artists & participants
In 1984, three groups—the multimedia group Laibach (established 1980), the visual arts group IRWIN (1983), and the theatre group Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre (SNST) (1983–87)—founded the Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) art collective. That same day, the three groups founded a fourth group, the design department New Collectivism. Later NSK established other subdivisions: the Department of Pure and Applied Philosophy, Retrovision, Film, and Builders.
From Kapital to Capital highlights the fact that NSK was at least as much a critic of the coming capitalism as it was a critic of the failing socialism of the final decade of Yugoslavia. Rather than employing the then standard forms of artistic critique or irony, however, the NSK approach employed subversive affirmation and overidentification, articulating, among other things, the kind of society the groups envisioned after the collapse of socialism: founding the NSK State in Time in 1992, they opted for a global community based on aesthetic and ethical principles.
In the early 1990s, the three core NSK groups all realized projects titled Kapital, marking the end of ideology and the beginning of total capitalism, which many continue to see as a social system without an alternative. Not so for NSK: it has already established itself as an alternative institution and an alternative state, in both the concrete and abstract senses of the word.
In the 1980s, NSK built its subjectivity through the deconstruction of various traumatic absences in Yugoslavia: the absence of an authentic tradition of struggle for liberation; the absence of workers' rights; the absence of an original national culture; and the absence of a developed art system and a strong state. In order to find a substitute for all of that, it devised, within the framework of its aesthetic concept, a unique principle of construction that is at the same time a principle of deconstruction. NSK needs to be understood in terms of various dualities in other respects as well. No NSK work is merely an artefact, a painting, a theatre production, a concert, but always also an event—an event that transcends the boundaries of the usual understanding of what is art. An inherent part of NSK art are also distinctive public relations approaches and provocations, constituting, together with the artefacts, an event that can only be repeated through fidelity to one's own stance.
NSK art could be compared to such international trends as appropriation art, institutional critique, and relational art, though these descriptions fail to encompass a crucial difference, one that NSK safeguarded by coining its own terms for what it did. NSK countered the postmodern art of the 1980s with its retro method, laying bare ideological manipulations through images: Laibach with the retro-avant-garde, the Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre with the retrogarde, and IRWIN with the retro principle. The NSK principle is contained already in the collective's German name—meaning New Slovenian Art in translation—and alluding to a more than one thousand years of German political and cultural hegemony over the small Slovenian nation. Laibach, the German name for Ljubljana, and numerous other symbols and images from antithetical sources deconstruct phantasms and myths underpinning various collective identities.
What lesson can be gleaned from NSK for use in the present day? At first glance, the NSK fusion of mutually exclusive symbols appears to have become an essential part of contemporary imagery. Formerly irreconcilable symbols are now in (inter)play both on the level of the individual personal image and of the European Parliament, when it discusses banning the red star like the swastika. We are, on the one hand, witnesses to a complete symbolic depletion, and on the other, to their reactivation, also in terms of artistic actions employing collective symbols at their thematic core. In banning them, church and/or state authorities are again, just as they did in the 1980s, deflecting public attention away from social and economic issues. As a result, the NSK tradition is today more topical than ever.