The Spirit of Our Needs is Jasmina Cibic’s first institutional solo exhibition in Germany. Developed specifically for the context of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Krefeld Vilas Haus Lange and Haus Esters this immersive site-specific installation showcases the three films of the artist’s NADA trilogy for the first time. Cibic realizes complex multilayered works that critically explore the relationship between cultural production and power structures. In her performances, installations and films, the artist addresses ideologies and their realization in art and architecture.
NADA examines three of European modernism’s star architects and the role their work played in national representation. The starting point for Act I is Vjenceslav Richter and the Yugoslavian pavilion he designed for the Brussels World Exhibition in 1958. Act II takes place in Arne Jacobsen’s Aarhus City Hall (1937-1942), whilst the third act has been filmed in situ especially for the exhibition in Haus Lange and Haus Esters. It addresses Mies van der Rohe’s Krefeld architecture of the 1920s in the context of the political discussions concerning the appropriate representation of Germany at world fairs of mid 20th Century. Jasmina Cibic’s expansive installation combines these symbols and iconographies into a synthesis of gesture, stagecraft and re-enactment to form a kind of artistic synthesis that interacts with the Mies villas and their historical, political and aesthetic contexts.
Cibic’s project for Museum Hous Estersis populated by female figures. Sometimes speaking, sometimes mute, they dance, decorate and proclaim, acting as mouthpieces through which intricately researched tracts on the nature of power, aesthetics and statecraft pour forth. These ciphers are always formed by that which they appear to represent. They follow in the dubious tradition of the allegorical female, descendants of stately mother nations. The certainties of those great ages of nation-building gone, the trace and the archive here replace the sound and the fury in a double-game. Cibic’s works reveal the strategies employed for the construction of national culture and identity through the arts as well as their use on behalf of political goals. In the end, her works are large-scale research projects incorporating artists, architects, scholars, artisans, writers and other experts. This synthesis is a central aspect in the further development of her artistic practice that operates in the spirit of the total work of art.
Nada: Act 2 was co-commissioned by European Capital of Culture Aarhus 2017, BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art Gateshead and supported by Arts Council England, Northern Film School at Leeds Beckett University and Waddington Studios London.
Nada: Act 3 was co-commissioned by the Kunstumuseen Krefeld and supported by by Arts Council England, Northern Film School at Leeds Beckett University and Waddington Studios London.
Exhibition curator: Katia Baudin (Director, Kunstmuseen Krefeld)
The Spirit of Our Needs
Museum Haus Esters
WORKS IN THE EXHIBITION
Jasmina Cibic’s context specific project departs from the historical specifics of Krefeld’s silk production and its society, focusing on the new art and architecture that developed around it in the early 20th Century. This new aesthetic simultaneously framed silk products, their presentation methods as well as the silk manufacture owners and their art collections. It went on to affect and shape Germany’s aesthetic identity on the world stage of International exhibitions in the mid 20th Century. Cibic’s project highlights the economic and political importance of what became the new preferred national export: the Krefeld silk. Cibic further ties its soft power value to that of the artists and architects specific to Krefeld’s pre WW2 history such as Johan Thorn Prikker, Heinrich Campendonk and Mies van der Rohe, who’s work becomes the central device the artist tackles with in her installation architecture.
HOUS ESTERS – ROOM 1
The central space of the installation references three main motifs Mies van der Rohe continuously used within his designs for national presentation of Germany at various trade fairs – including the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition: a curtain, a window/display and a female nude. Cibic further merges these with other artists working within the Krefeld context at that time in order to point to the similar ideological staining of both architecture and art at that time. The curtain that envelops the entire exhibition space follows the design Mies and Lilly Reich used in their Café Samt & Seide (Berlin 1927). Cibic inhabits this curtain with a pattern she reconstructs from mural artworks realised in Krefeld by Thorn-Prikker (Kaiser Wilhelm Museum Krefeld) and Campendonk (Villa Merländer, Krefeld) – murals that have at different points of history been purposefully shielded or hidden due to different ideological – political or aesthetic choices. The curtain here fades in proximity to the windows, referencing the fragile nature of archives and ideological memory. The central wall in the room is covered by a backlit sculpture referencing the light-box Mies designed for the Barcelona pavilion and connects this device with Campendonk’s scenographies as well as the stage designs of the theatre at Hellerau, which served as Mies’ inspiration in Barcelona. By linking the only source of light of a national pavilion designed as a par excellence stage-set for an international audience of aristocracy and diplomacy, to a recognisable theatrical prop, Cibic emphasises her interest into the detritus of political spectacle and its tactics. In front of the illuminated sculpture, large ironmongery hoops in silhouette are displayed. These depict political phrases on nation-building the artist drew from archives of political discussions surrounding German national presentation. They stand as three-dimensional watermarks announcing an ideology that seizes to be.
