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.


L’OFFRE illustrates the art of gift giving

Curator Cheryl Sim speaks about the rewarding process of putting a large exhibition together

Giving a gift to a loved one can bring extreme joy to oneself, but there are also mixed emotions of anxiety for the receiver who might not know what to give back.

As part of its 10th anniversary celebration, DHC/ART (The Foundation for Contemporary Art) is exploring the complex concept of gift exchange in its exhibition, L’OFFRE. The exhibition is a culmination of a variety of works by artists from around the world.

As a curator, Cheryl Sim wanted to create a show which would honour DHC/ART’s contribution to Montreal’s cultural landscape. She has been working at DHC/ART for 10 years and has had the privilege of seeing the foundation grow. When she was tasked with curating the exhibition, Sim knew exactly how to approach the job.

“Artists have forever been interested in gift exchange and the offer of their labour to the service of art-making, which is not necessarily going to give you a lot of financial return,” Sim said. “Many artists work in their spare time, they give their work away for free or they show it for free. DHC/ART as a foundation itself represents a gift to the city of Montreal.”

Sim spoke about Phil Collins, who created a collaborative project called Free FotoLab for L’OFFRE. He put out a public call in Eastern Europe, asking people to give him their undeveloped rolls of 35 mm film in exchange for the right to develop the photos of his choosing.

“He is interested in how you create compassion and how do you show empathy. In so much of his work, he is looking at a relationship between himself and the people he needs to rely on to show his work,” Sim said.

The photos Collins developed include both special and everyday moments, like people attending birthday parties, going to the beach and napping. There are a total of 80 slides in the piece.

Lee Mingwei, a Taiwanese artist, has two pieces in the exhibition: Money for Art (1994-2010) and Sonic Blossom (2013). Sonic Blossom was inspired by the time spent with his mother when she was recovering from surgery. This piece is focused on the transformative and healing power of song. On Saturdays and Sundays, between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. at the foundation, two singers will perform for visitors who will sit in a chair and have one of five Franz Schubert’s artistic songs (known as lieders) sung to them. Sonic Blossom is presented in collaboration with faculty and performers from Concordia’s music department.

DHC/ART is a non-profit organization founded in 2007. According to Sim, the founder, Phoebe Greenberg, had a dream to make art accessible to the public by hosting large-scale art exhibitions with free general admission. DHC/ART’s exhibitions are unique because they present mostly international artists while the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts has a mandate to present only Canadian and Quebec artists. People do not have to travel to Paris or Berlin, for example, to see their favourite renowned international artists.

Sim said one of the main challenges in curating such a large exhibition is choosing a nice mix of media and trying to consolidate large works of art which fit with the theme within the space. The curator explained that the most rewarding aspect is seeing the project materialize after a long process of working alongside the technical department and the coordinators.

The ultimate reward for her, however, will be seeing the public’s reaction to these beautiful works. Montreal-based artists Dean Baldwin and Karen Kraven have created a commission-based installation project specifically for the public reception on the evening of Oct. 4.

The opening reception for L’OFFRE will be held on Oct. 4 from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m at DHC/ART, at 451 St-Jean St. The exhibition will officially be on display from Oct. 5 to March 11, 2018.

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