock forward to two minutes and 30 seconds before midnight. The clock is at its closest point to catastrophe since 1953.
The only other object in the show is a large image that hangs in the front window. It is of a blast-proof door to the nuclear facility that Carlos worked in. On it is painted an image of a large Domino’s Pizza box, rebranded as ‘Minuteman II’— a reference to the US nuclear missiles of the same name. Words in large, red letters scrawled above and below it read: ‘World-wide delivery, in 30 minutes or less. Or your next one is free.’ The reinforced door, which had been customized by military personnel, reveals that they, more than anyone, are keenly aware of the insanity of our present dilemma. **