Installation view and details
View and details of Anna Bella Geiger's installation "Circa", mounted at the 2019 Istanbul Biennale.
installation "Circa",
View and details of the installation “Circa”, by Anna Bella Geiger, mounted at the 2019 Istanbul Biennale. Photo: Gabriela de Laurentiis.






By Gabriela de Laurentiis

“Everyone knows cities were made to be destroyed”. These words stuck in my thoughts about the work Circa, mounted by artist Anna Bella Geiger at the 16th Istanbul Biennale. Circa brings semantic and poetic meanings of an uncertain time, something that happened for which there are no precise dates. Geiger produces an installation in which ephemeral constructions – made of sand, dry cement, earth – and prefabricated objects are combined, such as a small replica of a Bauhaus house, a train and pieces of glass that form a swimming pool. There is also a video built in conversation with the opera akhnaten by Philip Glass.

The first installation of the work was carried out as part of the Breathing Project (2006), at Casa Museu Fundação Eva Klabin, Rio de Janeiro, curated by Marcio Doctors. The choice of materials makes the work gain, with each assembly, unique characteristics. Among the specifics of the Istanbul montage are the white sand roads, inspired by the areas seen during the trip from Brazil to Turkey: “I noticed these roads in the middle of the desert. This road layout I had not done in any of the previous installations”, says Anna Bella Geiger. 

Poetic elaborations based on maps, architecture and spatiality are remarkable in Geiger's artistic practice. In Circa, these discussions take the form of a fantastic/ghostly city with temporal-spatial configurations detached from linear periodizations. For researcher and artist Ana Hortides, who made a series of montages of the work, including the one for the Istanbul Biennale, “Circa presents a kind of city that mixes, at first sight, different cultures and temporal spaces in a situation of ruins, or apparently, close to collapse”.

View and details of the installation “Circa”, by Anna Bella Geiger, mounted at the 2019 Istanbul Biennale. Photo: Gabriela de Laurentiis.

The fragility of the material and the dismantled architectural constructions bring a sense of destruction, of a territory being devastated. Geiger recalls that the first construction of Circa it was wrapped in the imagery of the Occupation of Iraq – which had taken place three years earlier – intensifying, through words, the sensations of devastation operated by the forms and materials of the installation.

The meanings of the work expand in the situation of the Istanbul Biennale, which, curated by Nicolas Bourriaud, bears the title The Seventh Continent. The expression refers to a floating area in the Pacific Ocean of three million four hundred thousand square kilometers made up of seven million tons of plastic.

The impacts of human action in catastrophic dimensions within the framework of the Anthropocene – a concept by researchers Paul Crutzen and Eugene Stoermer to name the Geological Age, the effect of human action on the globe – or the Capitalocene – as proposed by Andreas Malm, are underway at the Istanbul Biennale. politically dimensioning these contemporary issues1. The wars motivated by economic interests intertwined with religious problems, the impacts on the infrastructure of basic resources and on the existing ways of life in different regions of the planet make up the contemporaneity. Circa brings that dimension.

The work was mounted in the building designed by Emre Arolat, which from 2020 will house the Istanbul Museum of Painting and Sculpture. There, among other works, the video The fish (2016), by Jonathas de Andrade from Alagoas. Entering the building, it is impossible to disregard the views from the numerous windows. Of the vast majority of them, what you can see on the outside are workers, scaffolding and unfinished structures. A construction site is formed amid the waters of the Bosphorus, buildings and mosques, which make up the landscape of the region,  currently undergoing a major redevelopment project.

Architect and artist Laura Nakel says that “the transformation of the old Warehouse No. 5 on the edge of the Karaköy region in Museu shares characteristics with large recent developments, such as Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires, Porto Maravilha in Rio de Janeiro and the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town”.

View and details of the installation “Circa”, by Anna Bella Geiger, mounted at the 2019 Istanbul Biennale. Photo: Gabriela de Laurentiis..

Production Circa in this place, it has the effect of questioning the relationships between the inside and outside of the Museum. The ruined city of Geiger makes one think of the buildings of Istanbul and vice versa. As Geiger recalls, Circa deals with “questions related to spirituality, memory, history and stories, in a dimension of a space-time that extends”. In the city of Istanbul, all these issues resurface in the very structuring of urban space, sometimes in catastrophic dimensions. Nakel recalls that in the region of the Museum there is “a process that began in the 1990s, in which galleries and art collectives occupy the old abandoned warehouses, initiating a process of gentrification in the region, intensified with the arrival of large private investors”.

In the crossing between continents, however, the constructions of Circa gain another layer of possibility: of a hopeful transformation. For Hortides, “the inclusion of a wet, alive and apparently fertile land makes the passage of time contain a little more hope in what is to come in the Istanbul Biennale, a harbinger of construction and transformation, despite the catastrophes” . Anna Bella Geiger, with her journeys through uncertain times, makes us imagine multiple and agonistic spaces, elaborating a vibrant and alive poetics.


¹ Bourriaud, N.”The Seventh Continet: These Upon Art In The Age Of Global Warming”. In Seventh Continent. Catalog of the 16th Istanbul Biennale. Istanbul, 2019. P.47.

*Gabriela De Laurentiis is a visual artist and researcher. She is the author of the book Louise Bourgeois and Feminist Ways of Creating. She has a degree in Social Sciences at PUC-SP and a master's degree from the Department of Cultural History at UNICAMP. She is currently a doctoral student at FAU-USP, with research on Anna Bella Geiger, about whom she writes for this issue.

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