Culture as a political and personal influence

Jasmina Cibic considers national identity through art and architecture

How do governments instrumentalise culture for the formation of national identity and representation?”

This is a question that Jasmina Cibic’s art considers through her multidisciplinary, multi-room, site-specific exhibition, Everything That You Desire And Nothing That You Fear. Showing in DHC/ART Gallery, the exhibition explores the themes of national culture and its production. Curated by Cheryl Sim, the collection of artworks look explicitly at the former nation of Yugoslavia. and concepts of borders and nationality connected to this country that no longer exists.

DHC/ART is a vast gallery, with many floors and rooms. Everything That You Desire And Nothing That You Fear is exhibited in the entire space, with each room dedicated to a different art piece that compliments and connects to the other works. Certain details tie the rooms together in a cohesive way, such as a subtle inclusion of the same pattern, or colour palette, in every room. The artworks shown in these spaces include short videos, dance performance videos, an in-progress tapestry and a large mural.

Walking through the gallery’s distinctive rooms adds excitement to the viewing experience, and further solidifies the themes and ideas of national culture and identity that Cibic presents. Through the focus on a nation and a national identity that don’t exist anymore, having been separated into new, distinctive nations within new borders, Everything That You Desire And Nothing That You Fear considers how the political and the personal connect and intertwine within cultural identity.

As explained in Sim’s curatorial statement, this interdisciplinary, site-specific exhibition uses the subject matter of Yugoslavia and its political and economical history as a lens, “through which to study the employment of art and architecture… in an attempt to achieve the ultimate display of dominance for (inter)national audiences.” The development of the exhibition addresses the contrast between private and public spaces, which also ties into greater themes of the exhibition. Everything That You Desire And Nothing That You Fear considers how art and architecture—and more generally, culture—can be used politically to construct perceptions and formations of national identity.

A workshop titled A Dance Of Symbols will be held in connection to the exhibition. It is organized and run by Leisure—a creative, conceptual, artistic collaboration between Montreal-based artists Meredith Carruthers and Susannah Wesley, who have been involved with exhibitions and creative projects all over Canada. Working together through Leisure since 2004, the group describes their focuses and practices as engaging “with cultural and historical narratives through research, conversation, published texts, curatorial projects and art production.”

For A Dance Of Symbols, Leisure takes inspiration from Expo 67. The Expo, which took place in Montreal in 1967, encouraged different countries and nations to represent themselves through the way of pavilions. The pavilions featured events, performances and art, which aimed to share respective national identities. It is from this that A Dance Of Symbols takes influence, along with the general aesthetics and style of the 1960s. In the workshop, participants can create, through a series of stations, a personal symbolic object. It incorporates details like gradients, stamps and stencils, participants can create these items, which will then work as props for a live dance-inspired composition

The overall exhibition shares a dimensional, dynamic view of the history of Yugoslavia. Through various mediums and forms, Cibic investigates many different complexities of the relationships between borders, identities, and the political and personal. Deploying these through art and architecture creates impactful work that allows the artist and viewer alike to further explore the ties between national and personal identities, cultures and borders.

Everything That You Desire And Nothing That You Fear is exhibiting at DHC/ART until March 3.

A Dance of Symbols is available to groups with a reservation. For the general public, the workshop will be available during the Family Open House on Jan. 26, from 2 p.m. until 4:30 p.m.


When it comes to Ellen Belshaw, art imitates life

How an alumna’s internship in Mexico blurred cultural boundaries

“I purposely went to Mexico without a curatorial concept in mind, so that I wouldn’t be trying to make the art that I found fit into my preconceived ideas,”  said fine arts graduate Ellen Belshaw. Instead, “my ideas would be shaped by both my experiences in Mexico City and shaped by the works of the artists I met with.”

Belshaw spent three months last spring interning at SOMA, a non-profit contemporary art education organisation in Mexico City. SOMA is an eight-week program conducted in English for international artists, curators, critics and art historians. It introduces participants to the dynamic art scene of Mexico City through visits to museums, openings and artists’ studios.

Through a series of seminars and workshops hosted by famous Mexican and international artists and curators, Belshaw came to know five artists: Marcela Armas, Daniel Monroy Cuevas, Lorena Mal, Armando Rosales and Rogelio Sosa. She selected these artists to be a part of Lo que sabíamos pero no pudimos decir,  or What we all knew but couldn’t articulate, currently displayed in Concordia’s FOFA Gallery.

“The staff at SOMA were a big help in connecting me with artists who I was interested in visiting at their studios,” Belshaw said. “Following each of the studio visits with different artists, I asked them to recommend me at least one other artist who they thought I should meet with, based on what we had connected on. That way I was more likely to get a wider range of artists, not just one social circle, but rather branching out into different circles, more like a web.”

The exhibit’s welcoming art piece is Rosales’s Actual State. At first glance, viewers may be confused by the several half-spheres of concrete scattered across the floor. By taking a closer look, the objects become clearer: they are sandals, which the artist invites viewers to wear.

Rosales suffers from bouts of dizziness and vertigo. His aim is to convey a personal story and a beautiful message… when people put the shoes on and attempt to stand up straight, they experience a loss of balance.  Furthermore, if people try to walk alone in these shoes, they will eventually fall, but if they request assistance or if others choose to help, they will succeed.

“The main theme of the exhibition lies somewhere in the space between connection and disconnection,” Belshaw explained. “How things can seem to be connected or disconnected at different moments, and the factors that create those apparent divisions. Often, the difference between disconnection and connection isn’t something concrete (pun intended), but other times it can be very substantive. In a way, I would argue that the desire to connect is what fuels many human drives.”

According to Belshaw, other common themes between the works in this exhibition are tension, movement, borders and a range of sensorial perceptions, but that does not mean viewers can’t draw their own conclusions.

An echo of the border and tension themes would be Armas’s Resistencia. The installation is made up of several metal wires, positioned in a way that alludes to the border between the United States and Mexico. At first, one only sees white dots delimiting the border. However, the viewer is separated from the artwork by yet another metal wire which could burn the viewer if touched.

When asked what inspired her to put on this specific exhibit and name it as such, Belshaw said her personal experience in Mexico played a significant role.

“My experience as a non-Spanish speaker in Mexico and how I was often able to find ways to communicate with many non-English speakers who I encountered also helped form the concept for this exhibition,” she said, adding that she started “thinking about how language is so important to interpersonal connection, but isn’t the only way to engage with others and what else allows us to connect.”

It wasn’t until Belshaw was back in Montreal that she took the time to step back and think about her internship in Mexico City. She started to realize the common threads across the different artworks and began forming the concept for Lo que sabíamos pero no pudimos decir.

“Different things attracted me to each of the selected artists in the exhibition,” Belshaw said. “Seeing their work and talking to them about each of their practices brought me that satisfying sense of this is why I do what I do. These are views that I want to help them share; a raison-d’être in such a crazy world where sometimes it’s hard to justify putting energy into art production and administration.”


A detailed essay on the connections between the artworks will be available at the FOFA gallery on Oct. 18. The exhibition is open everyday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. until Oct. 19.

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