Mladen Stilinović: Artist’s Books

15 April–7 June 2009

Index presents artist’s books by the Croatian artist Mladen Stilinović, with a focus on works from the period 1972 – 2006. In his extensive oeuvre and in various media Stilinović mirrors and questions the ideological signs which condition a society. Active in former Yugoslavia during the socialist regime, Stilinović in his art exposed the symbols which at the time were the ideology’s strongest expressions. In agreement with the Russian philosopher Mikhail Bakhtin’s, “Language is the ideological sign per excellence”, the artist’s interest in language remains at the centre of his activities.

In the mid-1970s Mladen Stilinović’s work was often showed in outdoors exhibition actions arranged by the Group of Six Artists, where Stilinović was a member. Later his books have been exhibited in galleries, museums and in the artist’s apartment. Only a few were printed but in connection with the exhibition Index publishes an edition of My Sweet Little Lamb, an artist’s book from 1993.

Stilinović’s early activities in poetry and film made way for an interest in artist’s books. The artist still manufactures them by hand, in small editions and in simple materials like photographs, newspaper clippings and writings in crayon or pencil. They can be seen as a timebased medium where a dramaturgy or anti-dramaturgy is formed. A conventional narrative is never in focus: if a story is immanent it rather develops intuitively and in the mind of the reader. Often, as for instance in My Sweet Little Lamb, a leporelo format is used, unfolding to a filmic sequence of pages.

Throughout Stilinović’s oeuvre an interest in history and time can be found. His critical position points with sadness and subtle humour to the absurdities and rigid structures in society. His position can be seen as one of a conscious insistence on the freedom of art and its possibility to offer a radically different perspective. One of the quotes from Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, used by the artist in My Sweet Little Lamb, reads: ”Everything we see could also be otherwise”.

Among the signs that Stilinović has investigated in his art is the notion of work and the colour red. During the socialist regime work had strong symbolic connotations. One of the artist’s books included in the exhibition is entitled Artist at Work (1978). It consists of a series of images of a sleeping, or maybe contemplating artist. In his text Praise of Laziness from 1993 Stilinović states: “There is no art without laziness”. The colour red held a unique position among signs in the socialist state thus the strong symbolic value of red is the starting point for many of Stilinović’s works. For Stilinović the opposite of red is pink and, interpreted as the colour of the bourgeoisie, it has also been subject for the artist’s interest. During the years of war, when the state of Yugoslavia fell apart, he produced a series of objects in white, a colour representing pain and grief. After the downfall of the socialist rule the artist directed his interest towards more contemporary hegemonies as expressed through the English language. A renowned work has the title An Artist Who Cannot Speak English Is No Artist (1994-96).

Mladen Stilinović was born 1947 in Belgrade. He lives and works in Zagreb.

29 April 6 pm, at Index. Lecture by Branka Stipančić, art critic and curator Zagreb, on the work of Mladen Stilinović with a focus on the artist’s books.

12 May 7 pm, at Iaspis. Lecture by Ana Janevski, curator at Museum of Modern Art Warsaw, on the Croatian experimental film scene in the 1960s and 70s. Films by, amongst others, Mladen Stilinović will be screened.

The event is a collaboration between Index and Iaspis.