Mladen Stilinović (1947, Belgrade – 2016, Pula) was born in Belgrade on April 10, 1947, where his father Marijan worked as the main editor of the newspaper Borba. Before WWII his father was acting, also worked for different newspapers and for Zagreb Radio Station. As a pre-war revolutionary (he was a member of the illegal terrorist organisation Crvena pravda / Red Justice) he received a nine-year sentence for communist activities. At the beginning of WWII, he escapes from prison and joins the Partisan movement. It is there that he meets his future wife, Nada (born Popović). The family lived in Prague from 1948 to 1949, then moved to Buenos Aires in 1951 where his father was the ambassador. Upon their return to Zagreb, Marijan Stilinović becomes the head of culture and establishes several important institutions, including the Municipal Gallery of Contemporary Art (today’s Museum of Contemporary Art) which was established in 1954. Due to disagreements with the official policy of the Communist Party of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, his career finished abruptly and for good in 1956, and he moved his wife and three children (sister Vesna and brother Sven) to Zadar. Following the father’s death, the family returns to Zagreb in 1959.
Mladen left school already as a high school sophomore and from then on he was self-taught. During the 1960s, he was reading literature, writing poetry (several of his poems were presented on the Zagreb Radio Station and published in the literary journal Republika). He was interested in cinema as well as history, theatre and visual arts. At the age of sixteen he saw the performance by John Cage at the Music Biennale in Zagreb in 1963. He read Rimbaud, Lautréamont, Saint-John Perse, Khlebnikov, Osip Mandelstam, Mayakovsky, T. S. Eliot, Tadeusz Róžewicz, novels by Dostoevsky, Pasternak, Pilnyak, Sartre, Camus, Gide, Malaparte, Samuel Beckett. He frequented the famous art cinema Kinoteka to watch films by Dziga Vertov, Ruttmann, Eisenstein, Buñuel, Jean Vigo, Godard, Tati and others.
In 1969 a group of friends – Boris Barta, Mišo Budisavljević, Branko Degenek, Ninoslav Lovčević, Krsto Mihaljević, Milivoj Puhlovski and Mladen Stilinović – founded the student cinema club Pan 69. He shot his first films Ostani na uglu (Stay on the Corner) and Sam si (You’re Alone) in 1970. That year, in a disco club, he met a high school student, Branka Stipančić, (the author of this text) and the two started a long-term relationship. With Pan 69 and his friends he performed the one and only happening entitled Majski i ostali rituali (May and Other Rituals) in Zagreb, in the Theatre ITD during the 24th May Festival of Yugoslav Student Theatre. The happening was stopped and censured while in progress due to political reasons.
He also watched American underground films at Zagreb Genre Film Festival (1970), and admired films by Gotovac, Pansini, Petek, Kristl, Vukotić, Makavejev, Pavlović, Žilnik, Naško Križnar, Nuša and Srečo Dragan… He always visited exhibitions of the New Tendencies as well as those held at the Gallery of Contemporary Art. He was motivated by numerous events and translations of critical editions about film, historical avant-gardes, happening, conceptual art, philosophy of language and linguistic theories, which were available in former Yugoslavia in numerous journals such as Rok, Polja, Treći program, Delo, Filmske sveske, Književnost, in the book Mixed Media by Bora Ćosić, etc. He knew well the domestic art scene: the Slovene group OHO, works by Zagreb artists such as Goran Trbuljak, Sanja Iveković, Dalibor Martinis, Braco Dimitrijević and others, and their interventions in urban space.
During Pan’s Days, held on a small stage of the Student Centre in Zagreb in 1971, Stilinović showed his films Panika (Panic), Ja volim ljude, a vi? (I Love People, How about You?), More i … (The Sea and …), and Ramenim tako bolno ceo smešan svet (Painfully Shouldering the Whole Funny World), all shot in the same year, and participated in the 6th Festival of Croatian Amateur Film in Zagreb.
