A Full Belly Distrusts an Empty One / DEATH, 1990
enamelled metal plate
Mladen Stilinović, one of the most prominent representatives of Conceptual art in Croatia and former Yugoslavia, was born in 1947 in Belgrade, a city that he maintained strong artistic ties with even after his family returned to Zagreb in 1959, by socialising and collaborating with artists such as Neša Paripović, Raša Todosijević, Marina Abramović, and others. Like his brother Sven Stilinović, with whom he would collaborate in the Group of Six Authors, Mladen Stilinović dropped out of high school, choosing to follow a self-taught path. At first, he was drawn by literature and philosophy, and then film. By the mid-1970s, he made a dozen experimental films, but his interest, fully in line with the basic principles of Conceptual art, led him further, towards researching the relationship between language, art and ideology. First, he created collages in which he brought everyday language and utility objects into unusual connections, and then he applied the same principle to the field of the so-called New Media, such as an artist’s book or film. Stilinović’s fundamental artistic preoccupation was devoted to examining the relationship between man and language. He believed that every language is contaminated by ideology and that human personality is essentially determined by the way in which a person learns a certain language. Although he uses a folk proverb in the object “A Full Belly Distrusts an Empty One”, and not, for example, the language of state authorities from the socialist and post-socialist historical period, Stilinović has no illusions: behind language there is always a social order. “In most of my works I use everyday things: plates, spoons, money, eggs, cakes… They speak about the power and blackmail of the State and about the state mechanisms that manipulate us through money, language, various jobs.” When asked on one occasion why he adds the word “death” to the titles of certain works, Stilinović replied that he only adds it to those phrases that sound threatening. And indeed, slogans and proverbs such as “He who works is not afraid of hunger” or “No work no food”, do not enlighten, but warn. Stilinović would say that they form and standardise us, make us part of certain social communities whose functioning principles, however, we must not take for granted.
Text: Klaudio Štefančić, senior curator of the National Museum of Modern Art © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb
Translated by: Robertina Tomić
Photo: Goran Vranić © National Museum of Modern Art, Zagreb