press release

Enjoying an enviable reputation as an artist for over 20 years, Mladen Stilinović keeps commenting on the spiritual and cultural history of his time, still using a beginner’s handwriting, block letters, at times in black and red ink. In the beginning, Stilinović was very enthusiastic about making it all a matter for public debate (1980), initiating a discussion on linguistic and visual stereotypes as environmental issues; after he has used his artistic sensitivity to inspect every little corner of the society and laid his doubting Thomas’ finger on its spiritual and physical frailties, today (2007), his cry MAMMA MIA seems more than justified. In the meantime, he has examined how operational the communist regime is: no good. Capitalism: no good. Socialist realism: even worse. He had a try at ideologies: it didn’t work. Aesthetics: no good. He exploited the dead to see what they could do for us: to tell the truth, some of them did mumble something, but only very few made any sense of it.

Although text pervades all of Western visual culture, many have seen and interpreted words as something unnecessary fettering the image. This ‘pure visuality’, so dominant in the 20th century art, has proved a dangerous trap, even though there were also very clear and valid indicators (Duchamp, Picasso, Magritte, Warhol, Beuys, Broodthaers, Kruger, Haacke, Mangelos etc.) that a word within an image is by no means a substitute for its language, but rather an integral part of the creative spirituality accompanying man from the cradle to the grave. Duchamp, Picasso, Magritte, Warhol, Beuys, Broodthaers, Kruger, Haacke, Mangelos, Martek, Stilinović etc. realised that words enrich the image, and that the image, after being enriched in such a manner, amply repays on the iconic and symbolic level. But this is not only about the image; this is about the artist’s integral intellectual and creative position at the end of a long ‘modern’ period and at the inception of an opposition movement, unhappily branded as ‘post’. Besides, even from the rather insignificant ‘post’ distance, it was clear that the Modernist Movement had its ideological, cultural, even aesthetic dark sides, or, as they say it, it simply failed. At the time when Stilinović was coming of age as an artist, this Modernism, though practically dead on a global scale, still dominated the local spiritual domain. It is not all that important to realise whether this opposition movement began on a local scale with the Gorgon in 1961, in 1968, 1971, with the Group of Six Authors, or with the breakup of Yugoslavia; it is important to determine whether the virus of opposition and deconstruction of the ideology of Modernism was continually present within the corpus of the movement itself. Identified today as the ‘other line’ or ‘peripheral peculiarity’, this virus proved extremely resilient, passing on from generation to generation its infectious ability to doubt and wonder. Simultaneously, it did not only win more and more freedom territory, it permanently questioned the condition of social, cultural and aesthetic values.

In early 1980s, Stilinović’s position was marginal and peripheral rather than heretical, and it was exactly this kind of position that made it possible for him to start systemic operations of deconstructing the values which equally defined himself. In relation to the already aesthetically refined conceptual research at that time, his efforts seemed those of an outsider; yet, this did not interfere with Stilinović’s need to explore – from his own perspective – the meaning of the social, economic and cultural stereotypes which surrounded him. Back in those days, just like today, Stilinović used the legitimate methods of collage, montage attractions, bricolage and decoupage to create a unique world of contemplation relaying a strong ethical message. The medium? Evidently, the role of the medium, which late Modernism put on a pedestal, headed by design, underwent a thorough, radical reconsideration in Stilinović’s practice of art, which eventually led to its full de-aesthetisation. Similar to the few courageous in this day and age, Stilinović was explicit: forget the medium – think about the messages.

For more than thirty years, Stilinović has been sending his peculiar ecumenical messages ‘urbi et orbi’ – to the old and new capitalism, old and new communism and socialism, such incidental phenomena as economy, tradition, religion, ideology, civil society and the social class system, inculding his own contemporaneity, which has not learnt the lessons of the past, as dark as it may have been, and the author has rightly said several times now that he has ‘no time’ for that kind of business. When we look at the list of Stilinović’s self-financed editions, booklets, publications, all of it gathered in the excellent booklet ‘Artist’s Books’ (Istanbul/Eindhoven, 2007), we are amazed by the selection of topics the artist has covered, and there is a good excuse for his MAMMA MIA today. His position, personally defined by garlic, bread and butter, identifies very accurately the operational and social context of the showdown with the transformations of all forms of the phenomenal world, where he found himself owing to fateful circumstances. Stilinović is aware only an individual can challenge a hierarchy or the constraints of a system (ideological, social, economic, sexual, cultural, aesthetic etc.) by sieving the sediments of common and individual legacies, for which he did not need the doctrines of Stirner, Proudhon or Bakunin – being a dead ant himself, that is an artist, he saw clearly what this is about. All his actions are pervaded by a situational combination of a radical criticism of the modern society and avant-garde art, which also means a criticism of anarchism, indirectly also of all those myths which lulled (and institutionalised) the art of his time, meaning contemporary art. Criticism and theory will never answer the question if the projects and actions launched and carried out by Stilinović are an alternative to the alternative of radical artistic explorations, if it is yet another Utopian quest to reconcile the opposites of art and life. Perhaps the Roma woman at the square knows the answer, perhaps the slogan of the company ‘Podravka’ has it – who knows. Meanwhile, Stilinović has combined words with images, from words to images and the other way round, and so created a politically and ideologically powerful extradisciplinary glossary, which he has used stubbornly for around thirty years now – begging, asking, demanding, even singing if you pay him: would you please put this world in order, once and for all, so I can have some peace and do something modern.

It is absolutely clear the world is not finished, nor is art in it. Two thousand eight is neither the beginning nor the end. Should we take into account two thousand eight, it may seem the book has been written, its chapters completed, with nothing left to say. Yet, many a million of epochs have come to pass before two thousand eight, since the Devonian and the Pliocene, so two thousand eight seems no more than a ‘tabula rasa’ waiting to be inscribed. Stilinović found himself in the midst of this time span, this interspace, so there is a good excuse for his MAMMA MIA. We would say the same thing.

Želimir Koščević

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Insulting anarchy by Mladen Stilinovic