In 1972 he started making collages and researching poetic speech, political and everyday discourse in relation to visual signs and different materials. He would often bind such collages into “books” with transparent pages (To smeće ostavi / Leave this Garbage Alone, Zastave – gumbi / Flags – Buttons, and Hej / Hey made in 1972; and Zapiš / Record Schmecord, and Opa – cupa / Wham-bam made in 1973), because he was interested in the continuity of the content achieved by turning pages. He used collages to make his first artist’s book Govorili su mi su ti (They Spoke to Me to You) in 1973 which he copied. He participated with the group F.A.V.I.T. (abbr. for film, audio, video, research, television) in the film events called “multivision” on the 2nd and 3rd April Meetings (1973, 1974) and at the festivals in Zagreb and Pula. Vlado Petek, the founder of F.A.V.I.T., was the main initiator of those common actions which included parallel screening of films, and projecting images from a slide projector. Stilinović made an audio-video collage Teror slike (Terror of the Image) by showing at the same time slides and his 8 mm and 16 mm films and clips from animated, erotic and documentary films and turned on a TV programme.
In 1973 Stilinović made Početnica 1, 2, 3 (Premier 1, 2, 3), a trilogy of short silent films accompanied with a text, during which the audience had to read out loud words and images. This conceptual work revealed the artist’s interest in the street design which later became visible in his photographic books. This is also the most lucrative cinematic year for Stilionvić: he makes Bježi (Run Away) and Piši ne samoće (Write about Un-loneliness), a film shot in negative, as well as the only long feature, the 70-minute film Tresla se brda rodio se miš (Much Ado about Nothing). They were shown at many amateur film festivals in the 1970s in Zagreb, Split, Pula, Belgrade, Skopje, Ljubljana, Kranj, as well as in the former West Germany, and Poland. Those films were awarded at festivals in Novi Sad (1972), Zagreb (1974) and Split (1975). From 1973 he started hitchhiking with Branka (who was an art history student at the time) in Europe (Italy, France, Germany, The Netherlands, Great Britain, Austria …) where he visited museums and galleries and studied old and new art.
He exhibited his photographic works for the first time in a group exhibition in 1974 entitled Fotografije (Photographs), held during Zagreb Film Days (ZAGFIDA) at the Municipal Library in Zagreb. This is also the period in which he creates a series of word images: Svjestan slikanja (Aware of Painting) and Ruke kruha (Hand of Bread) in 1974, and Sam (Alone) and Smrdi (It Stinks) in 1975. He also makes a considerable number of artist’s books with a simple layout and precise structure, often based on repetition, and almost always in A4 format (Hoću kući / I Want to Go Home and Daj pogle / Have a Look in 1974, and later, Iz jezika u jezik / From Language to Language in 1977, Govor / Speech in 1978, etc.). He exhibited Ruke kruha (Hand of Bread) at the 3rd April Meetings in Belgrade. It is there that he meets the artists such as Neša Paripović, Raša Todosijević, Goran Đorđević, Marina Abramović, Zoran Popović, Miško Šuvaković, and art critics Dunja Blažević, Ješa Denegri, Bojana Pejić, Biljana Tomić and others.
In May 1975 a group of friends – Željko Jerman, Vlado Martek, Boris Demur, Sven Stilinović and Fedor Vučemilović – decided to perform together. Motivated by the desire to refer directly to the public in the street, they functioned an association of individual artists but without a common programme. The Group of Six Authors exhibited on various locations in Zagreb: at the municipal bathing place on the Sava River, in the centre of the Upper Town, in Sopot in New Zagreb, on the main square in Zagreb (1975); on the beach in Mošćenička Draga (1976), in Venice (1978), Belgrade (1976 -1978) and elsewhere. They would bring their own works and place them on the lawn, on the pavement and perform actions. They were all revolting against the ideologized society, conservative art and conventional behaviour, and their activities reflected the libertine spirit of 1968. Between 1975 and 1979 the group performed over 20 exhibition-actions in the open.
