Marinés Agurto: Lima’s gap between ruin & construction
Marinés Agurto is a Peruvian artist now based in Bilbao, but she looks back at her home country & its capital, Lima, to think about heritage, materiality & values through her sculptural works. Tristana Perroncel visited the artist to talk about these connections & the gap between ruin & construction.

Cities, much like sentences, possess their own unique grammar, becoming increasingly complex over time. By delving deeply into the realms of urban spaces and site identity, Peruvian artist Marinés Agurto explores the intricacies of cities. She refers to them as a palimpsest similar to an old manuscript, where layers of time remain visible even after centuries of evolution and transformation. Agurto's objective is to grasp the architectural essence that shapes a city and bring to light its inconsistencies, reminding us of the significance of adhering to nature's principles where every element is constructed in harmony with its surroundings and environment.

"In Lima, where I was born and raised,” the artist explains, “it is important to mention that the contrast between ruin and construction is a gap that signals an immense distance from something that should be preserved as a connection of temporalities, as part of development itself.”

In the Peruvian capital of today, a large part of the city’s narrative hides within its walls. While some historic ruins stand out amongst more modern buildings, much of its story – like its pre-Columbian hydraulic constructions – is now concealed under concrete, in great ignorance of many of its inhabitants. It is a story crafted without consideration for what existed before.

With consideration to this, Agurto seeks to question and create new connections between past and contemporary processes in her work. Instead of erasing the past, she reaffirms the value of organic structures and aims to initiate a dialogue that reconnects us with our environment.

fig.i - Marines Agurto, Ruta: entre ruina y regeneración at Galería Impakto, Lima, Perù, 2019.

Before the colonisation of Peruvian cities, old civilisations used techniques of building inspired by nature, as explored through Ruta: entre ruina y regeneración (Route: between ruin and regeneration), a 2019 installation of Agurto's work at Lima’s Galería Impakto that reflects this idea of historical consciousness. With great delicacy, the artist denounces the homogenisation of our environment and the eradication of ancient traditions by revaluing ancestral techniques in her work. “This context has influenced the content of my work and has led me to reflect on the materials that I find in each of the historical layers,” the artist says of her archaeological reading of place.

Her exhibition is a visual reflection on the challenges and dilemmas of our societies, at a time when the fragility of our natural and cultural heritage is increasingly exposed to the destructive forces of modernity and globalisation. However, this interest in history is not only concerned with the past, but also with the present and the future. “I am interested in investigating contemporary archaeological remains in relation to a specific identity,” Agurto explains, “in particular, the process that involves the erosion of that identity over time.”

fig.ii - Marines Agurto, Catarata.

Marinés Agurto recognises the existential inevitability of our historical condition, and sees it as a challenge rather than a burden. In Ruta: entre ruina y regeneración, she addresses the destruction and decomposition of our environment and cultural traditions, while also elevating obsolete designs as worthy of consideration in contrast to the standardisation of more modern constructions. Agurto says that this “challenges the rigidity of thinking that believes that contemporary architecture is about a flat wall with no texture, rather than seeing environmental change as a real-time outcome.”

Across the various exhibited artworks, an approach of blending plants and soil with concrete reinforces the artist’s desire to find balance between the inert matter of our technological culture and more natural forces, growing and changing the rigid modern structure over time. Agurto is acutely aware of the ecological crisis that threatens our existence and the fragile equilibrium that connects us to the natural world. In her exploration of the pre-Hispanic irrigation canals, specifically the irrigation canals in Lima and the so-called puquios in Nazca, Agurto reveals the intricate relationship between nature and architecture, between human intervention and natural cycles.

fig.iii - Marines Agurto, Luz Blanca (2017).

Luz Blanca (2017) is a noteworthy work by Agurto, showcasing the intersection of nature and culture in Lima. The sculpture revolves around two distinctive components, both of which are emblematic of Lima's cultural heritage. Its base is a transit booth, while inside the structure stands a group of San Pedro cactuses, a species that has been revered since pre-Hispanic times for medicinal properties. In ancient Peru, nature was a sacred entity, and urban planning revolved around creating a harmonious coexistence between man and nature. This concept of heritage contrasts to a present-day urban chaos that plagues Lima, a juxtaposition the installation seeks to address. By placing the San Pedro cactus at the forefront of the installation, Luz Blanca acknowledges the plant's significance as a guide and healer, the composition also emphasising the importance of nature as a guiding force in a world that become increasingly disconnected from it.

Similar to Ruta: entre ruina y regeneración, Luz Blanca explores the interplay between ancient and modern urban planning techniques, or in Agurto’s words: “The continuous state of change when objects made by humanity have permanent contact with the elements of nature and somehow after a long journey they return to their natural state.” Through this statement, the artist encourages us to contemplate our connection with the natural world and our cultural legacy. She challenges us to question the question of progress and encourages the valorisation for the wisdom of our ancestors in their coexistence with nature.

fig.iv - Marines Agurto, Muro de Contención (2017).

