Jasmina Cibic | An Atmosphere of Joyful Contemplation has to be one of the most powerfully expressive political artists working in Europe today.
How much she owes that to her origins in Slovenia – a small country which nonetheless in the last 150years was at the heart of all the major seismic political upheavals – can only be a matter for conjecture. That little country saw rule by Hapsburg tyranny, followed by the liberalism of the late 19th century Austro-Hungarian Empire; the collapse of liberalism caused by the rise of nationalism, of anti-semitism, extreme political movements, Nazism and Hitler, then Socialist block federalism, Market socialism under Tito, the break-up of Yugoslavia –and what now ? freedom? Neo liberalism? At her artist’s
It is at any rate precisely the relation between people, men and women, their desires and needs, art and architecture, nations and states that is at stake in her work.
The work drawing on all those sources is then so rich and layered in meaning and significance that we cannot fail to appreciate the textured environment mounted for her show @CCA through woven heavy curtains and layers of fabric creating an unexpectedly feminine environment for the study of nation and state building.
A trilogy of films are shown here under the rubric NADA –which means (in typically Cibic ambiguous fashion) at once ‘hope’ in Slovenian, and ‘nothing’ in Spanish. The three films are each centred on one important and symbolic national building by a recognised male architect, and in each film the female engagement with the nation or state is examined. The first action takes place as a dance in Arne Jacobsen’s Aarhus City Hall; the second musical examination uses the unrealised Yugoslavia Pavilion in the 1958 World Expo, and the final dramatic discussion takes place between three female artists in a Mies van der Rohe house. In each film the action thus unravels through a different art; respectively dance, music, then drama; such that we are encouraged to feel there is some sort of evolution, almost a Hegelian dialectic of politics, art, gender and architecture taking place which resolves on the highest plane of articulation through the dramatic speeches and discourses of the last film.
In this final film, with the text assembled, so we are told, from letters, speeches and transcripts of discussion that took place in Germany’s preparations for World Expo’s , the three female artists expatiate on how art can present , celebrate constitute and symbolise the state. This reminds us of nothing so much as Robert Musil’s great Viennese novel ‘A Man with No Qualities’ which depicted the moral and intellectual collapse of the Austro Hungarian Empire through endless bourgeois discussions on politics, art and aesthetics.
We soon realise that these conversations, as citations from archival sources, are not just stilted and unnatural, but are simply a series of juxtaposed enunciations by the characters. This turns out to be a new form for discussing cultural collapse which unlike Musil’s work is not discursive despite Cibic’s cleverness in concealing it within that form. It is in fact a series of propagandistic epigrams which lead us in turn to question whether anything can be articulated at all in these words. They have evident meaning, but are they –Cibic seems to ask us – like the sculptures of women out front of those national buildings, too solid, too opaque, too sculptural to have specific significance? Are the women here again, as Cibic pointed out in her talk, just symbols for the state, merely a front, like the state architecture, to protect and seduce the nation into political order?
Ultimately in such a short review it is impossible to tease out all the layers of significance in such rich relationships as Cibic weaves between art, architecture, politics, the woman’s body and the nation and the state. This is art for a complex global political era and must be seen again and again to be appreciated in its depth.
Curated by Ainslie Roddick