Stilinović’s first solo exhibition was in 1976 in the Gallery Nova in Zagreb. He exhibited his white image series Ruke kruha (Hand of Bread), Strah (Fear), Smrdi (It Stinks), Moje tvoje (Mine, Yours), the photo collage Crvena poema (Red Poem), and his artist’s books. These works had an open linguistic structure supplemented with visual signs. The artist was interested in the “zaum language”, which simultaneously contains a poetic idea as well as a social topic, and reveals the aim to use language free from ideology. Many “books” are based on the use of tautology typical of conceptual art. At this exhibition the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb purchased Crvena poema (Red Poem) for its collection. The same artist’s books were exhibited at the solo exhibition Izvađen iz gomile (Removed from the Crowd) held at the Gallery of Student Culture Centre (SKC) in Belgrade. For that occasion Stilinović made a small catalogue which he copied manually. He would appropriate the same model – photocopies, original drawings and photographs – for other catalogues he would make for exhibitions held in alternative spaces such as Podrum and the Gallery PM in the 1980s.
At the same time Stilinović made many photographs and photographic series which he bound in leporello (accordion): Frizeri (Hairdressers), Fotografirane fotografije (Photographed photographs), 1975, 1. maj (1 May), Korak gaze (Cotton Pad Step), 1975, Pismo + Slika (Letter + Image), 1976, Umjetnik radi (Artist at Work), 1978, etc. He kept making drawings, collages and artist’s books. He exhibited them under the title A4 (Podroom, Zagreb, 1978). In a manually made catalogue, he analyses the A4 format, and states that this format reveals its freedom and non-freedom, that he finds its size acceptable because he does not want to deceive others with the form, he does not want to be the user of the material but rather the creator of ideas – opinions … The exhibition, as Stilinović concludes, “does not only reveal my works but also my material state”. However, Stilinović did not only use alternative spaces to exhibit his works. He frequently exhibited in the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, which was by far the best gallery in the former Yugoslavia (Konfrontacije / Confrontations, 1976, Nova Fotografija / New Photography, 1976, 1979). It was there that the Group of Six Artists realized one of its exhibition-actions in 1977.
In 1978 Stilinović makes the first so-called retrospective entitled Evidencija rada 1970-1978 (Register of Work 1970-1978) in the family house at the address Voćarsko naselje 128. He screened his films, exhibited collages, drawings, paintings, photographs, artist’s books, almost everything he had created. The family house was open to all visitors. Mladen’s mother would socialize with friends who visited them, from theatre professionals visiting Mladen’s sister Vesna, the actress herself, and her husband, to artists from the Group of Six and musicians from the group Leibach visiting Mladen’s brother Sven. The atmosphere was very libertine and creative. Mladen and Sven helped each other in screening films and making photographs, and in realisation of specific works.
Other artists exhibited together with exhibition-actions of the Group of Six Authors in 1978: Goran Petercol, Tomislav Gotovac, Željko Kipke, Antun Maračić, Zlatko Kutnjak and others. That same year, at the invitation of Dalibor Martinis and Sanja Iveković, an even larger group of artists (Josip Stošić, Goran Trbuljak, Boro Ivandić, Ivan Dorogi, etc.) unsatisfied with the way municipal galleries treated them, organized themselves in the workers’ community called Podroom. For two years Dalibor Martinis’ studio in Mesnička 12 became their meeting place and exhibition space, the place where they organized lectures, issued publications, etc. Apart from two solo exhibitions, Stilinović also organized several thematic ones and participated in almost all group exhibitions. The artists in the workers’ community demanded better treatment of their works in group exhibitions, and at one Youth Salon they insisted that there works should not be evaluated by the panel because they found panel members incompetent for evaluation of the “new art practice” (which was an umbrella term for conceptual, postconceptual art, performative practice and new media). This significant part of the history of Yugoslav contemporary art was immortalized with the exhibition accompanied by an extensive catalogue entitled Nova umjetnička praksa u Jugoslaviji 1966-1978 (The New Art Practice in Yugoslavia 1966-1978) by the curator and editor Marijan Susovski, held in the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb in 1978. The catalogue was published in English and represents a good example of state institutions timely supporting art.
