Can a jar of pickles be political art?

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.

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An Artist Who Cannot Speak English is no Artist – M. Stilinović, 1994

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.

An open letter to critics writing about political art

This piece of writing reflects on effects of political art – weather they even exist, who is the audience for this kind of work, importance of medium used and critics’ role.

The author starts of by explaining what good political art is – it’s not made about, but within. So, artists need to work within the very issue. It is important to note that political art shouldn’t be made for the very sake of making something political – but the consequences of it should be taken into the process of idea generation. This meaning, artists need to know what their work should do. It is important that the art made is changing the very way we see the world, the author explains.

Author goes on to explain that political art is created for everyone, and is not exclusive as some other kinds of art. It is also stressed that art critics should take this notion of audience’s inclusion into consideration when assessing the work.

When it comes to choosing the medium, author explains it’s an instrument to send across the message to the audience and depends on the political consideration, as well who the audience is.

Author continues by explaining how it’s important for artists to engage in popular culture – the more they integrate, the more successful their work is. This is so art wouldn’t seems so distant to the audience, but wave into.

As for art critics, author suggests they and the makers should live in symbiosis and almost lower themselves for the benefit of the audience seeing and understanding the work as more approachable. Ultimately, artists should work with the society – collectively.