In 1921, working as Soviet power was being established and its principles cemented, Kazimir Malevich satired the nationalistic veneration of labor, declaring, “I want to remove the brand of shame from laziness and to pronounce it not the mother of all vices, but the mother of perfection.” In 1978, Croatian artist Mladen StilinoviÄ? demonstrated the “lazy” method by photo-documenting himself in various states of sleep, and pointedly titled the piece Artist at Work. Following the fall of Communist Yugoslavia in 1993, StilinoviÄ? formally expanded upon Malevich’s polemic, insisting, “There is no art without laziness.” Working at the end of a complicated but communist regime in Zagreb, StilinoviÄ? maintained optimism for a model of art production outside of what he identified in capitalism as a commerce-intiated complex of “insignificant factors.”
In spite of-or as he’d have it, because of-his preoccupation with laziness, StilinoviÄ? is prolific in a variety of media, evidenced by and extensive output of self-published, hand-made books, currently available for interaction at New York’s E-flux gallery. Initiating viewers to the show with his penciled cursive handwriting, StilinoviÄ? inscribes his name onto the wall, repeating beneath it a dozen times the mantra, “I have no time, I have no time, I have no time…” Nearby on a table, StilinoviÄ?’s staple-bound book, I have no time, repeats the statement across nearly 20 pages. On the first two pages of the book, StilinoviÄ? introduces his playful meditation on time by speaking to the reader directly, advising, “I wrote this book/ when I had no time/ the readers are requested/ to read it when they have no time.” This suggestion reflects a strategy that spans the 34 years of his book-making: wry humor that belies serious examination of the forces of regimentation and efficiency—the feeling of having “no time” for consideration, which he regards as a powerful control of various production systems. Each page of Subtracting Zeros (1993) features mathematical equations multiplication and division of the number zero; the first page of Ten Fingers (1974) opens with one fingerprint in blue ink, and adds a fingerprint on each of the subsequent nine pages. Alongside that, a 2006 book entitled BAAA begins, “I am your shepherd,” followed on the next page by “I forgot my lines,” cleverly followed by blank pages.
On initial glance, the publications have a naive appearance. But in installation, tables and chairs are arranged to oblige visitors to handle and read the books instead of merely passing by them. The content builds: one book lists the days of the week, followed by “bol,” the Croatian word for pain; an adjacent work lists the letters of the alphabet, similarly appended; another is a dictionary. Both the mundane manuals that the artist critiques, and StilinoviÄ?’s technique, strike as similarly absurd. Self-publishing, and subverting the functional operations of serialized publications, was StilinoviÄ?’s response to the Communist exclusion of unsanctioned information. Today, his methods speak to the flexibility of traditional media and distribution as it slides to conform to information technologies.
Unlike many New York exhibition openings, the Artist’s Books opening was subdued. Visitors sat at tables and paged through StilinoviÄ?’s books (those too fragile for handling were in vitrines), most of which are archival and historic. Encouraging direct involvement with archival artworks, the artist created an anti-exhibition and an anti-opening, an event that didn’t aspire to control activity or vision, and testified to StilinoviÄ?’s ethic of opposites.