Paula Asecas My art has to involve the observer actively in order to be effective… in order to make them think.
By Mary Truong November 22nd, 2020
The feeling of human presence is ubiquitous in the artwork of Paula Asecas (aka Paula de Martino), who says, “I think bodies are political… My interest of study would be gender roles and avatars in relationships to bodies.” Presence does not necessarily indicate an active human body in the art; although Asecas is most known for her performative work, there are some pieces that only have ephemeral, phantom traces of a person: a interactive sculpture made of toys that plays a conversation about one of Asecas’ past romances; an installation altar where a deified, digital voice responds to a viewer’s questions/prayers. Even in artwork that actively includes herself, she is more interested in a representation rather than the physical body— an “alter ego” that creates some symbolic narrative within her work.
“How can you modify your body to become something else? How does this represent you?”
The most prominent example of Asecas’ exploration of avatars is a group of interdisciplinary works (first starting on Instagram) entitled “Chica del Cloro” (Clorox Girl). Much of the work revolves around Latin and South American “promoter” culture— young women who advertise brands, often through wearing sexually revealing clothing with the brand’s logos while encouraging people to try the brand’s products. Asecas created an alter ego that promotes Clorox, describing the persona as, “a person who is never satisfied, who has to be cleaner and cleaner all the time— perfect and even more perfect due to the demands of capitalism.” She then intertwined this idea of promoter culture with politics and pageantry, or more specifically, Cecilia Bolocco’s fame in relation to Pinochet’s dictatorship. After Bolocco won Miss Universe, she became representative of Chile to the international community, and as a friend of Pinochet, she became involved in endorsing Chile’s right-wing political world. “She was representing Chile to an international community of judges in the same way promoters represent brands to the people… Basically, sexualizing and objectivizing a woman helped consolidate the regime because she became a spokesperson for the government.”
And so these women consolidate the image of some larger force beyond them— the promoters become the part of the image of a larger corporation, Bolocco becomes a figure of a regime that tortured, killed, and disappeared thousands of people. And Asecas becomes an avatar that satirizes this dynamic, pointing out the dissonance between beauty and violence. At the same time, there is tension in how Asecas finds it empowering that women can benefit from taking on these avatars, like how a promoter can gain financial power through her body. “You cannot tell them no— they own their stuff… It is empowering as long as you are the one in charge.” But she does not deny that promoter culture contributes to a representation of women as perfect bodies to be consumed.
In the interactive sculpture and installation previously mentioned, the thing that represents Asecas is a piece of machinery, and an intimate interaction is created by how the viewer interacts with the artwork. To hear a fragment of Asecas’ life, you must physically touch the teddy bear that her lover once gave to her. You must speak to the altar before it (and she) speaks back to you. In these artworks, both Asecas and the viewer act performatively. To Asecas, having the viewer become an active participant in the artwork is “the future. The era where humans would just stop and look at something has passed… My art has to involve the observer actively in order to be effective, in order to make them think. It’s like trying to talk the same language as them.”
Asecas notes that she is interested in describing human relationships (“it’s the history of living”). In combination with her interest in avatars, perhaps her art can be summarized as explorations of how appearances affect relations to each other and within ourselves. In taking on an avatar, we have the power to craft our own image and influence our interactions with others. Yet as an avatar, we become alienated from ourselves. From a more feminist perspective, it is a question of the violence of representation— no matter how you depict a woman’s body, there are tradeoffs between authenticity and image-making, vulnerability and control. As Asecas puts on different masks within her artwork, she is charged with the task of confronting these questions.
See more from the artist at