A banner created by Mladen Stilinovic in 1992 firmly declares: “An Artist who Cannot Speak English is no Artist,” thus by his own definition, he is an artist. Additionally, he claims to be a “lazy” artist. Laziness, he claims in his 1993 text, “In Praise of Laziness,” is not only an artform in itself, but is a crucial element of artistic creation – being inert and inactive, and crafting things without purpose is essential to artistic creation. Mladen convinces us of this in his 1977 photographic performance, Artist at Work, which shows the artist laying down and sleeping.
But just because an artist is lazy does not mean that he isn’t productive. In Mladen’s case, the laziness seems to have paid off, because his prolific body of work seems to be the result of considerable careful thinking, contemplation and reflection, mainly on language and ideology, as well as the place of an artist from the “East” in a global market economy. Since much of his work consists of an exploration of language, success on the market becomes increasingly important if he wants to be heard.
Malden was part of the Group of Six Artists, a cohort of artists working together in the 1970s in Croatia who were self-organized, creating art in the public sphere, interventions into public space, and organizing “exhibition-actions” in public spaces, where they were present together with their art to speak and interact with the viewers. Among these actions were Cotton Pad Step (1975), a sheet of fabric stretched across the sidewalk so that pedestrians were forced to either jump over it or simply step on it to continue along their path; an action entitled Two Reds (1976), where the artist carried a painting through Zagreb; and an auction of the color red (in fact a painting) at the 5th April Meeting in Belgrade, also in 1976.
The color red appears as a trope throughout the artist’s work, a color that he sees as infused with ideology and symbolic meaning, that cannot be erased. As such he attempts to subvert the color, through not only its overuse and perhaps mis-use, but also by diluting it to pink, and then combining that color with red.
In 1979, the artist gave a lecture and an “anti-performance,” in his words, at the De Appel Gallery in Amsterdam, on the occasion of the “Words and Works” exhibition being held there. According to the artist, this was one of the first manifestations of the East in the West. In honor of such an occasion, the artist gave his lecture entirely in Croatian, without any translation, and with the request that the video-recording of the speech also remain untranslated. Even prior to creating his 1992 banner, the artist was aware of the power of language in the art world, and in this instance defiantly countered the use of English as a common language in the global art market by insisting on his own native language. The lecture, incidentally, was titled The Discourse about Language and About Power. The anti-performance was called the Foot-Bread Relationship and in some ways illustrates this balance of power between two entities, as the artist kicked a loaf of bread on stage, and then hung photographs of his 1977 photographic performance where he also kicked a loaf of bread against a wall. These photographs were originally displayed in an accordion-style book, and, when viewed in sequence, animated the action of the artist kicking the bread. The anti-performance demonstrates Mladen’s own conviction that performance is in fact photography, because the only way to capture or show a performance is through its photographic documentation.
Bread, along with the color red, cakes and even money are items and symbols that occur repeatedly in his work. While the connection between money and power is perhaps obvious, the link between power and bread is more subtle. The artist makes these connections clear by covering a load of bread, for example, in money. He sells cakes advertised as potatoes, creating a further link between money, food and pleasure.
While the artist’s claim to laziness and ‘sleep as work’ belie the profuse body of work he has created, he appears to live his life as an artist in a very Duchampian way, taking the elements of the everyday and creating something new. Further supporting this approach that the artist’s life is a work of art itself is the interactive performance that he did at his solo exhibition “Sing!” in 1980, wherein he left the last room empty, to sit and talk with viewers. One wonders, however, whether any of those conversations took place in the artist’s “official” language of English.