From 1978 the Group of Six started publishing the artists’ journal Maj ’75 which by 1984 had seventeen editions. The editions were marked alphabetically and were produced in 150 to 200 copies. The journal was made by binding individual A4 sheets made by the artists themselves. It contained concepts, projects, discussions about art, ironic and politicized standpoints, all hand written and screen printed (in the workshop of Vlasta Delimar and Željko Jerman), drawings, collages, photographs, and less frequently, copies. Maj ‘75 represented the sum of the works of the artists who regarded a page their personal space whose realization and distribution was under their control, and this very page enabled them to break free from isolation. Many artists gathered around Maj’75 and many famous works by Stilinović were made especially for that journal.
In 1979 Mladen exhibited his works from the series Crveno – Roza (Red – Pink) in Podrum. He used the red colour of communism to challenge the dichotomy, truthfulness and falseness, of linguistic expressions and ideological signs. The communist red underscores the red star, the red flag, “the red thread of revolution”; it became the colour of communist ideology. In many of his works Stilinović appropriates a “common”, de-ideologised use of red. In the text “Potrošnja crvene-roza” (“Consummation of Red-Pink”), published in the catalogue of the 1979 exhibition in Podroom, the artist claims: “By inserting red into various contexts, I want to de-symbolise it, to make it just a colour. So, the effort, if we wish to interpret the work correctly, consists of erasing our knowledge and not of reinforcing it. If we wish to close read this work by relying on our knowledge of the colour red, we end up with an absurd interpretation. Since we cannot hide our knowledge, these works are close read as symbols as well as de-symbols.” He will keep on exploiting the pink colour – a light red or the colour of rococo, pleasure and philistinism – for years to come. He emphasised red and pink with words, materials and humour. Naturally, he challenged everything. Ideology is omnipresent, and the artist plays with it in a complex manner.
During the 1970s he exhibited continuously with the Group of Six in those galleries which accepted that type of art. Some of them are the already mentioned Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, the Gallery Nova in Zagreb and the Gallery of Student Cultural Centre in Belgrade. Owing to the dedication of several curators (Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos, Ješa Denegri, Biljana Tomić, Nena Baljković, and somewhat later Marijan Susovski and Davor Matičević), Stilinović exhibited in the country and abroad: in Warsaw (1976), Modena, Innsbruck, at the Paris Youth Biennale (1977), Los Angeles, New Orleans (1978), Graz (1980). He travelled frequently, attending regularly the Venice Biennale. After the Paris Biennale he came to London where he attended a major exhibition entitled Artist’s Books at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. He studied Italian (1979-1980) at the Università per Stragnieri di Perugia (University for Foreigners in Perugia), hoping to be able to read literature on anarchy, which was not available in translation at the time. In 1979 he participated in the exhibition Works and Words held in the Gallery De Appel in Amsterdam where he met conceptual artists from Eastern Europe. There he performed two short actions, a specific type of anti-performance, Odnos noga – kruh (Foot-Bread Relationship), and a lecture against the English language entitled “Discussion on Language and Power”. His films were presented at the StedelijkMuseum in Amsterdam as part of the selection of Yugoslav Films. At that time he stopped making movies due to complicated organization of moviemaking and technical, financial and other reasons.
From the second half of the 1970s and during the 1980s Stilinović’s main preoccupations are various power relations: power as the focal point of politics, ideology and art, power intertwined in the complex mechanisms of everyday life. Focusing on the study of language and different symbols of civilisation, Stilinović criticized political speech and its repercussion in the society, with a frequent use irony, paradox and manipulation. He often talked about the most distinct myths of the contemporary moment: time, money, work and communication. Thus, he touched upon something deemed untouchable because time should not be wasted in vain, money should not be destroyed, work is the ultimate virtue, and language serves as means of communication. And the artist tried to contest it. He is well known for “manipulating” the terms such as work and time, making works where money becomes mere paper, or works on linguistic misunderstanding. For Stilinović language is, as Mikhail Bakhtin claims, an ideological phenomenon. He was interested to see how the basic general ideological forms of sign communication can be expressed in the best manner with words, which is why he initiated a “discussion” on truthfulness and falseness of every linguistic expression and every ideological sign. He obtained his themes from socialist society by decoding and exposing to irony verbal and visual clichés in order to separate language from usual and daily political connotations.
