Saturday, April 26, 2014

Jasmina Cibic's Fruits of our Land at LMAK Project


Jasmina Cibic brings to LMAK Project's manhattan gallery a painfully staged dramatization of a 1957 Slavenian parliamentary debate.   The video (which represented Slovenia at the 55th Venice Bienniale in 2013) portrays a committee selecting artwork for the People's Assembly building in Ljubljana Slovenia.  The film is placed amid a curious installation of beetle wallpaper and photographs.  The rest of the installation along with the fact that the show is in an American gallery lend the video a new context and a new layer of content.  The title of the film and installation Fruits of Our Land betray the artist's acute awareness of what it means to represent one's country abroad.     
Upon entry of the gallery the viewer is swept past photographs of well groomed people in 1950's apparel.  These characters are absorbed in the discussion of an architectural model.  The lighting and the ambiguous setting within the photographs are reminiscent of the stills one finds in the program leaflet while attending a play, or the dramatic shots that line the corridors of theater houses. 
 The photographs are set against an installation of peculiar wallpaper. The walls are bejeweled, floor to ceiling, with illustrations of beetles of various shapes and sizes.  The press release explains that the beetles are all of the genus anophthalmus hitlari. The anophthalmus hitlari beetle failed as a Slovenian national icon due to the unfortunate name, which was given to it by a Nazi sympathizer in the WWII era.  The presence of the beetle in the wallpaper installation speaks to the augmenting connotations of nationalist symbols over time.  The poor beetle has been dethroned from its place as a patriotic icon, not by any fault of its own, but due to shifting ideologies and the scars of a darker time, the record of which can never be expunged. 

Moving past the strange wallpaper and photographs the viewer passes into a darkened room where the video is playing.  The space is just light enough to reveal that the walls bear the same beetles that infested the previous room.  The voices that occupy the darkness have the air of authority and diplomacy that is familiar to anyone who has sat through a committee meeting of any kind.  They belong to the same cast of well groomed diplomatic types seen in the photographs.  However, now they appear in a video being screened at the far end of the space.   The viewer is thrust into all the frustrations of such meetings.  Opinions are stated and restated with varying volume and conviction, tracing the infuriating circular conversation.   
They are discussing proposals for artwork for the Peoples Assembly, the submissions for which are never presented to view.  Instead the viewer is left with what he can glean about the work from the conversation.  This device is brilliant.  It fictionalizes a real artwork by reducing it to what the bureaucratic gatekeepers say about it.   Continued use of the word 'decorate' reiterates the irony of the limited way in which bureaucracy views the art it is selecting.  There is a enthralling dichotomy taking place between the decorative appearance of the wallpaper (being itself fine art) and the conversation of the characters in the film discussing art as simple decoration (not fine art).  This facetiously cynical representation portrays an art at the mercy of power structures that don't understand it.  At once a parody and a tragic truism, Cibic's installation embodies the age old maxim that 'a camel is a horse designed by a committee.'



  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Great review, great show! The only thing that I would like to point out is that the story of the beetle as you described it and the way an art work is discussed as a potential emblem bears a similarity not just about a decorative discourse, but also regarding -as you say- the role that power structures play in the development of a nationalistic visual vocabulary. I think you should also have mentioned that the show is part of a larger scale project called "For our Economy and Culture" that the artist presented for the Slovenian Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennial.