Valerija Cerovec: CUCKOO

According to the Croatian encyclopedia, the cuckoo is a migratory bird from the cuckoo family that lays its eggs in the nests of smaller songbirds. In appearance, the eggs resemble the eggs of the host bird. The specific parasitism of the nest allows the cuckoo to reduce the number of other birds because it hatches faster from the egg than the host bird.

Cuckoo, according to detailed research from 2001 by Ph.D. B.G. from the Department of Comparative Literature, Faculty of Philosophy, University of Zagreb, is a self-taught ornithologist and psychic medium that attracted the attention of the ornithological scientific community in the 1960s with her study of cuckoo eggs. The anonymity of her scientific work encouraged the public to give the author the nickname Kukavica, Cuckoo.

In the artwork, Cuckoo (Kukavica), Valerija Cerovec transforms a narrative into a detailed, digital database and reshapes it into an exploratory discourse. We are introduced to the story via an intimate ambiental installation based upon the 2000s aesthetics: an outdated computer, a cathode ray monitor, a wired keyboard, and a mouse on top of an old desk. Our eyes are drawn to a screen with several icons that refer to the daily university work of Ph.D. B.G. and a digital archive file about Cuckoo. By opening a systematized database, the audience, guided by the audio track, discovers chapters and clues that form layers of the story. The circular concept of the chapters enhances curiosity and encourages a deeper dive into the research. 

The focus is on the research of the fictitious author, Ph.D. B.G., who studies the self-taught ornithologist – Cuckoo. In the early 2000s, she came across the life and work of Cuckoo while preparing the syllabus for the course Literature and Nature. While studying the Cuckoo, she discovers that thanks to her careful and insightful study of the pigments on the cuckoo’s eggs, she won over the ornithological community despite her lack of formal scientific education. With further insight into the archival material (notes, diary entries, personal letters, literature, and other materials), Ph.D. B. G. reveals a turn in Cuckoo’s work, which was focused on the metaphysical, artistic, and psychic. As a result of the twist, Cuckoo becomes persona non grata of the scientific community, but for the rest of her life, she continues to study psychic methods that derive from somatic and synthetic visions and contacts with ancestors whom she calls guides.

The content of the narrative line balances the academic and scientific study of the world with intuitive and dreamlike experiences of being in it. The archival database is based on existing literature (scientific and fiction) and a detailed study of bird heritage, cuckoo nesting, metaphorical use of the term cuckoo, and visual and literary sources on the subject. The work through narrative fiction questions the role of women in the academic community, the position of informal education, and the place of (traditionally speaking) non-rational understanding of one’s environment. The universality of the mentioned questions leaves the artist at the level of suggestion by perpetuating an individualistic approach: the experiences of a doctor of science in researching the layers of reflection, action, and consciousness of a self-taught scientist and media. 

The artwork Cuckoo is an example of research within research: by systematizing a digital archive clearly connected with a narrative, open for free study of archival materials, and the scientist’s remarks, the artist questions the methodology
of observing and dealing with archives for the purpose of artistic activity.


Curator: Maja Pavlinić
PR: Tea Matanović
Technical support: Sven Cerovec
Photo documentation: Luka Pešun
Design: Sara Pavleković Preis

Special thanks to Branislav Oblučar and Sven Cerovec for their help in the realization of the work.

The program is supported by the Ministry of Culture and Media and the City Office for Culture, Civil Society and International Cooperation of the City of Zagreb

Support: Kultura nova Foundation
General sponsor: Ina d.d.