At his solo exhibition Pjevaj! (Sing!) held in the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb in 1980, Stilinović exhibited some of his key works: Staviti na javnu raspravu (Submit to Public Debate), Ambijent novca (Environment with Moneye), different linguistic works, “works in/about red”, photographs and other works. Art critics did not even register the exhibition. Even though his works directly touched upon political topics, he had no problems with political prohibitions. Only one of his works, the one entitled Rad je bolest – Karl Marx (Work is a Disease – Karl Marx) was prohibited at the Youth Salon in Zagreb in 1980. Interestingly enough, the work was soon shown at the exhibition S onu stranu estetike (Beyond Aesthetics) at the Gallery of Student Centre in Zagreb which also included a discussion panel in cooperation with the Croatian Philosophical Society (1981).
The workers’ community of the artists from Podroom presented their works at several exhibitions in the Gallery of Student Culture Centre (ŠKUC) in Ljubljana in 1981. This lead to cooperation with Dušan Mandić, Marin Gržinić and Barbara Borčić.
Between 1981 and 1983 Stilinović lived with Branka in the town of Ika near Opatija, when Branka taught courses in modern art at the Faculty of Pedagogy in Rijeka. When she became the curator of the Gallery of Contemporary Art in 1983, they moved back to Zagreb. Stilinović headed the Extended Media Gallery (PM Gallery), founded in 1981 by a group of artists within the Croatian Association of Artists. The Extended Media hosted many exhibitions set up at a fast pace but the atmosphere was relaxed, which is why this also became the space of gathering of a larger group of artists until 1991 when the gallery was suddenly closed down due to forceful entry of the members of the Croatian Party of Rights who misleadingly believed that the house was denationalised in their favour.
During activities of Podroom and the Extended Media, Stilinović used to invite many artists from Yugoslavia (Paripović, Todosijević, Šuvaković, Mandić, etc.), curated many exhibitions, such as, for example, Izložba jela i pića (Exhibition of Food and Beverage) (Podroom, 1980), and Prema ruskoj avangardi (Towards Russian Avant-garde) (PM Gallery, 1984). He also organized with Žarko Vijatović the exhibition on Dimitrije Bašičević Mangelos (Army House Gallery, 1986) as well as a symposium on Mangelos’ critical and artistic oeuvre (PM Gallery, 1988).
Exhibition activities of the artists of the so-called “new art practice” decreased significantly during the 1980s. A handful of galleries in the country, which used to exhibit the works of those artists, turned towards new trends in art, especially towards the new image, transavantgarde, new expressionism and others. Stilinović was rarely invited to participate in group exhibitions in the country, but he still had several solo exhibitions: the already mentioned Pjevaj! (Sing!) at the Gallery of Contemporary Art, followed by the one in the Studio of the Gallery of Contemporary Art (1984), Eksploatacija mrtvih (Exploitation of the Dead) at the PM Gallery (1988), in Tübingenu (1982, 1989) and in the Leopold-Hoesch-Museum (Düren, 1990). He also exhibited abroad at the Malerwochen (Graz, 1980), Trigon (Graz, 1981), at the exhibition of artist’s books (Kunstverein, Frankfurt, 1981), at the exhibition Zeichen in Flux (Signs in Flux) at the Museum des 20. Jahrhunderts (Museum of 20th Century) in Vienna, which travelled to Prague, Pécs and Zagreb (1990).
The exhibition Eksploatacija mrtvih (Exploitation of the Dead) consisted of densely exhibited works from 1984-1988 period. Stilinović analysed the 20th-century art, appropriating the role of the exploiter by using the poetic of Russian Avant-garde, social realism and geometric abstraction of the 1950s, which he proclaimed dead because in his context they no longer transmitted meaning. Challenging those signs, the artist laid bare exploitation frequently present in ideology, religion and art. Aware of the brutality of his act, as he states himself in the exhibition catalogue, he “launches before us a specific ‘debate’ about the language of art and ideology”, “a story which deconstructs itself in dis-order, in a series of conflicting stories about death”. The exhibition was photographed by Boris Cvjetanović, who since then became the key photographer of Stilinović’s works and solo exhibitions. He also made the video Krumpira krumpira (Potatoes Potatoes) (2001) and Ulazak u… (Entry into…) (2012).
