Mladen Stilinović: Because I Could, Galerija Prozori, Zagreb, 2022

Galerija Prozori, Zagreb
S. S. Kranjčević Library, Zapoljska 1

Curators: Branka Stipančić and Irena Bekić
12/10 – 30/10/2022

Because I Could

The titular photograph shows the artist. He is looking towards the observer, while three clothes pegs – red, white, and blue – are attached to his ears and nose. This is one of the three photographs from the work Flag from 1977. Years later, a child astonished by this gesture of an adult, albeit not knowing the political context, asked the artist as to why he had done it. “Because I could,” the latter answered. Upon their next meeting a year later, infected by the idea, seduced by audacity, the boy greeted the artist by grabbing own nose and ears.

The anecdote with the boy is the starting point of the exhibition Because I Could. It contains the key points, the starting lines intertwined by the exhibition: it outlines the essence of art, it addresses dialogue with the audience, the freedom and artistic willingness to overtake this freedom. Conceived for a space that is by no means a white cube – if there is such a thing at all – it has already been deeply defined by the habitus of the library; the exhibition particularly aims at dialogue with children – since it is exactly in the relationship between art and this type of audience that communication can be re-established – and builds a spread-out communication field, questions the nature of things, the power of language, and the essence of art.

With simple gestures, such as short handwritten messages – sometimes a slogan (e.g., Cake Attack), a single word (grass) or onomatopoeia (woof-woof), the construction of estranged micro-situations – of objects (Summer, For Marie Antoinette in ‘68), or unexpected combinations of image and text (Potatoes, Potatoes) or the unmasking of political rhetoric by aligning intimate content with political rhetorical form (Stipa Loves Ađo – Ađo Loves Stipa, written as banners in public space), Stilinović demonstrates that perceived reality is blurred by language conventions, ideology, or personal mythologies.

Each of his artistic gestures calls into question that which we know and that which we think we know. A pink piglet can be a lamb and vice versa. However, the question whether a piglet is a lamb is not a pun of Stilinović’s or a general discussion on conventions, but is rather related to the nature of the symbolic code with which we seek to encompass reality, as well as of the set created in this encompassment. Art handles different language systems, which is at the root of its complexity since all of these possibilities equally coexist while dissolving, activating, and negating the field of meaning. If he uses drawing and imagery to perform naming, basically following on Wittgenstein’s language game theory, a drawn piglet may and cannot be a written lamb and vice versa. Specifically, at their intersections where communication indeed takes place, different language codes compete more often than they build alliances. It is in this continuous liveliness, in the generated crevices – which art seeks to make visible – that the sites of negotiation are uncovered.

The entire exhibition is a space of negotiation. A call to conversation. It gets into the space, it parasitises, it dismembers it functionally. The works are found in places in which they are not expected, but into which they logically fit. For example, the photographs of smiles affixed to the floor at the entrance itself are simultaneously a welcome greeting that ought to be trodden or skipped over. The swing with a custard slice is situated directly by children’s picture books, so closely that a child may brush past it, swing it a bit. The video Spelling Book behind the shelves invites us to read together. The artist’s book Hairdressers with a series of photographs of hairdressers’ signage is spread out and affixed to the window, while the object Summer is set up in front of the doors. The inscriptions Grass and No Walking on Sidewalk are found on the sidewalk in front of the library.

The series Artist at Workphotographs of the artist in bed, and The Pain Game – throwing of the dice whereby the result is always pain, are positioned above the shelves in the adult section, etc. At every step, a seemingly naïve gesture, a left-behind piece of paper, or a representation of reality invite the audience to react, to question, to think. A kind of humorous/spiritual invasion on the established ways of thinking, a subversion of that which is known, a call to resistance.

Thereby, they are not large-scale uprisings. Quite the contrary, Stilinović’s measure is indeed the everyday life. They are insignificant and automatised expressions and situations which he extracts from a heap, while simultaneously examining their fragility and permanence. He neither searches for nor offers definitive answers. His measure is freedom, the possibility to say and to defy something, and he also invites the audience to do the same. Thereby the absurdity he produces is as painful as it is entertaining.

Irena Bekić