Exploitation of the Dead – M. Stilinović, 1984-1990
Can a jar of pickles be considered political art?
M. Stilinović was a Zagreb-based artist who unfortunately passed away few months ago. He had a long history of challenging ideological atmosphere with his work, continuously working and building Exploitation of the Dead from 1984 to 1990.
I chose a detail of this work, a jar of pickles to prove everyday objects can indeed be political. These pickles have black and red stars and crosses painted on, both ideologically strong symbols for socialism.
With this work Stilinović challenges the notion of what purpose symbols have at all – when taken out of the context and put on everyday objects. They lose meaning, just like socialistic ideology faded away as Yugoslavia was falling apart. He also proposes a certain nostalgia and tradition, which today, and through the times of making of this were losing their strength.
An important part to the context of his work is his late father’s job. He was a Yugoslav diplomat, but disagreed with Yugoslav politicians, so it is no wonder Stilinović wasn’t afraid to provoke the ideology of the day.
One of my favorite pieces by Stilinović – An Artist Who Cannot Speak English is no Artist. The question that Stilinović challenges is whether it is necessary for artists to know English to be able to join in the global art conversation and worldwide exchange.
Globalization made it easy for artists to join-in this worldwide exchange, but at the time when this piece was made, this clearly applied to countries that skipped socialism and communism and were already in mature stages of capitalism, so West Europe and North America. At the same time, in the 90’s when this piece was made, Balkan was being torn-apart by war, but it had mature art scene and great artists and ideas worthy of international market. By this piece Stilinović opened up the conversation towards Balkan and Eastern European artists.