Jasmina Cibic: Topical Devices

This exhibition represents a concise moment in Jasmina Cibic’s current practice. A distillation of recent research into a specific objective arrangement, it is simultaneously a fragment of a much larger project, and yet complete as an iteration of the whole. At its centre stands that most pervasive figure in art history, the female nude. Cibic’s films, photographs and installations are often populated by female figures. Sometimes speaking, sometimes mute, they dance, decorate and proclaim, acting as mouthpieces through which intricately researched tracts on the nature of power, aesthetics and statecraft pour forth. These ciphers are always formed by that which they appear to represent, even when the contents of their rhetoric is contradictory and garbled. They follow in the dubious tradition of the allegorical female, descendants of stately mother nations. The certainties of those great ages of nation-building gone, the trace and the archive here replace the sound and the fury in a double-game. Key to Cibic’s work is her ability to play with fragmentation – highlighting basic ”building blocks”, be it in language, design or architecture, and representing them in isolation. Upon encountering the quarantined fragments, the spectator cannot help but attempt to reconstruct them, to imagine them in their original formation, and in doing so encounter the foundation of ideological and political thought. Each element speaks of its place of origin, and is infused with a variable effective half-life, charged with former ideologies that only deplete in potency over time. The elements that make up this particular constellation derive their sources from three historical structures. This first is Dragiša Brašovan’s pavilion for the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, built for the occasion of the 1929 Barcelona World Exposition, which according to legend received the first prize at the Exposition. Due to political intrigue it subsequently lost that honour to the German Pavilion and its architect Mies Van der Rohe. The female nude that stands at the centre of this exhibition is taken from the pavilion’s entrance, here remodelled based on fragmentary and incomplete photographic documentation. It replaces the original whilst contradicting it, resurrecting this problematic emblem at the same time as overwriting it. The second site of reference is the Former Palace of the Federation in Belgrade, from which a tapestry has been co-opted and ‘mass-produced’. As Brašovan’s nude, repurposed and re-contextualized by Cibic stands with the crypto-permanence embodied in its art-historical form, the repetitive facsimiles that background it fade as their historical potency depletes. Elsewhere we see their fixity restored in photographs of the Former Palace, distant in their documentary clarity, yet alluring by way the allegorical females placed in front of them. The third site is another structure designed to sell Yugoslavia’s European potential. Now a republic, it modeled itself as a leading nation in the Non-Aligned Movement. In Cibic’s film NADA: Act I, Vjenceslav Richer’s original design for the 1958 Brussels World Exposition is realised, complete with its censored spire, albeit in the guise of a musical instrument. Once strung, a variation on Béla Bartók’s Magnificient Mandarin is performed. It was this controversial pantomime ballet that was chosen by the Yugoslav Republic to represent it to the international audience on the Nations’ Day in Brussels. Gathering together these symbols and iconographies, Cibic’s projects present a synthesis of gesture, stagecraft and re-enactment. Instantiated in films and installations, hers is also an ongoing performative practice, an ‘enacted’ exercise in the dissection of statecraft. Her multilayered approach draws together primary sources and falsified narratives. This willful overwriting creates shifting meanings and highlights historical uncertainties and untruths, especially in the gendering of the past. Cibic plays a double-game, at once decoding mechanisms of power whilst building her own exemplary allegorical structures. Hers is a practice that addresses the ways in which visual language, art, architecture, and rhetoric are deployed and instrumentalised by political regimes, before investigating what happens to these fragments when the ideologies they endorse collapse.