Agurto’s 2017 work Muro de Contención (Retaining Wall) is also a striking example of the complex relationship between nature and urbanisation. Composed of woven junco panels encased in cement-coated drywall, the installation explores the morphology of its elements while maintaining a consistent materiality. In this way, it embodies an alternative vision of urban construction, one that honours and respects the natural world, the interplay between the woven junco and the cement resulting in a visually arresting juxtaposition that forces the viewer to consider the relationship between the built environment and the natural world.

At the centre of the installation lies a linear web of junco connections that create a contained space within the larger volume of concrete. Visitors are invited to explore this space, bending, and contorting their bodies to move through the narrow openings between the junco panels. By venturing into the artwork, viewers become actives observers, coming close to the materials and the connections between them. This incitation to interact shows the interest of the artist for others to understand the contrasts of human creations and their lack of involvement with the environment.

In this way, she prompts us to reevaluate our connection with both nature and the city. By revealing the existing tension between the pre-Columbian past and the contemporary urban landscape, this installation confronts us to the ways in which our constructed environment impacts the natural environment. The artist describes this as an act of “questioning the Western notion of evolutionary progress and investigating the pre-colonial past in search of the elaboration of systems of intuition, construction and creation that involve an environmentally sustainable vision." This artwork invites us to take the time to understand the complex systems that underpin the city. It’s only then that we can better capture and contain the processes of urbanisation, creating a more sustainable and harmonious relationship between nature and architecture.

fig.v - Marines Agurto, Constelación I (2023).

Marinés Agurto currently resides in Bilbao, where she currently works at cultural producers BilbaoArte, while her last project was developed at a 2023 residency at La Escocesa, an artist-led arts organisation in Sant Martí, Barcelona. The artist values this residency model of making work, explaining that “by staying for significant periods in some of the cities I have known, the sense of working on a site-specific basis has become even stronger. This relationship has broadened my perspective and at the same time has allowed me to continue considering the concepts of interest regarding the identity of my work in a different environment.”

For the project last year, Marinés pursued her investigations on architecture, history, and identity developing a series of works titled Constelaciones (Constellations). She perceives construction and building as living, organic systems where components gradually detach from their main structures over time. These detached elements leave marks or signs on the building’s surfaces, revealing data and information on the layers of history hidden within a place. “Evidence of that process manifests itself when it emerges from the depths and is exposed to reveal the current presence of a rewritten record in history,” says the artist, adding “… much like a palimpsest.”

This comparison reflects that history is continuously rewritten and these marks from past constructions on the surface witnesses an ongoing process of change and transformation, often concealed beneath the surface until uncovered by those who dig into nearly invisible layers of time.

The artist constructs a living historical record through her journeys along the streets, where she collected the architectural elements that made up the sculptures, including the iron and rubble of th constellations. Through this act, the past and present merge on the surface of structures, weaving a new narrative about a place. Often, we see architecture as flat and lifeless, but she emphasises its role in shaping a place’s identity through erosion and time, incorporating found elements into her circular approach to space, volume, and materials, while acknowledging their decay as a testament to the passage of time. The artist’s collection of material from the city’s streets could be considered a kind of ritualistic journey that reflects an introspective exploration of urban history.

fig.v - Marines Agurto, Constelación I (2023).

Agurto states that “this primitive act implies an evolutionary progress, giving meaning to a communication network that connects us with our environment, taking into account that human beings are in relationship with what surrounds us and that influences our sensations.” As such, the artist visions her art as a means of connecting with human history, the environment, and human emotions, highlighting the vital interaction between people and their built surroundings.

The term Constelaciones plays a central role in this project, grouping architectural element from different periods, stages, and styles into meaningful constellations. To do so, Marinés disassembles and reassembles these parts, breathing new life into them and generating a renewed source of energy. This approach aligns with her vision of architecture as an organic, ever-changing system where the architecture's journey through time is also one to the path of life itself.

Maria Agurto was born in Lima, Peru, in 1984. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts focusing on sculpture from the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru in 2011. Her work has been shown at various exhibitions and festivals in Lima.


fig.i Marines Agurto, Ruta: entre ruina y regeneración at Galería Impakto, Lima, Perù, 2019. Photo © Dana Bonilla/Juan Pablo Murrugarra.
fig.ii Marines Agurto, Catarata. Cubos de 2x2", 4x4" & 6x6", 1.03x1.13x0.95m. Photo © Dana Bonilla/Juan Pablo Murrugarra.
fig.iii Marines Agurto, Luz Blanca (2017). Group of San Pedro cacti planted in soil inside an original metal transit hut (1950, Lima), 3.30x1m. Photo © Edi Hirose.
fig.iv Marines Agurto, Muro de Contención (2017). Junco tejido a través de paneles de drywall recubiertos en cemento
3x5x2.5m. Photo © Dana Bonilla.
fig.v Marines Agurto, Constelación I (2023). Iron & rubble, 62x83x78cm. Marines Agurto, Constelación I (2023). Iron & rubble, 62x83x78cm.

publication date
14 January 2024

Marinés Agurto, Archaeology, BilbaoArte, Cactuses, Cities, Construction, Colonisation, Galería Impakto, Heritage, History, Junco, La Escocesa, Lima, Material, Organic, Tristana Perroncel, Urban, Palimpsest, Peru, Puquios, Ruin, Sculpture, Transformation