Neue Slowenische Kunst

Inke Arns, Neue Slowenische Kunst – NSK: Laibach, Irwin, Gledališce sester Scipion Nasice, Kozmokineticno gledališce rdeci pilot, Kozmokineticni kabinet Noordung, Novi kolektivizem. Eine Analyse ihrer künstlerischen Strategien im Kontext der 1980er Jahre in Jugoslawien (An analysis of their artistic strategies in the context of the 80s in Yugoslavia), Museum Ostdeutsche Galerie (MOG), Regensburg 2002. 

The German name Neue Slowenische Kunst, New Slovene Art, is maybe a less known name for the Slovene artists’ collective that consists of more well-known sub-collectives such as the ideologically provocative and often controversial percept music group Laibach, the five-person painters’ collective Irwin, the performance group Gledališce sester Scipion Nasice, today known as the Kozmokinetik kabineticni Noordung and named after the Slovenian astronomer Noordung from the last century-a theater-group that performed a sensational theater experiment in a non-gravity-space above the Russian “Star-city” near Moscow where astronauts collect their skills for space-journeys-and Novi kolektivizem (New Collectivism), a design department.

The collectives were self-organized as a crone-collective NSK 1980s, in post-Tito Yugoslavia where visual culture was dominated by the ideology of so called Self-Managing Socialism.

In the 1980s, NSK pretended to act affirmatively towards the political structures in the former Yugoslavia; their programmatic articulations were irritating for the ruling regimes in general because of the artists thematizing the system itself. Statements like “Art and totalitarianism are not mutually exclusive.

Totalitarian regimes abolish the illusion of revolutionary individual freedom.” , band actions like designing a poster for the Yugoslavian “Youth-Day” in 1987 with a modified motif of Richard Klein´s stylized Nazi-hero from 1936 have led to embarrassing provocation of the government and medias in the former Yugoslavia.

The “Youth-Day” affair was known as the “Poster-Scandal” and was embarrassing because the same poster won the first award in the competition for the best “Youth-Day-Poster,” initiated by the former Yugoslav government.

This action of Novi kolektivizem goes along with the so-called “retro-principle” that Irwin and the other groups within NSK, are committed to.

The retro-principle is “not a style or an art trend but a principle of thought, a way of behaving and acting” and means that the visual language developed by Irwin in the 1980s consists almost exclusively of the visual elements quoted from Western and Eastern European art of the 19th and 20th centuries, Socialist Realism, art of “Third Reich”, various-engaged European avant-garde movements, as well as from religious art and Slovenian art from the 19th century.

These elements are brought in visual-ideological connotations with the Laibach “leitmotifs” such as the eagle, the stag, the sower, the little drummer, and the black cross of the Supremacist Kazimir Malevich.

The thesis that defines the retro-principle and also the so-called “Retro(avant)garde” (originally the basic strategy of the whole NSK in the 80s) is based on Freud’s psychoanalysis; it’s the strategy based on the premise that traumas from the past affecting the present can only be healed by returning to the initial conflicts.

The author of the reviewed book curates the exhibition titled “Retro-principle” with Irwin whose opening will be on the 25th of September in Haus Bethanien in Berlin.

Besides the fact that the book of Inke Arns is a very precise historical research of the events, actions, concerts, and exhibitions initiated by NSK in the 80s, concentrating on the context of the regime-questioning political situation in Yugoslavia and especially in Slovenia, the book is also a very founded interpretation of the Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek`s post-Lacanian philosophy that relates to the phenomenon of NSK. Here the term of “over-identification” is key to understand the irritating and atypical post-modern position of NSK’s artistic subversion.

If the post-modern art strategies of subverting the system are based on belief in the liberating, anti-totalitarian “ironic distance” – metaphorically, the force of the cynical laughter as the only possible satisfaction behind the oppressiveness of the ruling ideology (through the ironical imitation of the visual and other structural codes of the same ideology) – then the NSK strategy, how Žižek sees it, is exact the opposite:”it `frustrates` the system (the ruling ideology) precidely insofar as it is not its ironic imitation, but over-identification with it – by bringing to light the obscene superego underside of the system, over-identification suspends its efficiency.”

Žižek’s thesis is based on the general premise that he shares with Peter Sloterdijk:”The lacking of the successful effect of the contra positioning.” – so Arns’ title of a chapter where she confronts Žižek and Sloterdijk’s philosophical orientation with the classical leftist thesis, in which systemic subversity always means the positioning of the critical subject (revolutionary spirit) against the ruling system – “a contra position.

“Žižek and Sloterdijk claim that this contra position, which is expressed in the aforementioned ironical distance in art for example, is obsolete, not effective any more, because the ruling system realizes it in advance and pre-included it into its cynical tactics of domination. That is why Laibach’s concerts were seen as Nazi-propaganda in the 80s – they did not “fight the system” by being a “brave revolutionary” but by over-identifying with the “obscene superego” of this ruling system/ideology, a permanent urge of leading, dominating the orgiastic ritual of the community – a community that is aware of itself as such.

Arns also clearly defines the difference between the “Western” postmodern art-trends and NSK;. while Appropriation Art addresses the art-system through its quoting of other pictures and motifs to thematise the problems of originality and copying in the art, NSK/Irwin tries to show us the general “ideological flexibility” (Arns) of the so called “symbolical forms” – a term that Arns borrowed from Casirer to illustratesuccessfully the visual NSKs operating “forms”, a term that defines the visual forms that human collective historical awareness impregnated into the individual human awareness as (ideologically) dominating forms – may it be in art or in other social contexts (such as a form of swastikas, black crosses, national fetishes all kinds etc).

And while the other “Eastern” art-trends, like Soz-art from Russia for example addresses the particular post-socialistic system, NSK addresses the ruling system – all totalitarianism – in general. Arns touches the 90s only through the description of the term “NSK-State in time”.