Jasmina Cibic will stage the gallery of the former palace of industrialist into a play about solidarity in the face of crisis and the art of manipulation told through film, photography, sculpture and sound.
What do the Palace of Nations in Geneva, the Stalinist skyscraper in the Polish capital and the nationalized residence of manufacturer in Łódź have in common? Who has the authority to reunite a divided society: an architect, a politician, or an artist? How is “national aesthetics” formed? What does the gesture of gifting involve? These are the questions that Jasmina Cibic, a visual artist preoccupied with the themes of instrumentalised culture, put forward in her latest project.
The starting point for the exhibition is the film titled “The Gift”. Using allegory, Cibic tests the concept according to which culture can be used to counteract social polarization. The project presents three finalists of the competition for a perfect gift for a divided nation: An Engineer, a Diplomat and an Artist. Each finalist brings a different approach to establishing a relationship and reinstating communication between feuding citizens. All the scenes were shot in buildings representing paramount case studies of political gifts in Europe in the 20thCentury; the headquarters of the French Communist Party in Paris (a gift from the architect Oscar Niemeyer), the Palace of Nations (created from donations by the members of the League of Nations) and the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw (Stalin’s present to the Republic of Poland). They house institutions established in the service of society, to ensure world peace, and to enhance education and culture. The latter is also performed by Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź, located at the Palace of Maurycy Poznański, where Cibic’s film is screened.
The film’s locations chosen by the artist are more than just a setting for the plot. The buildings portrayed in “The Gift” were erected at a time when Europe experienced several economic and humanitarian calamities, from the interwar period, through the times of rebuild from ruins after the Second World War, to the turbulent times of the 1980s. Cibic is particularly interested in specific kinds of symbols, i.e., symbols referring to transnational alliances, raised in the name of common interests or ideologies that have not necessarily stood the test of time. The architecture immortalized in “The Gift” observes and analyses the ways of shaping the national style using culture as a political tool.
The narrative of “The Palace” is not limited to architectural references: in the enfilade of the palace rooms, other references of gifts will also be collected and presented as proof of faith in common ideals. Among them will be photographic portraits of roses bred as a tribute to politicians who fought against fascism, and of relay batons gifted to the leader of the Yugoslav federation during the annual celebration with purpose of uniting the citizens of all the republics. Moreover, the exhibition will show for the first time a photographic portrait of the International Collection of Modern Art. A generous gift from European artists donated in the response to the appeal of the “a.r.” group, then entrusted to care of Muzeum Sztuki in Łódź.
This project displays echoes of alternative economies based on generosity and solidarity, yet it also includes some historical examples of failure of instrumentalization of culture. Among the latter, perhaps the most ‘picturesque’ fiasco we can observe is the competition for the flag of the League of Nations, a transnational institution aimed at inter alia, providing care for the weaker, supporting reconstruction and economic development, or scientific exchange. In the end, no design was adapted out of fear that favouring some emblems or symbols over others could jeopardize the cohesion of the organisation. It is perhaps such failed attempts of implementing “soft power” strategies which can make us rethink the potential of culture’s resilience to colonisation by political powers.