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World as Medium: On the Work of Stano Filko


Stano Filko’s work is never just about the world. It is world. Because Filko speaks world. World is his medium, his language, his means of artistic production: using the medium of world Filko produces (anti)happenings, environments, installations, objects and diagrammatic drawings of all kinds. Some look very different from others. But that is the freedom of a mind that speaks world. It can choose the means and materials that seem apt in a given situation. What matters first and foremost is that each and every work articulates a particular stance, attitude, and point of view: it addresses the world as a whole from the limits of that world, that is, from the point where a world begins and ends, where α and Ω coincide. In each work Filko projects a view of the world as a whole by formulating conditions—and formalizing terms—under which the world could be viewed as a whole. When Filko builds an immersive environment, these terms and conditions are spelled out in a spatial and physical manner. But they can equally be rendered in a purely semiotic form, as a paradigmatic system, when he draws up diagrams and scribbles words on a sheet of graph paper. And finally (the conditions for articulating) a world can simply be given in a thought, as in the pivotal HAPPSOC 1 piece, in which Filko and Alex Mlynárčik designated all life in the city of Bratislava as a work of art for the time between May 2 and 8, 1965.

This is a provocation! And to see why, we have to grasp the radical sense of possibility with which Filko confronts us: in his work a world can be articulated through spaces, signs, and thoughts alike. From the point of view of his production, therefore, the spatiophysical, the semiotic, and the speculative (and to this we may add the spiritual, political, and sexual) are alternative prisms, but, practically speaking, as prisms they are tools with similar use value. As an artist Filko can use all of them. So, when it articulates a world, a diagrammatic drawing or simple gesture in principle has the same status as a fully designed room installation. Even the smallest thing can show the big picture. These are conditions of autonomy produced within a material practice: Filko creates the freedom to define the value of any artifact or sign according to his own terms, that is, according to the terms of the world systems that he constructs.

To speak of artistic “world systems” in a certain modernist tradition would seem to direct us back to the notion of the Gesamtkunstwerk. And surely, the totality of a world is the dimension that Filko lays claim to as the very premise of his thought and work. Still, given its specific history, to use the term Gesamtkunstwerk may actually be misleading here. For with Filko a certain form of materialism—a (mocking) spirit of analytic pragmatism—always also prevails, as a counterweight to the furor of thinking the absolute.

HAPPSOC 1, for example, was announced by a simple invitation card to the city-wide artwork, listing among other things the materials used in the work: “138036 women, 128727 men, 49991 dogs, 18009 houses, 165236 balconies, 40070 water pipes in homes, 35060 washing machines, 1 castle, 1 Danube in Bratislava, 22 theatres, 6 cemeteries, 1000801 tulips (...) etc.” The grand gesture of seizing a whole city with the sublime force of one thought is thus offset by the modest form of its announcement (a small card) and the laconic enumeration of the mundane parts of the whole. The manner in which the grand and small, the sublime and mundane are made to play off of each other in the form of this piece conveys a liberating sense of irony. It shakes off the curse of the Gesamtkunstwerk to which its historical proponent, Richard Wagner, fell prey. Hooked on the furor of the absolute, Wagner had no chance but to inflate his work to ever more ridiculously grandiose dimensions. Filko, on the contrary, understands the semiotic—the suggestive power of even the smallest sign or list of numbers—as a means equal to that of the grand theatrical gesture. Wagner could only go big; Filko can go big and small, as he wants. There is a rough-and-readiness to his work throughout, precisely because it comes from a place where thinking the whole allows him to operate freely and, if need be, to also trust a fragment—e.g., a list ending on “atd.” (etc.)—to fully articulate a world.

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