The Suble Art of Seduction

December 3, 2018

Jasmina Cibic: Movements is a tool designed by DHC/ART Education to encourage in-depth explorations of key concepts evoked by the works presented in Jasmina Cibic: Everything That You Desire and Nothing That You Fear.

Context: Soft Power

The 1958 Brussels Expo was significant for it was the first of its kind to happen after World War II, allowing enough time for countries to prepare. There was a wave of optimism around the Expo, which was soon overshadowed by a new global Cold War paradigm, with the large pavilions of the United States and the Soviet Union dominating the central plaza. [1] Given the importance of international exhibitions in the staging of power and the (re)shaping of national identity, governments were particularly vigilant about the art and architecture they chose to represent their states.

The notion of soft power is central to Jasmina Cibic’s work. It refers to the ability of a country to co-opt and persuade by being attractive, instead of coercing through military or economic strength (hard power). Soft power relies on intangible resources, such as ideas, culture, and institutions, to influence behaviour and create a positive image on a global scale. Culture, one of soft power’s key assets, works indirectly in influencing the environment for policy making, [2] and through her films and immersive installations, Cibic shows how it is and has been used to display national ideologies.

The Nada trilogy focuses on the role of starchitects [3] chosen to represent national authority and their relation to state commissions. As Cibic puts it: “All the architecture I reference was built within a time when finding a new visual expression for the future was central to the European political debate”. [4] In Nada: Act I, Jasmina Cibic recreates the original architectural model of the 1958 Yugoslav pavilion designed by Vjenceslav Richter. Politically active in leftist circles, architect, artist, interior designer, theorist, and activist, Richter was influenced by Constructivism [5] and the Bauhaus, [6] and believed that art and architecture were instruments of social and political change. [7] His original project bore an enormous central mast from which the entire building was to be suspended. Its evocation of other Constructivist suspended structures did not go unnoticed by conservative politicians. [8] Finally, the mast was decapitated. The amount of negotiation that went into the preparation, building, and reception of the Pavilion is encompassed in 27 boxes of documents that can be found at the Archive of Yugoslavia in Belgrade.

In Cibic’s video, we see violinist Dejana Sekulić carefully attaching the wires to the central mast of the sculpture and turning it into a music instrument. She slowly tunes it and attempts to play Béla Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin, the pantomime ballet chosen for the Yugoslav pavilion’s “National day.” We follow a series of close-ups and slow pans until the entirety of the original model is revealed. In a seductive visual language akin to that of soft power, Cibic presents us with a spectacle and its backdrop: the state commission along with the state intervention; the (almost literal) instrumentalization of architecture in the service of the state.

In Nada II, Cibic refers to The Miraculous Mandarin (1918—24), a pantomime ballet where three pimps employ a prostitute to lure men into a room and rob them. The Mandarin, one of these men, is deemed miraculous because of his ability to endure beating, suffocation and a stabbing without dying or giving up his lust for the woman. When they finally embrace, the Mandarin dies in her arms. Cibic re-imagines and re-stages the ballet, based on scant photographs from a performance at the 1958 Yugoslavia pavilion. She recasts Bartók’s prostitute, pimps, and the Mandarin as Mother Nation, her politicians, and the Architect. How does soft power play out in this film?

Museums and art galleries are also sites where soft power is displayed, both through their architecture and the content of their collections, exhibitions, and the histories they tell. Cibic’s installation at 451 St-Jean evokes a collector’s home. What are your thoughts on this transformation?

Tanha Gomes
DHC/ART Education

[1] KULIĆ, Vladimir (2012). “An Avant-Garde Architecture for an Avant-Garde Socialism: Yugoslavia at EXPO ‘58”. Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 47, no. 1, pp. 161-184.
[2] HOOGWAERTS, Leanne (2016). “ Museums, exchanges, and their contribution to Joseph Nye’s concept of ‘soft power”. Museum & Society, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 313-322.
[3] Starchitect is a portmanteau of “star” and “architect” referring to architects who have attained a certain level of notoriety.
[4] BAUDIN, Katia (2018) “Jasmina Cibic NADA. The Spirit of our Needs”. Kunstmuseen Krefeld, Museum Haus Esters. Bielefeld/Berlin: Kerber, pp. 19-23.
[5] Definition according to MoMA: “Developed by the Russian avant-garde at the time of the October Revolution of 1917. Declaring that a post-Revolutionary society demanded a radically new artistic language, Constructivist artists, led by Aleksandr Rodchenko, aimed to strip their works of subjective emotional character, eventually even rejecting painting as an individualist bourgeois form. The Constructivist artist was recast as an engineer of a new society, whose practice served a greater social or utilitarian purpose”. https://www.moma.org/collection/terms/26
[6] Definition according to MoMA: “The school of art and design founded in Germany by Walter Gropius in 1919, and shut down by the Nazis in 1933. The faculty brought together artists, architects, and designers, and developed an experimental pedagogy that focused on materials and functions rather than traditional art school methodologies. In its successive incarnations in Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin, it became the site of influential conversations about the role of modern art and design in society”. https://www.moma.org/collection/terms/12
[7] KULIĆ, Vladimir (2012). Op. cit.
[8] Ibid.

Photo: Jasmina Cibic, Nada: Act I (production still), 2016.

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