Curators: Nina Slejko Blom and Conny Blom

September 27 - October 18, 2018

Text by Barbara Strle Vurnik (translator Arven Šakti Kralj Szomi)

From sugar on bread to the hole and smoke in the painting The Triviality of the Un/Ordinary in the works of Mladen Stropnik

Mladen Stropnik is one of those rare Slovenian artists, whose works prove that artists can successfully combine classical fine art with the most contemporary artistic visual practices in their work in today's hyper-technological time. The artist's expanded creative field is dominated by a dynamic triangle consisting of drawing, objects and (moving) images that connects these elements with each other into accomplished conceptual pieces. Here, the boundaries of the separate genres intertwine and create fluid media landscapes and spatial ambiences, which sway the viewer into the imaginary world of the artist. The exhibition highlights a selection of more recent video works, which the artist has manifested through tablets and PC screens as well as video projections, and these are interconnected in terms of content by the themes and images of our daily lives. They are dominated by processuality, humour, elements of coincidence and surprise, everyday objects, experiment and man as an individual. The artist addresses the peripheral themes of the banal and the trivial, or those subject matters that often remain overlooked in society, while they at the same time co-create our identity and influence how we will find our feet in the world that surrounds us.

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Stropnik shaped his visual language under the influence of punk and rock music of the 1990s, especially the Res Nullius group, and the aesthetics of the underground music videos of the 1980s. And yet, most of all, he is – still – inspired by the magic of life as it is, its everyday goings-on, memories and dreams, and the awareness of the feeling of the moment, here and now. The artist's distinctive iconography of simple things and occurrences, which he draws from the personal “small” stories brought about by his life can thus be traced in his works. His art videos in such a way for instance feature socks falling into a coloured liquid and disappearing in in its substance (camping socks), a piece of bread onto which a hand sprinkles some glitter (sugar on bread), the light of a disco ball moved by the artist back and forth around a yard (GA33ER), as well as a blue trace drawn on a paper with a felt-tip pen and a hand reaching for an object in the corner of an armchair. We also come across Stropnik's typical hole or cigarette smoke streaming from this mysterious opening, expanding either on the surface of a metal sphere (Sreč!), or on the surface of a painter's canvas (teddy medium (meeting)). It is worth highlighting the image of the mask, which restlessly removes the locks of hair from its own masked face somewhere (stand up), or looks restlessly at another masked face lying in bed next to it elsewhere (first snow). The mask and the hole have always symbolically depicted Stropnik's fascination with the crossing of the two worlds – the external, visible to all and defined, and the internal, unknown and enigmatic. Both almost look like the artist's fetish, who at this point again confronts them at a certain point as one disappears into the other, at the point of nothing, which was addressed by the artist with particular intensity in his night train project (who is there?) (2014).

The artist's works arouse a sense of wonder in the viewer, which is achieved through a specific approach. Namely, his artmaking is characterized by exceptional “economy” (Branka Benčič) – minimalist narration, everyday materials, simple form, “mental acrobatics” (Božidar Zrinski). Apparent is the artist's curiosity and courage to elevate otherwise non-photogenic aesthetics and the concept of the marginal. His videos are mostly short. They are composed of sequences of recurrent situations, full of ordinariness and at the same time un/usualness and bizarreness, which awaken our attention precisely with this combination. Even though the titles do not propose any logical connection to the works, they enforce the sense of the absurd and therefore appear attractive.
Here we could also affirm what the artist says himself about his work: “essentially the works want to be simple, they want to bear some primal but also amusing information, they want to appear as if they were made haphazardly... they are purely what we see and nothing else, there are no big stories behind them.” His works are therefore like an open stage of events, where the images of the artist's personal experiences are sequenced in a free, uncensored and random order, just as they dwell in the mind. They are visual associations to some actual yet distant personal experiences that Stropnik has lived through, which have left an indelible trace in his consciousness, regardless of their banality. The art videos thus represent a series of feelings pertained by the artist which, however, he finds difficult to explain logically himself. With their presence in his un/conscious, they serve him with exactly the same psychological component that represents an important building block of his artworks. In that, he is also interested in the triggers that transform the trivial or banal into the surprising. He is interested in the evasiveness and transience of the concepts of the un/usualness and un/ordinary.

