Between the sounds
a screening of Zdjelar’s films at Grand Union, and the artist in conversation
A talk and a screening by artist Katarina Zdjelar as part of the programme Voz Rara. Through a series of video works we explored how voice shapes collective and social subjectivities both through its linguistic functions and its non-signifying dimension. The videos presented at Grand Union interrogate the role of voice and sound in relation to identity, political agency as individual and collective action:
AAA (Mein Herz) (4’30?, 2016) is a single-shot work showing a young woman simultaneously performing four compositions. While preserving the original style, tempo, and rhythm of the individual works, she maintains the key of the different music pieces. Silence, music, sound and words alternate and collide. The female protagonist’s face and vocal chords serve as a battleground for the jerky transition between the different tracks. As if the sounds have been continuously torn out of their sockets putting an emphasis on the multiple, fragmented yet simultaneous temporalities which run the economy of her voice and of the composition. As often in Zdjelar’s practice, it is the interruptions that speak, this time in the corporality of the performers voice. While her singing is as much about managing the gaps between the tracks as it is about accuracy of performance of such historically, stylistically and linguistically distinct compositions.
Zdjelar’s video work Shoum starts with a blank, we see no image, but hear the sound of the 1984 Tears for Fears mega hit ‘Shout’. Then we see an iPod, a sheet of paper and the hands of two men from Belgrade, holding pens. Over the course of the next seven minutes we see how the two attempt to decipher the lyrics of ‘Shout’ as though they contained a coded message. This is in fact the case, considering that these men speak no English. Thus they phonetically transcribe what they hear, based on their own vocabulary and capacity to vocally interpret the unfamiliar. ‘Shoum Shoum Lajdi o Lau’, they write and sing, in a strange invented language somewhere between phonetic transcription, Serbian, and English, as ‘Tears for Fears’ sing ‘Shout, shout, let it all out’. We witness how through errors and deformations an entirely ‘new language’ is being created, which intriguingly relates to the original in a shifted way, namely acoustically. As quickly becomes clear, meaning here is less a matter of understanding than of processing and assimilation. Cut off from the lingua franca of a globalized world, with perseverance these two men create something of their own that lies between the foreign and the familiar. The work thus opens up space for critique by embracing the artist Mladen Stilinovic’s statement “An Artist Who Cannot Speak English Is No Artist” and its implicit antithesis.
My Lifetime (Malaika) features Ghana’s National Symphony Orchestra recorded in the National Theatre in Accra. The musicians play Malaika, originally a cheerful and empowering postcolonial composition that was famously performed by musical celebrities like Miriam Makeba, Harry Belafonte, Boney M. and many others. The orchestra was funded in the late 1950s when Ghana, under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, had become independent from the United Kingdom. Nkrumah’s government introduced new cultural structures in order to establish and enforce national consciousness and accomplish the shift from colonial rule to independence.
The video piece Stimme considers when voice becomes our personal property, where does the voice begin and where does it? Who is speaking when we speak and who is entitled to speak? Stimme focuses on the training between a voice coach and her client, a young lady who fails to speak with her own voice. Focusing on the instances on having and receiving voice and its pitch, the piece opens up the questions around political and historical implication of voice modulation and its pitch (bringing to mind for instance Margaret Thatcher), its economy and the politics of anatomy. The body of a trainee is akin to musical instrument.
In The Perfect Sound (2009) we see a grey-haired man chanting monosyllables, over and over, and a young man mimicking him simultaneously. The sing-song that we hear is captivatingly primal and intensely humane. What we see is an accent removal class for an immigrant conducted by a speech therapist in Birmingham (UK), a city which is paradoxically known for its strong accent. The British context is particularly stratified as in the UK language and speech reveal not only one’s status as a foreigner, but also the last remaining, almost impenetrable traces of the class system. With The Perfect Sound Zdjelar looks at the phenomenon of cultural integration through the erasure of difference in pronunciation and the production of neutrality; obtaining the (voice) mask, which allows a misfit to shift between different modes of appearances and enables him or her to blend into the environment–to become unnoticeable.
This event was part of VOZ RARA curated by Grand Union Curators-in-Residence Anna Santomauro and Valerio Del Baglivo.
Katarina Zdjelar (*1979, Belgrade, Yugoslavia) received an MFA at Piet Zwart Institute, Rotterdam 2004-2006. Recent solo exhibitions include But if you take my voice what will be let to me, Serbian Pavillion at the 53rd Venice Biennial (2009), Parapoetics, TENT, Centrum Beeldende Kunst, Rotterdam(2010); Stepping In-Out, Center for Contemprary Art Celje (2011) and selected group exhibitions include Morality. Act II: From Love to Legal, Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam (2009); Art Sheffield, Life-A User’s Manual, Sheffield (2010); ar/ge kunst,Galerie Museum, Katarina Zdjelar & Michael Hoepfner, curated by Luigi Fassi, Bolzano/Bozen (2010); Rearview Mirror,The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery (2011); DLA WAS/FOR YOU,Muzeum Sztuki, Lodz (2012). The artist lives and works in Rotterdam and Belgrade.