Humor plays a large part in Prieto's work, usually as a subtle ingredient that contributes a critical distance from his subjects and magnifies the artist's unconventional relationship to his themes and mediums. In other words, Prieto uses humor not in the calculated manner of Maurizio Cattelan, Wim Delvoye or the Cuban artist Lázaro Saavedra but as an internal aspect of his poetics. Humor also infuses his recurrent attempts to engage big themes through everyday elements-for instance, we smile at the map on the chickpea before we think about it.
Prieto can move easily from the superminimal to the more materially ambitious. Two good examples of his grand endeavors are Untitled (White Library), 2004, an installation composed of hundreds of books in diverse formats, all with blank pages, and Tied Up to the Table Leg (2011), a full-size, airborne helicopter attached to a small table by a long rope. Moreover, some of his plans are practically impossible to execute, such as a road in the shape of a Möbius strip, always returning cars to their starting point. At the other extreme, he made a belt into a Möbius strip in an untitled piece from 2011.
Contrast (big and small, complex and simple, great effort and minimal object) is a primary feature in the artist's work. What Francis Alÿs has called the "paradox of praxis" ("sometimes making something leads to nothing") is discernible, for example, in Prieto's Untitled (Crane), 2006, a huge crane with its hook attached to its own body, unsuccessfully trying to lift itself. This powerful image points, on the one hand, to egoism (an individual's self-focused action) and, on the other, to utopian self-deception (believing the impossible is possible). This, like many of Prieto's works, can be seen as a reflection on life's absurdity, a subject with a long tradition in Latin American literature. Cuban writer Virgilio Piñera was a world pioneer of the literature of the absurd in the 1940s.
Through simple visual tropes, Prieto elicits the type of disruptions that Jacques Rancière sees as key to the political potential of art. Unless art achieves an esthetic shock capable of dissociating us from our established experiences, it is just illustration. Much of Prieto's work deals with aporias of time and space, interrupting whole bodies of assumptions. Like the writer of the Chinese encyclopedia mentioned in Jorge Luis Borges's essay "The Analytical Language of John Wilkins" (1942), in which all animals are divided into highly unconventional categories, Prieto also fabricates surprising classifications. Avalanche (2003), for instance, is a linear arrangement of objects brought together for no other reason than that they are all spherical.
However, Prieto is not particularly interested in delving into form as an end in itself. The formal elements of his works serve the ideas. He has said: "I believe more in the efficiency of communication and meaning rather than form."1 Prieto's pieces have been seen as one-liners, which is accurate in a way. Yet his one-liners are far from simple in their brevity; they are illuminating strokes that excite interpretation and thrust us into challenging terrain. He would probably like to match Borges's Chinese writer, summarizing all the marvels of the empire in a single word. Prieto is a one-liner visual philosopher.