Mladen Stilinović: Nothing Gained with Dice

Mladen Stilinović: Nothing Gained with Dice

Mladen Stilinović, Money Environment, 1980/2008. Installation view with the artist, Van Abbemuseum, 2008. Photo: Boris Cvjetanović. Courtesy the artist.

Mladen Stilinović: Nothing Gained with Dice
March 17, 2014

Nothing Gained with Dice is the second solo presentation of work by Croatian artist Mladen Stilinović at e-flux. While the 2010 exhibition Artist’s Books focused on that form, with which Stilinović has continuously been engaged since 1972, the most recent exhibition offers broader insight into the great variety of media and themes that characterize Stilinović’s work—with its interweaving of politics, language, art, and daily life—while tracing them back to his earlier and lesser-known experiments in poetry and film. The exhibition, titled after a quote from poet Paul Celan, which Stilinović uses as the opening line of his text “On Money and Zeros,” foregrounds the crucial link between his visual work and language and poetry; while the early films, which Stlinović produced in Zagreb’s so-called amateur cine-clubs, call forth his passionate dedication to auto-didacticism.

Since the beginning of his career in the 1970s, Stilinović has been opposing social norms, ideology of political and culture canons, always questioning his own human and artistic status. From 1975 he was a member of Group of Six Artists, a group of avant-garde artists in Zagreb, who organized exhibitions-actions in public space, seeking for more autonomous art venues for art production and distribution. Stilinović constantly reaffirms his position of an artist who operates as an artistic corrective to the surrounding reality, from the Yugoslav socialism to the neo liberal global capitalism. From a formal perspective, Stilinović proposes an examination of the aesthetic (and social) heritage of historical avant-gardes, overcoming the intellectual strictness of conceptual art, and opening a space for humor and irony. Stilinović’s works are mainly simple in their execution, but meticulously engaged with such subjects as poverty, death, money, economy, and pain, while systematically researching the relations between language and ideology.

Stilinović began producing his films in the so-called amateur cine-clubs in Zagreb. An autodidact in every field, he was able to move from one medium to another with a certain grace and liberty, and to employ various techniques at once. The films in the exhibitions have a revelatory effect, as they disclose his early curiosity and fascination with many different subjects that are also present in the collages and art books he was making at the time: city milieus, handwriting, street signs, drawings, visual poetry, and textual interpolation.

In Artist at work the artist is portrayed while sleeping, and in his notorious Praise of Laziness he asserts that there is no art without laziness. Stilinović points out the imperative of earning money and being employed in order to be part of society, in both socialist and capitalist production. His critical interest in the social significance of money—in the rituals, conventions, and ideologies that define its functions in society—is displayed in the works dealing with money.

“Just as money is only paper, the gallery is only a room,” claims the artist. Most of the “money works” in the exhibition comprise a new configuration of the Money Room, the fifth of a series of eleven rooms that Stilinović has set up in his apartment and displayed since 2003. The works included in the rooms span from the late ’70s to recent years.

“Money is the only language everybody understands,” thus the artist demystifies money as he demystifies party and ideological language. He uses real banknotes and coins—dollars, euros, and Yugoslav dinars—and undermines the authoritarian conventions of money by editing, fragmenting, adding, subtracting, changing texts and numbers, and combining Suprematism with language and food. In Increased values or Slow destruction of American economy, he writes on some of the banknotes and hence transforms their aesthetic and symbolic language. After all, money is also merely made of images, material—signs among other signs.

Money environment is the third iteration of the room series. First installed in the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Zagreb in 1980, and then at the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven in 2008, viewers attempted to reach for the banknotes from the ceiling and trampled on the coins on the floor.

“Time is money” can be read on one of his plates. In his film Time 2 (1980), Stilinović films a clock, i.e. clockwise motion. In the meantime, in 1979 he would publish his book I Have No Time (1979), and in the ’90s he created a Clock-Zero, where he painted an old-fashioned alarm clock completely white, expect for the number zero. “Zeroes are sad, absent—money is cheerful and present,” he writes. “If art has realized harmony, rhythm and beauty, then art has realized zero.” In his white paintings Subtraction of zeros, he shows a systematic subtraction of zeros values.

The use of colors is very important in Stilinović’s art. White in suprematism indicates emptiness and nothingness, pain—in Stilinovic’s work it becomes a color of pain—black is the color of death, and red is the color of ideology and political power.

“The question is how to manipulate that which manipulates you,” explains Stilinović in relation to his interest in language. His method, if we can talk about method at all, is the de-instrumentalization of language and speech. He assembles, cuts, glues, deletes, and reassembles, taking his verbal and visual material from the street, from the media, and from politics. His statements often imitate the form of political slogans, which are themselves considered a rudimental poetic form and at the same time a direct mechanism of political and ideological power. In his slogans, Stilinović takes down authority and playfully occupies that space—for example, in Work is a disease, a fake quotation from Karl Marx, or An Attack on my Art is an Attack on Socialism and Progress.

His indifference to all authorities is not to be interpreted as a rebellion, or a passive state, but rather an active resistance to the existing states where there are no alternatives besides a bare, fragile, and imperfect humanity—humour, and lightness. Lightness here is to be understood in the sense that Italo Calvino gives it in the homonymous chapter of the American Lessons: “My working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.”

–Ana Janevski

Mladen Stilinović was born in 1947 in Belgrade and lives in Zagreb. From 1969–76 he worked with experimental film. He was a member of the Group of Six Artists (1975–79) and also ran the PM Gallery in Zagreb from 1982–91. His works include collages, photographs, artist books, paintings, installations, actions, films, and video. Stilinović has exhibited in numerous solo and group shows worldwide since 1975. In 2011 he had a retrospective show at Ludwig Museum, Budapest. In 2013 he exhibited works at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, as well as the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh.

Ana Janevski is currently Associate Curator in the Department of Media and Performance Art at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. From 2007 to 2011 she held the position of curator at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, Poland, where she curated, among many other projects, the large-scale exhibition As Soon As I Open My Eyes I See a Film on the topic of Yugoslav experimental film and art from the sixties and seventies. Recently she has organized a performance project for the Donald B. and Cathrine C. Marron Atrium, Musée de la danse: Three Collective Gestures.

Dan Byers is The Richard Armstrong Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Carnegie Museum of Art, and co-curator, with Daniel Baumann and Tina Kukielski, of the 2013 Carnegie International. His recent projects at the museum include solo exhibitions of Cathy Wilkes, Ragnar Kjartansson, and James Lee Byars, as well as the group exhibitions Reanimation, Ordinary Madness, and the Pittsburgh Biennial. Before joining the staff at the Carnegie, Dan was curatorial fellow at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and assistant to the directors at the Fabric Workshop and Museum in Philadelphia.

For further information please contact magdalena [​at​]

Language & Linguistics

Ana Janevski is a curator in the Department of Media and Performance at The Museum of Modern Art, New York where she has been working on the performance program since 2011. There she co-organized the exhibition Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done (with Thomas Lax and Martha Joseph, 2018/19), among many other exhibitions and projects. She is currently working on the retrospective of Joan Jonas scheduled for spring 2024. From 2007 to 2011, she held the position of curator at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, where she curated, among many other projects, the large-scale exhibition and accompanying publication As Soon As I Open My Eyes I See a Film, on the topic of Yugoslav experimental film and art from the 1960s and 1970s (2011). She regularly contributes to and co-edits publications on performance, the body, and the history of art in Eastern Europe. Janevski lives and works in New York.

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