According to renowned Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, what ultimately set homo sapiens apart from other human and animal species was their ability to invent “fictions”. These fictions can certainly be misused, but inherently they aren’t some kind of false, evil conspiracies designed to mislead, control or delude the masses. At their core, they are simply narratives that bind people, giving them the cohesion and sense of co-operation necessary for civilisation. The most ancient of religions to the most modern of joint stock companies are fictions. So are nation states.
Even though nation states are deeply embedded in the material world of land and cities and media, as concepts they first and foremost exist within the minds of a group of humans. They are inter-subjective myths, not objective realities that exist “out there” eternally. This is a fact that must be remembered when one is tempted to attach oneself to one’s nation to the extent that they are willing to kill in its name. Nations are impermanent entities. They can be instituted and erased through the course of history.
The fictive nature of nation states is explored by Slovenian artist Jasmina Cibic in her film “State of Illusion’ (2018). Using the metaphors of theatre and magic, she reveals the political units as mythic constructs, as carefully crafted products of the imagination that can be here today and gone tomorrow.
Cibic’s project presents a theatrical re-staging of the last pavilion of the defunct state of Yugoslavia at an international world exposition—the Montreal EXPO in 1967—as an illusionist device. Set within an empty theatre, three dancers rebuild the pavilion’s modular structure and use it to create a set of illusions where the illusionist herself continuously disappears. The assistants and the tricks grow in violence with each of the subsequent six illusions, standing in for the six republics of former Yugoslavia, until the body of the illusionist completely vanishes as did the country.
“State of Illusion”, writes Cibic, “points toward the fragile nature of a nation state’s conception and survival and pours accent to the stagecraft mechanisms of spectacle which surrounds their presentation to the international spectatorship—which remains hungry for the populism of the growing nationalist tendencies and their destructive force.”
The project was commissioned by DHC/ART Fondation pour l’art contemporain Montreal and supported by the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Kunstmuseum Ahlen, Northern Film School at Leeds Beckett University.
Born in 1979 in Ljubljana, the artist attended Accademia di Belle Arti di Venezia from 1998 to 2003 and obtained an MA in Fine Art from Goldsmiths, London in 2006. Her work—which includes film, sculpture, performance and installation—frequently explores ‘soft power’, how political rhetoric is deployed through art and architecture, particularly examining how cultural production is used by the state to communicate certain principles and aspirations. Through unfolding the complex entanglements of art, gender and state power, the artist encourages viewers to consider the strategies employed in the construction of national culture.
Gathering together symbols and iconographies, Cibic’s projects present a synthesis of gesture, stagecraft and re-enactment. Realised in films and installations, her on-going performative practice is an ‘enacted’ exercise in the dissection of statecraft. Her multi-layered approach draws together primary sources and falsified narratives. This wilful overwriting creates shifting meanings and highlights historical uncertainties and untruths. Cibic plays a double-game, at once decoding mechanisms of power whilst building her own allegorical structures.
Cibic represented Slovenia at the 55th Venice Biennial with her project “For Our Economy and Culture”. Her latest monograph Spielraum is published by DISTANZ Verlag in partnership with BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art Gateshead and the Museum of Contemporary Art Belgrade; and NADA by Kunstmuseen Krefeld and Kerber Verlag. She was shortlisted for the 2018 Jarman Award.
Links: Website (jasminacibic.org)