Jarmm Prize winner Jasmina Cibic: “Europe is collapsing before our eyes” | Art

Tthere is gloomy humor here as Slovenian artist Jasmina Cibic prepares to present her work in certain European countries. “They’re firing so many museum directors,” he says with a fragile smile, “so we had this joke that my performance was the last in that director’s career.”

Cibic refers to what has happened in Hungary and Poland, where right-wing governments have attacked art, firing museum and theater directors, silencing writers and putting pressure on galleries. Even in Britain, which may be much less authoritarian but prone to populist nationalism, Cibic has faced obstacles. After Brexit, he says, “I would lose [some exhibitions] In English museums, and I was told they were reprogramming to suit local and national interests. “He smiles.” Because of the nature of my work, it couldn’t be weirder. “

Cibic is inspired by the crisis of European identity in the 20th century and how culture can be “captured by ideology”. In his recent work, he has focused on the idea of ​​“cultural gifts” – such as a building, a piece of music or art – and what they mean for the power and ability of government to support cultural identity and nationalism. His film The Gift is one of several works that helped him win this year’s Jarman Award, an annual award for artists working with moving images.

Beautifully depicted, includes music and dance, and is located in places that were themselves political gifts – Oscar Niemeyer’s building for the French Communist Party in Paris, the United Nations Palace in Geneva and the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw, “donated” by Stalin – The Gift tells who “keeps our nation together” or, as one character says, shows “who we are and who we want to be.” The artist, engineer, and diplomat each present their case to four judges in a film that questions what art means to the country (“the dynamism of art and culture creates dynamism in the nation,” as one judge says), what future generations will come. to make such a cultural gift and what “obligations” are involved. In the previous film trilogy, Nada, Cibic explores iconic architecture and national identity and re-examines key moments in 20th-century European history.

Born in Ljubljana in 1979 as part of the former Yugoslavia, Cibic has been considering the concept of “soft power” and the way in which culture has been used for political gain since at least 2013, when he represented Slovenia in Venice. Biennial. “By then, we already felt that the new nationalism in Eastern Europe was starting to bubble. I only looked at the local characteristics of the Slovenian icons, successful and unsuccessful. related to Slovenia’s choice over time to represent itself through culture. “

Jasmina Cibic.
Jasmina Cibic. Photo: Pete Moss

He says he pulled more of the “European identity crises” because that’s when culture is usually called to sort of fix something. The manuscript of The Gift, like some of his earlier works, is made with excerpts from political speeches and debates – the result of years of international archival research by Cibic and his team.

We’ll meet him at his London studio. Dressed in black, Cibic is a warm, funny and energetic speaker. In The Gift, he also wanted to look at “our responsibilities as artists throughout this situation. With the rewards, it’s easy to say,” I was ordered. “But with this idea, these” gifts “are more at stake. there is no longer a non-political commitment. Everything we do is political. “

He says he is a politically committed family. “My grandparents were all partisans, they all fought in anti-fascist battles in the former Yugoslavia.” His father was a teacher who taught the work of Marx and Engels “until the system collapsed.” His books fell on the lower shelf, and the rabbit Cibic ate ​​them. Both of his parents would have liked to work in the culture, he says, but his grandparents “were red bourgeoisie. They bought art as wedding gifts. You don’t make art, you buy it. ”

Cibic was 11 years old when the first Yugoslav war broke out – Slovenia’s 10-day conflict with the Yugoslav army since its independence in 1991. He was relatively untouched by that conflict, but sees it in former artists of his generation. Yugoslavia, “most of us now live abroad and are really dealing with heritage.”

He is fascinated by the former Yugoslavia in part because he believes its failure should serve as a lesson. “The collapse of Europe before our eyes is what Yugoslavia is going through on the lines of nationalist rebellion, ‘let’s not waste money abroad,’ especially in international cultural projects,” he says. [honour] antifascist struggle – great monuments were built and so on. But the idea of ​​being abroad is slowing down. “

Cibic has seen friends leave mainland Europe for Britain after Brexit. He has been here for 20 years and has a 12-year-old daughter, but he says that like many other EU artists living in Britain, he felt “the country was shattered” when the result of the referendum was announced. Winning the Jarman Award, he said, has given him a strong sense that he actually belongs here. In addition, Cibic says he is more concerned about younger artists. He says he first noticed the students he taught were depressed “about the opportunity. If you don’t have this internationality, this cross-pollination, we’ll tread back so much.”

Cibic is an internationalist – he is preparing to perform in New Zealand – and he says there is a rush for a new job. He is confident that he will be able to screen archives, and his films are so site-specific and work on an architecture that “promoted – or continues to represent – national or supranational authorities. I see a worrying trend of closing access to questioning what these spaces mean.” I don’t have a project like, “Oh, I’ll do it in five years.” It has to be done now. “

Watch the works of the shortlisted artists on the Film London website for free online until 25 November.