Stilinović has always been interested in language, often a very direct clash between the language of politics and everyday language in art. By manipulating the language of politics and symbols of communism, he criticized society and social factors in a subversive manner and with a big dose of cynicism. However, his “white works”, which he started at the beginning of the 1990s during the war in Croatia, do not contain any subversive elements but are poetic instead, and talk about that which is hard to express. Hence, silence prevails over narrative. Works from the series Bijela odsutnost (White Absence) focus on individual experience and reflect helplessness. For Stilinović, white is the colour of silence and pain and he uses it to cover images and objects which bring together different concepts: emptiness, absence, pain, poverty and absurdity. The first exhibition of Bijela odsutnost (White Absence) was held at the Gallery Hajdarević in Požega (1994), followed by exhibitions in Dubrovnik (1995), Rovinj (1996), Zagreb (1997), Melbourne and Auckland (2001), and elsewhere.
During the 1990s he often travelled to Australia and the USA. He had solo exhibitions in Melbourne (1990, 1998), Sydney (1991, 1996), Adelaide (1996), exhibited at the 9th Sydney Biennale (1992), participated in the exhibition The Horse Who Sings: Radical Art from Croatia (Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 1993). In New York his works were displayed at the exhibition The Interrupted Life (New Museum of Contemporary Art, 1991). He also exhibited in Santiago de Chile (1997), Buenos Aires (1998), travelled Europe, exhibited at After Wall (Stockholm 1999) and Aspects – Positions (Vienna, 1999), in Copenhagen (1993), Budapest (1994), and often in Zagreb and Ljubljana. His friendship with the artists from the group IRWIN resulted in group exhibitions and cooperation which lasts until today, including the NSK Embassy in Gent, where Stilinović gave his lecture The Praise on Laziness for the first time (1993), Retro-avantgarde – Works about Money and Zeroes in Ljubljana (1994), and others. He cooperated with Igor Zabel and Zdenka Badovinac on many exhibitions as well as the first solo exhibition Geometry of Cakes at the Small Gallery of the Modern Gallery in Ljubljana (1994).
From the mid-1990s Mladen Stilinović and Branka Stipančić attended many major international exhibitions and brought back recordings, and prepared presentations for the culture show called Transfer broadcasted on the Croatian Television.
After the fall of communism, Stilinović expanded his study of language to include social aspects of various societies and their interrelationship. He used his “linguistic games” to stress foremost the cynicism of power, emphasising his argument with humour and irony. He exhibited Jezične igre (Language Games) in the Gallery Dante – Marino Cettina in Umag (1992), one of just a handful of private galleries in Yugoslavia. At that time he created a series of “aggressive” engaged works entitled Geometrija kolača (Geometry of Cakes) (1993) referring to the famous phrase allegedly spoken by Marie Antoinette: “If they have no bread, let them eat cakes”. He wrote famous proverbs on poverty, time and money on plates, which he placed between cakes. The artist used “folk wisdom” to emphasise the threat and blackmail contained in them, which is then served as “common knowledge”. Though colourful and cheerful, those works also reveal the continuity of ideology in everyday language.
In 1997 the Soros Centre for Contemporary Art published a book on Mladen Stilinović by Spomenka Nikitović, and organized a retrospective exhibition of the Group of Six Artists held at the Croatian Association of Artists in Zagreb in 1998 (followed by Split and Rijeka). The exhibition was richly documented and accompanied with a comprehensive catalogue. Two video cassettes with the artists’ exhibition-actions. and films were also released. In 2002 Gordana Brzović and Kristina Leko directed an extraordinary TV film about the Group of Six.
