Everything That You Desire and Nothing That You Fear
October 25, 2018 – March 3, 2019
“The real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the workings of institutions that appear to be both neutral and independent, to criticize and attack them in such a manner that the political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.”
― Michel Foucault 
A magician’s stagecraft and dextrous sleight-of-hand is effectively employed by this Slovenian artist to lure her viewers into immersive environments meant to edify, instruct -- and delight the eye. In sculpture, performance and installation, Jasmina Cibic builds labyrinthine constructs that offer viewers varying levels of accessibility and multiple points of ingress and egress. More importantly, she offers an overarching experience that is more than mere divertissement.
Last summer, Montreal celebrated a memorable 50th anniversary, that of Expo 67, an event permanently etched in the memories of schoolchildren and other strangers. The world’s fair catapulted Montreal into the firmament internationally. In the present exhibition, created expressly for DHC/ART’s two capacious gallery spaces in Old Montreal, Cibic investigates the connection between the former nation of Yugoslavia and its participation in world exhibitions, including Expo 67. The well-chiselled set-pieces, theatrical flourishes and deft dramatic licence of her performances entice, and they serve her deeper purpose effectively: a critique of the state-sanctioned art and architectural projects of 20th-century Europe and after as well as the statecraft and systems of control that underlie and animate them.
The exhibition is notable for its scope and grandeur. It bears the apt title Everything That You Desire and Nothing That You Fear, one drawn from the political dialogue and contracts formalized during the planning stages of Expo 67 as to what each country would exhibit to a global audience. Expo 67 was notably the last international exhibition at which the former Yugoslavia had a pavilion prior to its disappearance in the 1990s.
That disappearance becomes the anamorphic prism through which Cibic focuses on eastern European modernism with remarkable specificity. For her, being an artist does not mean being an historian, but a critic of historicism. Her aim is to create new meaning from old architectural tropes and the institutionalized rhetoric of propaganda itself.
The artist made brilliant conceptual use of the DHC’s two very different buildings as staging areas to dramatize and contrast private domestic space and state-sanctioned, ideologically stained public structures. The four-storey building at 451 Saint-Jean was transformed into the idealized dwelling of an unnamed collector who has hoarded invented artefacts from the four Yugoslavian Expo pavilions in the last century (Expo 67 being the final one). On the top floor, she screened a film that documents the riveting on-stage performance of a female magician whose vanishing body is a surrogate and allegory for the disappearing nation-state itself.
In the other gallery spaces at 465 Saint-Jean, Cibic built a cinematic space around the Yugoslavian Pavilion at Expo 67, presenting Nada (“hope” in Croatian), her most recent film trilogy that was developed in concert with the Kunstmuseen Krefeld, Aarhus, the European Capital of Culture 2017, and the MSU Zagreb. Dilating with brio and precision on the construction of national identity, she examines and disentangles the sociopolitical web of relationships of culture and the immanent power techniques that play a role in its gestation.
Cibic approached this project ambitiously, analytically and with the mind-set of an architect. She explored the salient archive from top to bottom and back again, searching for thematic high points and signature latent systems of control. Melding a methodological uncovering of historical lacunae and repurposing governmental strategies within her own performative practice, she shed unsparing light on the nature of statecraft.
She has a flair for decoding hidden mechanisms of power and goes toe-to-toe with the mandarins, co-opting their techniques and instituting new allegorical models in their stead. The exploration is performative and revelatory. She knows that she has to stake a potent claim on her viewers before catapulting them into the depths. She creates complex pieces of high theatre that are never overburdened by theory or bloated with too much information. She uses a sophisticated mimicry of methodologies of so-called ‘soft power’ to seduce her viewers, who are attracted to the spectacle and become complicit in the making of new meaning not through coercion but the prospect of cultural epiphany. From exploring the archive in vertical depth, and finessing scenography and choreography and everything in between, Cibic makes something new and powerful.
Her work is topical and pressing. Her sleight-of-hand aesthetic practice is based on an archaeological exploration of precisely how and why art, architecture and political rhetoric are all instrumentalised in the name of the nation-state. This critique of instrumentality and power relations is at the heart of her work. It further addresses the current condition of rising nation-states with an insistent criticality that is almost fervent in tenor. She interrogates modernist architectures with an eye to uncovering the hidden agendas of those they serve. Critics have noted that her work draws on what Marc Augé referred to as “non-places”, but she is also, and perhaps more importantly, a student of Michel Foucault and his analytics of power relations. As Foucault once famously noted: “Where there is a power relation, there is resistance”. 
Cibic, a feminist of no small theatrical persuasion, embodies such resistance in her elegantly fashioned critiques of the oppressive patriarchal structures upon which 20th-century modernism was built. Her work is, then, hugely reparative, dilating with criticality on how the female presence was wiped clean away in the patriarchal constructions of eastern European modernism and effectively recovering and foregrounding it here. WM
1. Michel Foucault, The Chomsky—Foucault Debate: On Human Nature (New York: The New Press, 2006), p. 41.
2. Michel Foucault, The Will to Knowledge (London: Penguin, 1998), pp. 95-96.
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James D. Campbell is a curator and writer on art based in Montreal. The author of over 150 books and catalogues on art, he contributes essays and reviews to Frieze, Border Crossings and other publications.