At this point, Stropnik's works also enter the world of psychology, which the artist himself recognizes as a strong therapeutic as well as creative force that visibly enhances it all.Here it is worth referring to the versatile Chilean-French creator, writer and mystic Alejandro Jodorowsky, whom Stropnik particularly likes to read (Psychomagic, 2010), and who also talks about our emotional maze of everyday. He says that at some point it is a good idea to decide on a “paradoxical act that shakes up the pathological immobility of everyday life, whose prisoners we are”. It seems that a similar “shake-up” also occurs in Stropnik's works in multifaceted ways and even has a healing effect on us. This is particularly apparent in the piece teddy medium (meeting), where there is a surprising combination of canvas and a hole in it, with smoke that winds from it, which negates the entire flatness of the support, the illusion of the image, and reveals the real background of a painter’s canvas. Everything that is apparent is cut up with the completely banal, yet effective element of smoke. Its smoking fluid penetrates the seemingness of the blue image as well as the specificity of the pictorial background. It creates only a small and barely perceptible zone of emptiness, of nothingness, yet it is sufficient for it to provide enough of a liberating indication of boundlessness. An indication of the space for a free projection of the artist's and the viewer's own thought, beyond any form, solidity, concrete narration. At this point, temporality steps into the work, which is also otherwise an important component of Stropnik's creativity. The piece is at the same time also a contradiction to the exalted modernist status of the painting and our usual perception of the world and its appearance. It is precisely with this pictorial "shake-up" that Stropnik actualises and consolidates not only his, but also our, often already languid world of perceptions that Jodorowsky talks about.

It has to be said that the exploration of the human perception of reality and everyday life is predominantly the primary goal of psychology and it particularly flourished with Freud at the beginning of the 20th century (The Psychopathology of Everyday Life, 1901). But the interest in these, exceptionally challenging subject matters, can also be found in many other fields, from anthropology to historiography and the various pseudosciences. In such a way, for instance, the history of everyday life was known by 19th-century historiography. Art, within which the interest for man and his attitude towards the world stands out especially, became particularly attentive to this subject with the genre painting of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, and particularly flourished with pop art and hyperrealism. Today, this topic is experiencing a real boom in all the mentioned areas, including art, as seen in Stropnik's case. And this raises questions as to why this is so. An appropriate answer to this seems to be provided by the thinking of Dr. Mirjana Nastran Ule, a theoretician and researcher of the psychology of everyday life, who says that usually the individual has overly uncritically accepted the experience of everyday life and was not aware of the powerful influence that those most ordinary events exert on his emotions and informal relationships to life. Today, however, she notes the crisis of the “big stories” and the shift of values to everyday life. She observes that the research of the recent years in Slovenia is changing the fundamental values and orientations in life. Instead of the big values that were based on strong ideologies such as religion, national attachment, politics, values closer to the individual and his personal experience are gaining significance (Changing Values in the Course of Contemporary Life, Miscellany of the 49th Seminar of Slovene Literature and Culture, 2013). To sum up, today, the individual is increasingly seeing the importance of the awareness and meaning of the actual marginal moment. Besides this, contemporary man is increasingly saturated with art that shocks, that causes sensation and has flooded particularly the period at the turn of the 20th to the 21st century, when almost everything has become acceptable in art. All these are therefore probably the reasons for the blossoming of this subject, especially within contemporary visual art production such us that of Stropnik, which in this sense also knocks down prejudices and transforms the topic into added artistic value.

To conclude the reflection on the work of Stropnik it may seem somewhat unusual to refer to the doyen of Slovenian art history, Dr. France Stele, when so many contemporary and topical theories are available. But some of his thoughts (Art, Home and World, 1913), tied to the notion of art and everyday life, although in the context of the monuments of the time, do not only go beyond his time, but they also address exactly this topic in art almost one hundred years ago. Besides this, his thoughts are universal and seem as if they were written precisely for the work of Stropnik. But they are also applicable because, unlike many other contemporary artists, Stropnik also recognizes the most primary tradition in art, to which Stele's theory also belongs. Last but not least, also because Stropnik likes to create links between seemingly incompatible facts–therefore such, somewhat unusual, as this one, which we propose here between him and Stele. It is after all only the precarious solutions that ignite a spark, add some freshness and “shake up” our ossified everyday. This is what Stele has to say in relation to our perception of everyday life: “We want to see the items that we need or that surround us in everyday life beautifully made, decorated. We want to fix the events and objects that we experience or dream about into images.We want to express the emotions that fill our hearts at given moments in material terms, reveal them to others and preserve them for ourselves… Art is something personal and something everyday, but also something general, something that rises over a longer period of time… when two generations will pass, that which is ordinary, inadequate to us, will become interesting, a subject of study, an object, which will give rise to special emotions and dispositions, which we did not intend, nor dream of…”

Stropnik, too, has fixed his ideas, but not only in terms of a classical, static material image (drawing, collage, object, painting). His, often conceptual and non-representational works (from installations and video works, which also include components of performance, to video ambients) have been incorporated into our consciousness as an immaterial and purely artistic experience, which has certainly been aided by contemporary technology that was not yet known in Stele's time. And similarly, as Stele points out, Stropnik is also now leaving his work to time that will decide on their further path. Perhaps they will also become that subject “which will give rise to special emotions and dispositions” in the future.