Bojan Sarcevic

Does culture evolve like nature? Bojan Sarcevic seems determined to find out. His oeuvre reads like an attempt to test Darwin’s theory of evolution on various cultural phenomena: clothing, music, design. Unlike the great naturalist, Sarcevic is interested in exploring how cultural practices adapt more than in affirming that only the fittest survive, as his previous works show. The DVD Il semble que l’animal est dans le monde comme l’eau dans l’eau (It seems that the animal is in the world as water in water), 1999, was an early experiment about changing habitat: The artist put a few of man’s best friends into a church, where they barked, sniffed, and wandered. For the DVD Cover Versions, 2001, Sarcevic tackled the phylogeny of music by asking an Istanbul band to play contemporary Western pop songs in the medieval Arabic Maqam style.

Recently, Sarcevic has been turning his attention to the cultural equivalents of ossification: the printed word and image. His publications Zurvival guid [sic], 2002, and Une heureuse regression (A happy regression), 2004, are both survival guides written in phonetic English—not the international phonetic alphabet but what appears to be Sarcevic’s own Serbo-Francophone interpretation of how English might be spelled. Or “zpelt.” While every foreign accent attests to a process of adaptation, Sarcevic’s own misspellings graphically suggest that written English is itself an adaptation of spoken English, even when spoken by native speakers. Any English dictionary guide would concur: The printed word is not a recording of the human voice but a formal manifestation of language, which can outlive a voice. English survives by eliminating the phonetic foibles of individual speakers but its future lies with a growing group of nonnative speakers like Sarcevic, who are bound to introduce new peculiarities. Some such peculiarities showed up in the collage series “1954,” 2004, made with illustrations from the German architecture magazine Baumeister from the titular year. Sarcevic cut out sections of each image, rotated them, and stuck them back into the original to make 1954 fashionable in the twenty-first century.

In this show, “Replace the Irreplaceable,” the artist looked at the oldest fossils of modernism: straight lines and gentle curves. Six delicate sculptures were made with groups of lines and curves in brass, held together and suspended from the wall with colored threads. Seen from a distance, the sculptures look like bare twigs growing out of the wall. Their titles—Something Tan Is Nodding (all works 2006), or Something Thistle Is Jiggling—might indicate the threads’ commercial color names while reflecting the adaptation of natural shades, like tanned skin and green thistle, to the commercial needs of fashion, right down to the seams. The larger brass segments of two additional sculptures—both Untitled—are joined by silk scarves, printed with abstract patterns that establish a phylogenetic link between fashion and architecture: two cultural forms that provide a habitat for the human body. One can literally take shelter in Replace the Irreplaceable, a massive pear wood–and-brass sculpture shaped into a three-dimensional J. From one side, the hook in the letter looks like an elegant bulwark; from the other, the hook is big enough to hide and envelop any spectator. In Sarcevic’s evolving forms, cultural adaptation can become defense and sanctuary.

Jennifer Allen