Carmen Reategui

Visual Artist

From the colonial tribute to the liberating offering

The Incas believed that the skull trepanation Determined in each case
a new variety of potato.
And it is curious that in no other place there have been so many varieties of potato
as in Peru.
Or so many skulls trepanned.

Hyat Verril


There where POLITICS (our official politics) wounds and pursues and sidesteps and FRUSTRATES, ART (certain criticizing art) heals, remedies, makes fruitful, COMPLETES. That is the REPAIRING breath with which CARMEN REATEGUI performs, since years ago, an impressive artistic sequence of works offered, above all, as OFFERINGS.

Offering and Vassalage was exactly the defining title of one of those experiences, which now finds, in the great colonial PORT of CARTAGENA, its CULMINATING scenario. The precise space for the magnified display of the incisive FINDING of a French document of the 18th Century. The probable fragment of an economic treaty that is summarized in two parallel STATISTICAL charts. On the one hand, the COSTS and VALUES of the PRECIOUS metals (“of Gold and Silver) transferred from America to Spain. On the other hand, the differential PRICES of the merchandises submitted in reverse direction, as well as “their net PROFIT for the metropolis” (“leurs Produit net pour la Metropole”). The UNEQUAL and COMBINED exchange.

But this functional illustration of the modern SYSTEM-WORLD (Immanuel Wallerstein) does not take into account the hidden variables of the true value-added in the INEQUALITY: not the GROSS MATERIALS but rather the ORGANIC MATERIAL that revolutionized the cultural MISCEGENATION of the SYNCRETIC civilization that thus arose. Such as the POTATO, which Andean domestication configured an ECONOMIC achievement, a SOCIAL achievement, decisive for humanity: today our ESSENTIAL crop is the fourth in the planet and it projects itself as the main CALORIC weapon for the fight against HUNGER and extreme poverty.

In those hidden figures, there is a POETIC DISTURBANCE of the more superficial ACCOUNTING RECORDS. Such as those that in Carmen’s installations are seen as SUBVERTED by the mountain of carved potatoes that accumulate at the foot of the document. A telluric SPILL, a vegetable POTOSÍ transfigured into STONES. From HUAMANGA: the alabaster most identified with AYACUCHO, that “corner of the DEAD” (or perhaps of the SOULS). The Andean node of the Peruvian UNCIVIL WAR, our violences much too contemporary.

Here SUBLIMATED: there is an almost FUNEREAL purity in the accumulation of lithicwhites that are also gray. But there is also a mystical and MESIANIC desire in the glare of the GOLDEN coating of some of the royal tubers intertwined among the marbles: the botanical gold, the oneiric EL DORADO.

A shining allegory of the RANSOM ROOM, filled by the Inca Atahualpa of precious metals in exchange of a FREEDOM that, nevertheless, was DENIED to him. The foun- dational DECEIPT of the Peruvian history, which thus becomes COLONY of the EM- PIRE built with its tributes, as the document coldly shows.

We can read here, if we so desire, the endless chronicle of the SPOILS and the LOOTING. Of the VASSALAGE. But we also manage to intuit an OFFERING. To the earth that is REBORN.

One thinks of, at a distance, the MYSTICAL insinuations behind the suggestive analogies between FOOD and CONSCIOUSNESS, between NATURE and CULTURE, explored since 1970 by Victor Grippo through the REVELATION –the ACTIVATION- of the electricity suspended in potatoes that are exhibited solitary or in shapeless heaps or in geometric grilles. The connotations of all that was more often than not explicitly ANCESTRAL (the epigraph of this text comes from one of her works), but at the same time radically CURRENT. And of an IMPLOSIVE political charge: an IMPLICIT, INTROSPECTIVE criticality, aware of its own, but hidden, energies. Of its LATENCIES.

The INVERTED polarities of an also ritual art. As in the curled up body of the MUMMIES that the ancient ones prepared in a fetal position for their burial, for their SOWING in the earth’s humid belly. MALLKI: cadaver, fetus and seed condensed into one and only Quechua word. As in the marble, and vegetable and golden and AURATIC tubers of Carmen Reátegui, destined to a disseminating and fruitful PUTREFACTION.

TRANSFORMATIVE: from the COLONIAL tribute to the LIBERATING offering.

Gustavo Buntinx