Small works can be vast. They engage viewers in a particular way, directing our attention to sparse information, minimal interventions, which energetically trigger our intellectual and emotional curiosity. We could also rather broadly outline the art of Mladen Stropnik in this way. His collages, drawings, objects and videos operate like miniature black holes which suck in our attention, opening for us a world of possible meanings, particularly those most often rejected by a reduced rationalist worldview. The hypnotic effect of his cryptic yet self-explanatory interventions is invoked either through vignettes related to the everyday, wittingly and seemly innocently pushing us into a playful mode, or through the discomforting world of dreams, missteps, linguistic slips and (suppressed) sexual desire.
“Oddly, an object is elevated into art through emptiness.” We will take this brief formulation by Gerard Wajcman out of context and misuse it, as it defines a certain aspect of Stropnik’s work rather precisely. It is on an empty sheet of paper torn from a notepad that our world and Mladen’s world come together. The interventions into it are often very economical and minimal, yet this minimalist rendering resounds most with the spectator. The scarcely present visual information and huge, powerful and irreconcilable emptiness seem to derail us, and incite in us a greedy urge for its fulfilment. In a paradoxical twist, this lack of information becomes information. In other words, this emptiness is “a bare container of our interest as viewers, which is intended to receive, to be filled with what we could call our desire to see”(Wajcman). I believe that this phenomenology of the viewer’s experience is crucial to Stropnik’s art; his work fascinates us in a way which is difficult to verbalise, and the very inability to articulate such experience makes us confront our own desire to see. We are intrigued and perplexed by the frequent cuts, holes, breaks and folds in Stropnik’s collages and videos, which point to a complex world hidden behind the surface. It seems that the key to the great dynamics of the works lies in layering. Referring to Wajcman again, these small works can be read through the dialectic tension of the pictorial thickness, through a mutually conditioned relation between the mark and the surface. Minimal and economic interventions on a white sheet of note paper, which most often provides the stage for Stropnik’s mise-en-scene, barely leave the level of the surface, yet this minimal span greatly stresses the dynamics between the surface and the imprint on it. There is an illusionism at work here, which is far from preaching about the illusory essence of surface; while the surface is an illusion, that illusion is also the truth.
Let us now focus on the materiality, the uncomfortable tangibility of Stropnik’s work. His work not only emerges on the surface, but also carves and punctures it. Consequently, a fluid, uneasy substance of dreams, drives and the unconscious pours out. This does not mean the juxtaposition of the seemingly oppositional registers of the interior and exterior, for Stropnik is an heir to Freudian re-evaluation of this topography: it is precisely the exterior object as the object of desire that is most familiar to the subject. When Stropnik’s works open the world of the unconscious, they do so via the classic topoi of the psychopathology of everyday life: dreams, slips, jokes. Thus, a disquieting moment intrudes into the trivial, everyday sequences, interrupting the surface of ‘normal’ functioning and making our everyday life more dynamic. This dimension of Stropnik’s work has various outputs, from ubiquitous humour, whose immense insightfulness expresses thoughts not welcomed by society, to darker, almost hallucinatory works in which a traumatic core is inscribed on the surface of language. In this respect, it should be stressed that Mladen’s language is metonymical rather than metaphorical, as it is not based on analogy or transposed meaning, but compresses and associatively reduces a phenomenon into its parts or elements.
Stropnik’s artistic gestures could be formulated by paraphrasing Wajcman once more: how, with the aid of material, the visible, with an object, do we approach not the invisible but that what escapes the visible. It is therefore no coincidence that Mladen Stropnik is so concerned with the surface, just as the unconscious is a phenomenon of the surface, as this is where the questions of truth and illusion, which are central to his work, are resolved.
Curated by: Vladimir Vidmar