A review of the Totem

Monday, 03 March 2014 10:10 Written by Carmen Rioja

Contemporary urban and rural tribes constantly create mythical signs to identify themselves. These signs have various functions, for belonging, power or equivalence. Throughout history, human beings have used mythical representations to exert their desire for sublimation, for connection with the supernatural, omnipotent and all related values.  One example is the Totem used by the Ojibwa tribe in North America. The sculptor Laura Begoña experiments with this field by recovering the Totem, giving the word a more universal meaning that does not only refer to the tribe’s other totems. The artist works from intuitive intelligence and uncovers totems that are unnoticed but relevant today, and suggests others, with a hint of sarcasm and a fortune-teller’s vision, as future signs of the tribe to which contemporary human beings belong.

The totem represents virtues, myths, tribal laws, and taboos, or can even destroy the taboo in itself. It thus emerges that monumental flaws are often related to exceptional virility, representations of animals with unusual strength, while other totems are dedicated to magical spirits or values such as wisdom, fertility and abundance.

Through the discourse of the sculpture in this exhibition, Laura Begoña approaches the totem from the standpoint of current reality. Some of her works have a cultural quality, such as the Heretic Totem, others a universal nature, such as the Sex Totem and Cosmos Totem, while others take the form of a desire or prayer for a better future as a coexisting species comprising millions of beings. This is the case of the Spring Tree Totem, which fuses the springs of a truck with the poetry of Nature. The totem is a sign that represents us, connects us as social beings and melds us together, and therefore comprises not only qualities of appearance and form, but also psychic elements connecting us with the supernatural, magic and the collective neurosis, as Freud wrote in Totem and Taboo. In other words, the totem not only represents but acts, as a magic agent connecting us with that which we cannot see, measure or verify, and brings us closer to the outside, ulterior vision that we wish to be, and also to that which is immediate yet profound and hidden in the collective subconscious. The totem, able to depict taboos, can indicate the neuroses of society. As a result, the artist’s intuition plays a crucial role, discovering and depicting the contemporary totems in our globalized reality.

It is no coincidence that a Corn Goddess Totem of a corn tortilla maker is on display,  reminding us that corn is the origin of Mesoamerican man in the pre-Hispanic world vision, since, according to Popol Vuh, men were fashioned from an ear of corn. Begoña presents a totem translated into contemporary language, made with tortilla manufacturing presses, a product of the industrial revolution that is modern yet already fading into time and  being replaced by tortilla factories.

As viewers are faced with Begoña’s sculptures, there is scope for their imagination. They can reflect at length on the place of concepts such as cosmos, sex and migration in universal thinking. There is great aesthetic pleasure in the objects Begoña creates from old iron implements, for whom they are the pieces of an enormous puzzle.

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