I’d like to see TODT’s deadly looking, simulated military hardware drawn up before the black, glossy walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, which, with no fanfare or apologies, tallies the number of dead. TODT takes this same unflinching approach to the toll of war in two relief constructions, Peace and War (both 1988). In Peace, circular plaques support a fork, a dinner plate, and what appear to be kernels of corn, but which, on closer inspection, are revealed to be three human incisors. In War, the utensil is a soldier’s trench-digging shovel, elegantly suspended near an empty pan from a mess kit.

This exhibition, which spans the almost 17-year-long career of the artist collective known as TODT, maps the group’s idiosyncratic brand of military history: their hybrid weapons—fabulously ambiguous constructions—are all the more ominous for being provocative and playful. These infernal machines are only virtually operable, mere stand-ins for the vast netherworld of the lucrative arms industry. It’s easy to imagine swiveling the two biggest guns from the gallery’s elevated bay windows, aiming them over the heads of downtown traffic and pedestrians. Who says war isn’t our shadow definition, and these machines the commodified essence of the darker side of human nature? These odd, carefully calibrated mechanisms cannot help but recall the malevolent use to which technology was put by Hitler’s chief engineer, who brought industrial precision to the infamous machinery of the death camps.

As menacing as Bow Bike, 1993, and Big Bomb, 1991, appear (and l found myself muttering “I hate these things,” as I stepped over their blue power cords), TODT pulls the plug on them. Mounted on mobile frames and articulated with cables, glide tracks, teleoptics, and calibration devices, these are fantastic mock-ups that have no actual murderous potential. Gleaming, polished, and meticulously assembled, they’re comically eviscerated, like the cannons that decorate American Legion parking lots. With its scythelike wheels and crossbows, Bow Bike evokes Persian war chariots, but its motorcycle frame transforms it into nothing more than a macho toy for a modern-day road warrior. Big Bomb resembles a missile in a war museum, reanimated by the rotating industrial-size fan that hums inside its undercarriage, as if in preparation for propulsion, reminding us how entertaining war games are until we push the red button.

In Womb Wars, 1989–95, a room-sized metal scaffolding with stairs and platforms, the subject is abortion, but TODT does not engage in polemics. Instead, it channels the viewer through its passageways, past light boxes that display views of autopsies and a steel chair in which the crotch of the seat meets a fountain of water, near which sits a pan filled with altered surgical instruments. Barrel Lift, 1992, puts yet another spin on contemporary genetic engineering: at one end of the barrel a magnifying lens is attached through which one can see a cleared and stained rat fetus, its translucent skin permitting a clear view of its internal organs.

TODT is heavy on metal, Plexiglas, light boxes, and huge magnifying lenses. There’s no whiff of postindustrial purity here except in Airwick, 1983, which comprises 480 gray discs, soaked in a solution to alter their smell and aligned on large square panels. The strange smell that emanates from this piece serves to reminds us how much we rely on artificial scents to cover the foul smells that are the by-product of our continued colonization of the natural environment.

Joan Seeman Robinson