Barbara Thumm

Teresa Burga

02 Jun - 04 Aug 2012

A method of constructing subjectivity
2 June - 4 August 2012

To this day, the work of Teresa Burga (Iquitos, 1935) holds an exceptional position within Latin American discourse on art. From the 1960s onwards, Burga developed her pop and conceptual art in a country that was ruled by a nationalist military regime between 1968 and 1980, and thus at first she had to overcome significant obstacles in order to exhibit and become known. Accordingly, her artistic endeavours took a path parallel to populist demands of the time for a "Peruvian national" art. On this parallel course, in an extensive series of drawings, sketches and installations completed during the 1970s, Burga developed her method of constructing subjectivity using gestures and repetition.

Her most important exhibition of this time was Autorretrato. Estructura. Informe. 9.6.72 (Self-portrait. Structure. Report. 1972). In this wide-ranging project, the artist used her own body to create a medical map of herself – using drawings of her profile and photographs of her face, an ECG and a light that displayed her cardiac function, and a biochemical haemanalysis. Despite the fact that the project was received very sceptically in Lima, it is wi- thout doubt one of the greatest artistic ventures of its time. Autorretrato not only was and is an ironic reflection on the traditional, pictorial concept of the "self-portrait", but also engages critically with processes that seek to standardise the subject. Thus Burga's work emphasises the impossibility of thinking of the body as a biological reality without including the scientific methods that in a sense construct and legalise its representation.

From the 1960s, Burga increasingly made views of the female body the focus of her work and thus questioned the role of women – and that in a country where women had been excluded from political life up until the mid-20th century. Even in her first sculptures and pop art projects, Burga's approach was provocative, staging the female body using objects and furniture – such as beds, for example – and thus creating an ironic picture of women in patriarchal society. Her last project Perfil de la Mujer Peruana (Profile of the Peruvian Woman, 1980-1981), carried out together with the psychologist Marie-France Cathelat, took a similar approach: Burga and Cathelat designed a study and a survey of middle-class women between the ages of 24 and 29, captured the results in an exhibition and a book and thus created a sociological study of the imbalance between the sexes in Peru.

However, Burga's work does not only encourage us to think about the links between sexuality, publicity and power in Peru. During those years, the artist also created a series of drawings that were never exhibited. These are characterised by motifs reminiscent of fantastic buildings or machines that repeat themselves again and again. The artist has added meticulous details on the time of production to many of these works – both an ironic com- ment on the formulaic nature of conceptual art and simultaneously a reflection of modern work processes and the increasing bureaucratisation of life.
Burga's work casts a critical and sarcastic eye on the way that people's everyday lives are schematised, categorised and supervised in societies of control. Her drawings and installations reveal not only how technology replaces the human, but also how it influences and shapes current processes of socialisation: where life becomes increasingly lost between administrative procedures and trade in information.

Miguel A. Lopéz Lima, April 2012

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