In a recent interview, Teresa Burga recalls the revulsion that she has always felt about oil painting: “I have loathed oil paint all my life because it’s sticky, it’s dirty, and it never dries because Lima is very humid. So you needed to take a dryer or a heater to your studio. [...] I did not have any patience to be waiting for that oil paint to dry, so that I could put on the second layer, everything would get dirty.”
When she was still quite young, Burga moved from her hometown of Iquitos in the Peruvian rainforest to the capital city of Lima, where she completed her art studies at the Universidad Catolica de Lima in 1964. She began her path toward a more experimental art practice by replacing her traditional medium of oil painting with a modern, fast-drying medium, such as latex. In the mid to late 1960s, she took a more radical step, replacing her own hand in the production of a given work by delegating the actual painting to others. This can be seen in her series of cubes and prisms, for example— works with a strong Pop accent that change depending on audience participation. So if the works “came out nice, it was by pure chance,” as Burga affirms.
It is this same spirit of a sustained critique of artistic authorship that made Burga one of the pioneers of conceptualist practices in Latin America. Since the beginning she has produced a series of drawings of “time,” annotating each drawing with a meticulously drawn record of the duration it took her to produce it, including breaks taken during the process. It is worth noting that most of these drawings are faithful copies of original images drawn from various sources—advertisements, flyers, posters, and instruction manuals, for example—and with subjects as different as theater plays, police reports, cartoons, female items, or characters of the day.
Burga’s Drawings with Eyes Closed (1974) take her countervisuality strategies, already present in the “duration drawings,” to another extreme. These works create a disjunction between producer and receiver, and question the relationship between the contemplated and the imagined. Burga has consistently structured her work around this countervisual program, which is also reflected in her pioneering feminist works such as Autoretrato. Estructura. Informe. 06/09/72 (1972) and Perfil de la mujer peruana (1980–1981). Other works, such as Estructuras de aire (1970) or Paisaje urbano (1978–1979), should be read not as language labs or institutional critiques in the North American sense, but as sensory experiments with concepts.
More recently, Burga has been making a series of drawings that are “direct” copies of drawings made by children. The technique is simple but the time and labor are demanding: From the outlines of a reference image the artist carefully fills in the shapes with dots. The technique alludes to pointillism but more specifically refers to the so-called Benday dots used to create photomechanical prints. She thus ironically performs deskilling (the progressive loss of job skills) and the consequent reversal of hierarchies of labor subordination.