During his artistic career, apart from two occasions, Stilinović has had no problems with censorship, but there are works he has never exhibited. At the exhibition Što kako i za koga – povodom 152. godišnjice Komunističkog manifesta (What, How and for Whom – On the Occasion of the 152nd Anniversary of the Communist Manifesto) in Zagreb in 2000 he exhibited the work entitled Autocenzura (Autocensorship) (1980-2000). This is when he started cooperating with an active curatorial team called WHW (What, How and for Whom) on numerous projects.
In 2000 he started working on Dictionary – Pain. He used the Oxford English Dictionary which he decomposed into individual pages and exhibited them as a continuous content. Entries remained the same but he painted meanings of words in white. He then wrote “pain” over former meanings and synonyms. He realized the same idea in a handwritten books entitled A, B, C – Bol (A, B, C – Pain) in 1979 using Croatian dictionary in order to challenge a different context. The artist known for his work An Artist Who Cannot Speak English is no Artist, strongly argues that pain is a “product” of the supremacy of the English language, globalisation, political and economic power. For him pain is on the opposite pole of power, in effect it is created by power. He exhibited a series of pages with three initial letters at Ausgeträumt in Secession in Vienna (2000), and then the whole dictionary at the 50th Venice Biennale (2003).
Pain connected with themes from economy is present in the works Ljudi s vrećicama (Bag-People) (2001), Pokapanje boli (Buried Pain) (2000), displayed at the solo exhibition Cinizam siromašnih (Cynicism of the Poor) at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb (2001). In cooperation with the curators Tihomir Milovac and Nada Beroš, he prepared the catalogue of the same title for that exhibition.
He started organizing exhibition in his apartment in 2003. He got the idea when he was supposed to show his works to a curator who proposed a retrospective exhibition at the Modern Gallery in Zagreb. Since Stilinović had no studio and most of his works were in his possession, he decided to inform and remind the curator of his oeuvre through several “exhibitions”. So, the first “display” included the works on the topic of Language of Art: Red – Pink. Though that retrospective never materialised, the artist continued to organize exhibitions in his apartment. During the next several years he organized the following exhibitions: Riječi – Parole i Novine (Words – Slogans and Newspapers) (2004), Fotografije i Novac (Photographs and Money) (2005), Knjige umjetnika (Artist’s Books), Eksploatacija mrtvih (Exploitation of the Dead) and Vrijeđanje anarhije (Insulting Anarchy) (2007), Bijela odsutnost (White Absence) (2008), Radovi s hranom (Works with Food) (2009), Rani crteži i kolaži (Early Drawings and Collages) (2010). It was a kind of “retrospective in time”, but he continued to organize exhibitions at his place. In cooperation with Branka Stipančić he started publishing books on individual stages of his oeuvre. Most of the books were edited in cooperation with other curators and institutions: Pain (MSU, Zagreb, 2003), Umetnik na delu 1973 -1983 / Artist at Work 1973-1983, (Galerija ŠKUC, Ljubljana, 2005), Exploitation of the Dead 1984-1990 (MSU, Zagreb, 2007), Artist’s Books 1972-2006 (Platform Garanti, Istanbul / Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 2007), Knjige umjetnika 1972-2006 (Galerija Nova, Zagreb, 2007), On Money and Zeros (Kunstverein, Graz, 2008), Tekstovi / Texts (Zagreb, 2012), Bijeli radovi / White Works (Pučko otvoreno učilište, Poreč, 2012).
During those years he exhibited at major international events, including the 15th Biennale in Sydney (2006), Documenta 12 in Kassel (2007), and the Istanbul Biennale (2009). His works have been purchased by many museums around the world.
Stilinović started the cycle Vrijeđanje anarhije (Insulting Anarchy) in 2005 and he is still working on it. It incorporates different themes: linguistic, political, economic, religious, historical, aesthetic … He treats his topics with utmost freedom and anarchy, with joy and humour. As usual, his modes of expression are devoid of any limitation, which is why his works are so different: sometimes they are textual, sometimes in the form of collage, sometimes in the form of photograph, installation, etc. The linguistic aspect of his works is in Croatian, which means that his works need to be translated for exhibitions abroad. Hence, for U-Turn Quadriennale in Copenhagen, instead of his works, he sent a video showing a discussion about his work between the art critic Ivana Bago and himself, in which they emphasise the necessity of understanding specific contexts. The first major presentation was at the solo exhibition in the multimedia centre Kibla in Maribor (2007), followed by Banja Luka (2008), and Vienna (2011). He also exhibited them in many group exhibitions: Nema umjetnosti bez posljedica (There is no Art without Consequences), Zagreb (2008), How much Fascism?, Utrecht (2012), Draga umjetnost (Dear Art), Ljubljana (2012).
