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Exhibition at S.M.A.K. provides an insight into Teresa Burga's conceptual work from the 1970s
Teresa Burga, Borges, 1974 / 2017 (detail). 51 drawings, musical score and sound installation, Courtesy the artist and Galerie Barbara Thumm, Berlin.

GHENT.- Teresa Burga (1935, Iquitos, Peru) commenced her activities in 1960s Peru as a pop artist and later turned to conceptual art. In this given context, she seemed to be doomed to remain invisible or to quickly fade into oblivion: she was an artist, a woman and Peruvian under a military regime, and a rebel in a traditional patriarchal system. In addition, her work did not have the figurative, folkloric character that was expected, but was conceptual, immaterial and leaned more towards academic research than free artistic imagination.

In 1966-67, Teresa Burga was a member of Arte Nuevo (New Art), a group of artists that radically redrew the artistic map of Peru. Following two years at the Art Institute of Chicago with a Fulbright Scholarship (1968-70), she returned to Peru, where she became one of its first installation artists.

In the 1970s, Burga developed creative strategies and experimental processes based on information technology, scientific protocols and analytical concepts. Unlike many of her female contemporaries, who use the body as the symbolic core of their committed examination of reality, Burga’s work took the form of extensive reports, meticulous diagrams and designs for absurd machines. She documented actions from the past, formulated instructions for future projects and quantified entities like her body, poems or social groups in accordance with strict codes.

Although she was not openly political, through her unorthodox practice she questioned aspects of modern society such as visual representation in mass culture, the automation and bureaucratisation of work and leisure, and woman’s identity. Burga clearly distanced herself from any personal style. She saw art as an open process in which artists formulate proposals that the viewer can complete by adding meaning.

Despite the fact that her work was never really understood in Peru, Burga succeeded in mounting several exhibitions there until the 1980s. After that she continued drawing and developing projects without interruption, though she then stored her work in boxes that remained closed for thirty years. In about 2010 she was rediscovered and her work was shown in several international exhibitions, including the Istanbul Biennale (2011), the Venice Biennale (2015) and the travelling exhibition Radical Woman: Latin American Art, 1960-1985 (2017-18).

The exhibition at S.M.A.K. is intended to provide an insight into Teresa Burga’s conceptual work on the basis of the installations 4 Mensagjes (1974) and Borges (1974), plus several drawings and objects from the 1970s. There is a particular focus on the experiments with the coded rendering of language and on projects on the topics of rhythm and the passing of time.

1 The exhibition title refers to an interview with Teresa Burga that was published under the same heading in the peruvian magazine 'Correo' (17 July 1972, p. 23)

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