‘A Shining City on a Hill’ examines the national identity

New exhibition at ‘O’ Space by Jasmina Cibic, ‘A Shining City on a Hill’, intends to create a dialogue with the spectator and questions how the state uses art. Ends May 21st.

by Ella Navarro, feature photo by Pete Moss

‘O’ Space has a new exhibition on board by Slovenian artist Jasmina Cibic. Seven video installations make up the exhibition, as well as a mural which illustrates political slogans that inspire the feelings of a nation. On Thursday, an artist talk was held at the venue to introduce the audience to Cibic’s work in order to comprehend the purpose of her exhibition. This new initiative proposed by those behind the project at Aarhus 2017 is a great space for discussion and allows the audience to interpret the art with more knowledge once finished.

In her exhibition Cibic tries to understand how art, architecture, politics and the the public connect and interrelate. The title ‘A Shining City on a Hill’ comes from the Bible, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. It’s a phrase that has been used in American politics a lot to refer to the beginnings of time, but also to define a community for people to look up to.

The Nation Loves It (2015)

‘The Nation Loves It’ (2015)

Hidden and apparent messages
The mural, which you can observe as soon as you enter the site, is done in digital print and painted in gold, white and black tones. It was created by several female painters in the first days of the opening in an a live artist performance, characteristic of Cibic’s work and putting emphasis on the role of women in the project.

The materials they used and the stairs they climbed to paint the long wall remain as part of the exhibition. It’s provoking, and the spectator can ask oneself: Is it a finished piece, or one in progress?

The flowers on the mural are taken from the wedding room where people used to get married in the Town Hall, while the stellars and the masks, and some illustrations that almost resemble the swastika, are taken from paintings in the basement of the Town Hall. The artist discovered these some months ago while in Aarhus. She fell in love with them and included her version in the mural.

Cibic often uses selected architecture as scenery for her work, and in her films she represents how national states create their reputation through soft power and support the idea of nation. Her work is all about how political rhetoric is used in debates and different cultural contexts. Her recent works focus on case studies like the Non-Aligned Movement, 20th Century EXPO presentations and the re-branding of former Yugoslavia.

The beautiful flowers we see in the mural look harmless, friendly to the eye, bringing forward that soft power idea. Then there are other symbols with more sinister motifs, which blend in with the political and national slogans written across the wallpaper.

Tear Down and Rebuild (2015), one of the 7 films.

‘Tear Down and Rebuild’ (2015), one of the seven films in the exhibition

Finding inspiration in Aarhus
Among the seven films, ‘Nada Act II’ was recorded at Aarhus City Hall and was made especially for Aarhus’ year as European Capital of Culture. It was inspired by the City Hall’s construction controversy, which generated tension between the public and politicians.

“Aarhus 2017 is an ideal framework for me. While my references to modernism and its ideological structures appear as historical tales, they also point to a more contemporary use of culture with political-economic goals. The European Capital of Culture programme is about linking artistic and commercial development. I raise the question of how the state uses art, and what can we learn from history’s more creepy examples of this,” says Cibic.

Based on the 1958 production of Béla Bartok’s pantomime ballet, ‘The Miraculous Mandarin’, ‘Nada Act II’ was re-purposed to link in time and space various European models of statecraft, soft power and its framing. The original characters of the ballet are replaced by the archetypes of politicians, the ideal of Mother Nation and the abuse of modern practitioners: the architect.

The exhibition, which collects Cibic’s work from across five years, is an overall examination of national identity as built through art and architecture. I suggest you take your time to listen to each film carefully and be fully submerged in the captivating message that the artist is trying to achieve. The more you dig in, the more interesting it gets.


‘O’ Space will be hosting artist talks for all of their exhibitions throughout the year, one in English and one in Danish for each exhibition. Keep tuned to their Facebook page and remember admission for the gallery is free.

Previous exhibition at ‘O’ Space: “Art got to exist for art’s sake” – Julian Rosefeldt presents ‘Manifesto’.  The next exhibition at ‘O’ Space is: ‘The Garden’, starting on June 3rd.

For more information on artist Jasmina Cibic, visit her website.

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