Stilinović loves literal meaning and expressions which are catchy but we tend not to notice them because they have become very common. For the 11th Istanbul Biennale in 2009 entitled What keeps mankind alive?, he made the installation entitled Nitko ne želi vidjeti (Nobody Wants to See). It featured the number 3 printed 600 million times on a large realm of paper. This demonstrated the fact that the wealth of the three richest people in the world today equals the wealth of 600 million of the world’s poorest. He also elaborated economic topics in the work Kineska posla (Chinese Business) (2009). In the work Staviti na javnu raspravu 2 (Submit to Public Debate 2), some thirty years after the first work of the same title appeared in which he focuses on the politics of language, he now initiates a new debate about contemporary verbal expressions from the language of economy and politics, and presents it as a specific symbiosis between Croatian and English. He presented the work at the 53rd October Salon in Belgrade (2012).
For Mladen Stilinović social life in Zagreb has always been important, which is why he regularly exhibits in many galleries and alternative locations in Zagreb. Some of his most important exhibitions were held at these locations (Gallery Močvara, 2009; Gallery Greta, 2011; Gallery Žitnjak, 2012). We find a great pleasure in meeting regularly with our friends in a small café on the market on Branimir Square on Sundays. This is where we have been meeting with Boris Cvjetanović, Markita Franulić, Goran Trbuljak, Lada Dražin, Dalibor Martinis, Vlado Martek and others since the end-1990s.
Stilinović presented a major part of his oeuvre in exhibitions such as in the Gallery ŠKUC in Ljubljana (2005), the Platform Garanti in Istanbul (2007), the Van Abbemuseumu u Eindhoven (2008), the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow (2008), and the Gallery Taxis Palais in Innsbruck (2008). However, the exhibition Sing! held at Ludwig Museum in Budapest (2011) represents the only complete retrospective of his oeuvre accompanied by a monograph. He received Vjesnik Award (1993) and the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Croatian Association of Artists (2011).
This catalogue accompanies Stilinović’s retrospective Nula iz vladanja (Zero for Conduct) at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb (2012). In addition, the Croatian Film Association has released a DVD with Stilinović’s films and video works.
The following year, an even bigger retrospective was presented at MSU Zagreb, as well as a new monograph (2013).
The Croatian Film Association released a DVD (2012) containing a selection of his films from the 1970s and later video works, so his films started being shown more frequently since then.
In the spring of 2013, he was diagnosed with lung cancer and a difficult battle with the disease ensued. He was treated in Zagreb and Vienna, but spent most of his time in Rovinj, where he created a number of works belonging to the Insulting Anarchy series. In 2014, he had solo exhibitions at E-Flux Gallery in New York (Nothing Gained with Dice), Galerie Frank Elbaz in Paris (Pain), Espaivisor in Valencia (1st of May), Galerie Martin Janda in Vienna (White Absence), and in 2015 a large exhibition at MuAC in Mexico City (1+2 =).
He exhibited at numerous group shows around the world, and following Carnegie International (Pittsburgh, 2013) he attained success in the US when his works were acquired by the Carnegie Museum of Modern Art in Pittsburgh and MoMA in New York. He personally attended many of these exhibitions, including Personal Cuts – Art Scene in Zagreb from 1950s to Now at MAC NÎmes, and Really Usefull Knowledge in Reina Sofia, Madrid (2014).
In the spring of 2016, his condition worsened and the treatment stopped working. We spent our final days in Rovinj. After a flare-up of intense pain, Mladen Stilinović was transported to the hospital in Pula, where he died on July 18, 2016.