This major solo exhibition for London-based, Slovenian artist, Jasmina Cibic, gathers new and existing works, a gallery-specific installation, archival material, and live operatic performances hanselling the vernissage.
Cibic is now well established as a perceptive and highly creative analyst of the components and crossovers of culture and politics. Over a number of years she has portrayed both the seductive and sinister sides of creative enterprises entangled in strategies and displays of soft power, propped as that is, and was, by tactics of cultural production and distribution. The Pleasure of Expense—with astute curation from Sophia Hao—presents this theme once again as a central dimension and to tremendous effect.
At ground-floor, Cibic translates the gallery structure and aesthetic with a striking mural as backdrop embellishment for her 2015 film, Tear Down and Rebuild. The geometric installation carries the pattern of the Cooper Gallery floor onto the wall—the upshot: a discombobulating environment that envelops the individual in an indeterminate state, a carefully crafted state whereby the actualityof edifice and structure blend with the appearance and surface of the aesthetic; disallowing or perhaps daring the viewer to discern the difference between the two. This is a brilliant synecdochal conceit by Cibic and Hao and we are, thus, readied for upstairs by this infinity cove where groundlessness unscrews our fixing points.
Structural and stylistic gems abound in the film itself. The dialogue comes beautifully unnaturally from excerpts of political speeches on architecture implicated in European soft power and hard ambition. These excerpts, replete with an ethereal ideology of cultural statecraft, structure a brittle interplay of four female characters: The Nation Builder, The Artist Architect, The Conservationist, and The Pragmatist. The four perspectives Cibic constructs as master builder for a short film that pictures the intertwining of culture and politics so artfully there is no horizon line to determine ground and air.
Upstairs now we are presented with the new film, The Gift: Act II (2019) as part of the sophisticated installation in the main gallery space, comprising film, wall-sized prints of monuments in train or perhaps in tatters, and hammocks, complete with (opening night) sopranos giving haunting voice sporadically to excerpts pertaining to the gifts given to the League of Nations during the WWII closure of the Palace of Nations. ‘Moral Ascension’, ‘Political Decadence’, and ‘Statecraft’ are embroidered onto the hammocks to cement familiar foundations that move. An infinity curve of a different type, the sopranos sing in concert with emanations from the film soundtrack: my bearings lost downstairs are expertly unreconstructed as the physical presences in front of me are not so real as they incorporate themselves into the surfaces of the space, and then emanate from them.
The film gives us more detail of the interiors of the Palace of Nations, with carefully-cast cameos of aesthetic soft-power gifts adorning the structures. Indeed, all told, as well as enhancing an already-deserved reputation for Cibic as a leading artistic commentator on our politico-cultural scripts and scenographies, the topical force of this exhibition might reside equally in the way in which it removes the groundline, not only from earth and firmament, but from left and right.
The Pleasure of Expense very well portrays both an ideological time-gone-by and a tableau of our emerging present. Whether left or right, then or now, the disorientating forces of culture as ideological relay or reagent are all around, perhaps more so now than then. Our culture edifices, and our cultural contributions to edifices, are not exempt from the duplicity and craft screened in Cibic’s vision. She is undoubtedly an important player in this field and as this exhibition establishes, her oeuvre offers very important waypoints on this topical terrain.
Ken Neil is Deputy Director of Glasgow School of Art
The Pleasure of Expense, Cooper Gallery, Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art, Dundee, 18 October—14 December 2019