Bojan Sarcevic at Stedelijk Museum Bureau (2001)

Review of exhibition Cover versions in Amsterdam in 2001.

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 3 January 2010
This review first appeared in Sculpture, 21(2), pp. 75-6 in March 2002.

Bojan Sarcevic at Stedelijk Museum Bureau

I remember my first taste of globalism: newly arrived in the port of Marmaris, Turkey, the minarets looked magical, while the sounds saturated the soul. However, the fetish of the exotic crashed to a halt. The culprit? Madonna. Like a Virgin blared on a portable cassette player, while the hotelier’s scarfed, teenage daughter sang on the patio. Twelve years later in Amsterdam, I expected to revisit the discourse on globalism and identity during Bojan Šarčević’s video and film installation show “Cover Versions.”

The Belgrade-born, Paris- and Amsterdam-educated artist, who now works around the globe (Istanbul and Bamako, Mali, for the works in this show), counterpointed two pieces— an ever-changing, triptych-like video installation, also called Cover Versions, and a somewhat solitary untitled film work (both 2001). Contrasts worked in two directions, with the “silent” film in a darkened, more personal space juxtaposed with the more public Versions in black and white, its loud audio proclaiming prominence. Nirvana’s Come as you are, Bob Marley’s Could you be loved, Marvin Gaye’s I heard it through the grapevine, and the Chemical Brothers’ Block Rockin’ Beats became subjects within subjects.

Displayed on the three projections of Versions, a Turkish music maqam, a group of musicians working in a tradition going back to the Middle Ages, appropriates the music, the work documenting a three-stage process. A rather unique sound is produced, a cover version that’s recognizable and sustains the reference point throughout. Timewise, the three windows into this staged world discontinuously document the event and layer the process of the musicians’ inquiry and acquisition. In summary, the effect is like viewing a manipulated documentary cast into recognizable video installation form.

Across from Versions, the untitled 16mm film projected a more leisurely pace— a woman reclining on a lounge chair outside her home in the West African capital. A tape player is brought by a little girl, and via headphones, we can hear the jazz of American Nina Simone. In contrast to the video, here the woman shows that foreign music can fit into the consumer fabric— interpreted however it is. Like Madonna’s music in Turkey, the film raises questions about the impact of the global music industry, neocolonialism, and ever-complicated identities.

According to critic Anja Dorn, in an essay accompanying “Versions”: “Although Cover Versions might be termed hybrid cultural forms, Bojan Šarčević’s work does not seem to focus on questions of identity. Instead, Šarčević shows us musicians tackling something with which they were previously unfamiliar, how they appropriate this music without merely imitating it.” However, by following Dorn’s line, the artwork begins to unravel. If culture were indeed intended to be a non-issue here, it would have been more effective to demonstrate appropriation and acquisition within the culture and remove globalism. But this didn’t happen.

While the pieces are aesthetically beautiful, they contribute only laterally to discussions on tradition, change, and appropriation, strengthening works that previously laid the path. As later contributions, within the context of a musical demonstration, they are interesting. The sounds and sights travel from one continent to another— and, more importantly, back to the West.