Rio de Janeiro

Anna Bella Geiger

Paço Imperial

This exhibition, “Obras em Arquipélago” (Works in Archipelago), addressed how the language of maps and cosmological charts with which Anna Bella Geiger has been preoccupied since the ’60s could be extended to the “geography” of the human body. The artist has called that confluence “anthropomorphic cartography.” Juxtaposed with “camouflage” prints from the ’70s and paintings from the ’80s and ’90s loosely inspired by Mondrian’s “Pier and Ocean” series, 1914–15, was the recent “Fronteiriços” (Borderlines), 1995–, a series that takes the form of a sort of fantastic archive. Setting the tone for the whole exhibition, these works blur the boundaries between specific geographic territories and imaginary lands in a manner similar to the way magic realism mixes everyday reality and the fantastic. The “Fronteiriços” are made of old metal filing-cabinet drawers filled with hardened wax, onto which the artist inserted cookie-cutter forms in corrugated metal foil, often shaped to the contours of the map of Brazil. (In 1975 Geiger distributed cookies cut from similar forms at her exhibition at the Museu de Arte Moderna in Rio—before she was stopped by the museum staff.) Some of those works have metal springs and wires crisscrossing the drawer as if to simulate the network of meridians, and images grafted on the surface of the wax, such as a drawing of an arm made after Leonardo da Vinci. They reflect the artist’s interest in dissecting space (and body) in order to engage in an investigation of the structure of the unseen, as both an aesthetic and a political phenomenon.

References to other artists, from Nadar and Matisse to Duchamp and Beuys, were evident throughout the show. In a set of five collages entitled “Rrose Sélavy, mesmo” (Rrose Sélavy, Even), 1997–2000, Duchamp’s portrait in drag is superimposed on pages from newspapers in various languages, creating accidental juxtapositions of images and texts in which the French artist’s photograph serves as a camouflage printed over political reports. The exhibition also included ten minutes of footage from Geiger’s conversation with Beuys in New York in 1975, during which the Brazilian artist “interrogated” her German colleague about the meaning of tribalism. At a climactic moment in the interview, Beuys proclaimed that the world had finally become democratic, thus making a statement that totally contradicted the then-current situation in Brazil. As an astute commentator on the frequent indifference of the art establishment to the political fate of the peripheries, Geiger has often pointed to the fact that for Duchamp and Beuys ideologies seemed to be suspiciously amorphous.

Geiger belongs to a generation of Brazilians who endured extensive political and economic hardship, which has made her fully aware of the importance and pitfalls of producing art with political overtones. Her interest in politics might be described (to use Roland Barthes’s expression) as “discreet, but obsessed.” While critical interrogation is a vital part of Geiger’s outlook on life, she treats art as a reflective endeavor to draw an inclusive mappa mundi, on which Brazil occupies a central position as a heterogeneous “planet” magically yet very concretely floating out there.

Marek Bartelik