• Review

  • June 4th, 2014 06.04.2014

    Mladen Stilinović: White Absence


    The aftermath of war lingers through a visual expression of pain and silence in the current exhibition at Galerie Martin Janda titled, Mladen Stilinović: White Absence. Each piece in the show is ethereal and fragile. Considering all of the pieces at one glance, a convergence occurs between artwork and wall, forming a surreal compositional grouping that encourages a reassessment of where the art begins and ends. The very essence of the white cube, a space that has the potential to hinder contemporary art’s significance, compliments Stilinović’s pieces – doubling the effect of loneliness and silence the artist successfully illustrates. Approaching each work individually, one cannot help but detect a coherent mixing of Kazimir Malevich’s loyalty to the color white and geometric symbols, as well as the use of the readymade. The exhibition encourages a modest reception of contemporary art, as it is conceptually stimulating through simple means of execution that include resourceful materials and everyday objects.

    All of the works included were created during the war in Croatia that took place between 1991–1996. It is conceivable that modes of survival symbolically interlace themselves into Stilinović’s work. A metal ladle holding sugar cubes, as well as empty plates painted with white allude to themes of poverty. Yellows and grays seep through some of the work to show a despondent act of physical deterioration. Hand-applied brushstrokes stain each piece creating an awareness of the artist’s presence, while the geometric emphasis of Stilinović’s compositions help to focus attention on the whiteness of the room. However, a transmission of the artist’s feelings concerning war is not expressed through disturbing imagery or intense color, all too often depicted in painting. It is, rather, communicated through an emptiness that is left from the despair of overcoming such an atrocity. The artist does not strip away materiality but instead delicately builds absence through thoughtful combinations that blend into their surrounding. This heightens the viewer’s sensitivity in understanding the intimacy of pain the artist has endured.

    The significance of white is expressed through the writings of such poets as Paul Celan. In his poem, “White and Light” he writes the verse, “White, what moves us, without weight, what we exchange.” These words can similarly be attached to the piece (Jaja) Eggs, where three eggs are placed at equal distance in a horizontal row, emerging from a fog of tiny white feathers. Delicate and appearing weightless – as though they are suspended in midair – the eggs and feathers coexist behind a sheet of glass. The clear shield offers protection, as well as an exchange of means by which white and absence can alternatively exist.

    Additional layers are revealed when focus is placed on Stilinović’s use of language. His material investigations are placed in the context of those authors who also have had personal connections to pain and explorations of the void, like Osip Mandelstam and Emil Cioran. Stilinović has chosen to display his entire body of work according to Stéphane Mallarmé’s word arrangement in the pages of, Un coup de dés jamais n’abolira le hasard (A throw of the dice will never abolish chance). Within the book, how thoughts are formed in a predetermined space is explored, and the blank areas on each page become just as vital as the written word. Stilinović’s artwork builds upon Mallarmé’s lyrical methods in the creation of poetic imaginings that evoke new meanings in the pause between object, architectural elements, and space itself.

    The exhibition possesses an underlining aura of liberation – a theme that fits well with preceding artists who have used white as a means to construct new societal structures and aesthetics. However, the artist has also achieved a type of liberation by transcending historical explorations of white to include the importance of semantics and personal reflection. Each piece rids itself of painting’s last essential attribute; color, and encourages a deeper connection through a mono-tonality that represents a sense of pain, helplessness, silence, and ultimately nothing.

    Mladen Stilinović, born 1947 in Belgrade, lives and works in Zagreb (CRO).