HOUS ESTERS – ROOM 2
Overlooking the sculpture garden stand three photographs of the protagonists from Cibic’s film NADA Act III: The Exhibition, which the artist filmed on the premises of Houses Esters and Lange. The Artist, the Curator and Germania pose here in the dubious tradition of the allegorical female, carrying in their arms sculptural objects drawn from theatrical productions at world expositions as musical instruments. As the walls behind them – the women themselves are also covered by the visual leitmotif of the exhibition curtain, almost as a tattooed skin of ideological belonging. The walls of the house designed to display an art collection and the female body presenting a nation state here meet in the double game of muted political speech. Facing them is a figurative sculpture of a woman carrying a bowl of fruit – a recognisable nod to a land of plenty, a Mother Nation proclaiming the abundance of produce her nation bears. This figure is also drawn from the Barcelona 1929 EXPO, but from that of a neighbouring pavilion to Germany – the pavilion of the Kingdome of Yugoslavia, which was according to legend the initial recipient of the first prize at the event; a prize which was according to myth only secondarily awarded to the German pavilion and its architect Mies van der Rohe. Fact or fiction, the story points to the nature of national competition at play at these events where art and architecture become mere vehicles and tactics for asserting political power and control.
HOUS ESTERS – ROOM 3
Following her interest of reading the female body as a vehicle for national representation, Cibic made a study of the two types of architecture Mies was working on in the 1920s Germany: one was the residential architecture for art collectors and their collections and the second the architecture of pavilions and exhibition design for trade fairs and world expositions. It is within the latter, that Mies kept placing a single female nude sculpture, most prominent in his 1929 Barcelona design with Georg Kolbe’s sculpture Der Morgen. Researching Mies’ designs for the Krefeld Vilas and the art collection of his client Herman Lange, Cibic draws in one of the female nudes as an emblem of this collaboration. This is the Torso of the kneeling woman by Wilhelm Lehmbruck, which is in archival photographs of the Lange house shown placed within the boudoir – traditionally the space for the lady of the house. This room, forever tied with desire and enjoyment, was treated by Mies differently to other rooms in the house, including different wood finish and a specific display vitrine. The conceptual tie of the boudoir and the Barcelona pavilion is here made with the series of sculptures that morph two sculptural replicas of the Kolbe and Lehmbruck nudes – playing with the equippolation of what they represented: a Nation and private capital, both depicted via sexualised desire. Overlooking them is a series of photographic works on copper that present the characters from Cibic’s film NADA Act II. The Pimps, the Architect and the Mother Nation raise flags and arms as they dance their dance of seduction and destruction of those who construct in the name of the Nation.
HOUS ESTERS – ROOM 5
The two films presented here are the first and second chapter of the NADA project with focus on star modernist architects and their role in national representation. The starting point for NADA Act I is Vjenceslav Richter and his unrealised first proposal for the Yugoslavian pavilion at the Brussels World Exhibition in 1958. Act I focuses on the parallel positions of female presence surrounding the architect: the State itself – his client, his wife Nada – an actress who followed him throughout his world travels, and his three anti-gravitational sculptures of the same name he created as a response to the censorship of his core artistic thought – the central protruding phallic mast of the building – by the leading state ideologue Edvard Kardelj.Cibic appropriates and recreates this architecture as a musical device, which the violinist Dejana Sekulić continually tunes according to the Miraculous Mandarin score. This musical composition for ballet by Béla Bartók was the work that Yugoslavia chose to represent its new direction on Nations Day at the Brussels EXPO. The fact that the Yugoslav state chose the Bartók ballet as its representative is in itself intriguing since the ballet had been repeatedly banned by numerous political systems due to its explicit subject matter – the conflict between a prostitute and her pimps and clients.
NADA Act II continues the investigation of the concept of nation state as prostitute through recreating the physical performance of the 1958 Yugoslav production of Bartók’s The Miraculous Mandarin. Through scant archival traces the work is here repurposed, mis-imagined and overwritten with new purpose in collaboration with the choreographer Lea Anderson. Bartók’s original characters – the Pimps, Prostitute and Exotic Mandarin – are replaced with the archetypes of politicians, the ideal of Mother Nation, and that most easily abused of Modern practitioners: the Architect. In doing so, the ballet becomes an allegorical proposition through which to view European history: the thugs cast as the state’s bureaucrats and politicos, who deceive and enslave, destroying the desires of those who produce for the benefit of the nation or artistic idealism. Cibic filmed NADA Act II inside Arne Jacobsen’s Aarhus City Hall (1937-1942), a suitably gesamt architectural structure that the she uses as a stage par excellence; a cinematographic device for her commission for the European Capital of Culture, an event that in itself plays with currency of creation of cultural capital and soft power.
HOUS ESTERS – ROOM 6
NADA Act III: The Exhibition is Cibic’s latest work commissioned specifically for the artist’s exhibition at House Esters. The script for the film is assembled from archival transcripts, political discussions, reports and personal letters surrounding Germany’s presentations at world expositions in 1929, 1937 and 1958 and their legacy. Cibic devises the script into three positions: the Artist, the Curator and Germania engage in a discussion about the aesthetics and style of the artworks and architecture that should be exhibited at an undisclosed event of national interest in order to ensure international success. Whilst engaging in the discussion, the women work on the artefacts and their display within a set specifically built in House Lange encompassing mainly two styles: that of figurative representation and that of an abstract positioning. They are sculpting, polishing, curating and destroying physical manifestations of their words, shifting their position of picturesque allegories into an active political stance. Their scripted sentences combine diverse ideological positions through time and space pointing to the universal code of merging life and art in a service to the state in order to affect society. What can we learn from the history’s more sinister accounts of this most awkward relationship is one among many questions Cibic’s work raises through its tireless and variegated archaeologies.