“An attack on my art is an attack on socialism and progress” Mladen Stilinovic maintains in one of his works, subverting the political slogan “an attack on the achievements of the revolution is an attack on socialism and progress.” Putting himself and his art, as individuals in the place of the collective, reveals a new meaning in the old saw. Language forms a locus of social and semiotic exploration, and in turn criticism, in Stilinovic’s work as one can see in his artist books and other works currently on view as part of the artist’s retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb.(See my other post on it here.) Parallel to this, the artist was one of those who pioneered the use of the book as art despite its format and reproducible nature in the region. These two facts make his artist books interesting, especially in how they tied into international avant-garde art trends, spearheaded attempts to bring art into the public sphere, and reflect a critical consciousness expressed through irony and the physical deconstruction of the word that still has echoes in the Conceptual art of the region.
Much of Stilinovic’s wordplay, occurring in media outside his book art, deals with themes of individual vs. collective identity, the enforced political co-option of the Yugoslav state, and relationship between labor and money.
“The subject of my work is the language of politics, i.e. its reflection in everyday life. […] The question is how to manipulate that which manipulates you so obviously, so shamelessly, but I am not innocent either- there is no art without consequences.”
– Footwriting, Mladen Stilinovic, 1984
How art relates to these things and environment is another concern he explores. Irony is a tool used to explore the hidden contradictions of the everyday language of the world.
Books, not being traditional art objects, were avant-garde by virtue of their form. Using language as a medium help liberate the work from art making traditions and aesthetic expectations. He also assembled thematic photo collections in book form in these same early years, and his marked use of obsessive attention to language appears later in his work, such as the sign and embroidered work below, or Dictionary (Pain) (discussed in this previous post).