Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK)
From Kapital to Capital
12 May–17 August 2015
Press preview: Monday, 11 May, 8pm
Opening: Tuesday, 12 May, 8pm
Moderna galerija / MG+MSUM
Curator: Zdenka Badovinac
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 year, 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 is the first major exhibition of NSK, the art collective that loudly and clearly proclaimed the emperor naked back in the 1980s, when everybody still—or merely—pretended to believe in the socialist self-management of the slowly disintegrating Yugoslavia. In 1982, Laibach produced a poster titled Death of Ideology; it included pictures of Marx, Engels, and Lenin. It was clear even back then that the only one profiting from Marx’s critique of capitalism was capital, which had already started “saving” the bankrupt socialist economies through the IMF.
In 1990, the Noordung Cosmokinetic Cabinet (the successor of the Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre and the Red Pilot) staged a production titled Kapital; in 1991, Irwin published a book and staged an exhibition titled Kapital; in 1992, Laibach released an album titled Kapital. In this way, NSK reiterated what it had performed in the early 1980s: the end of ideology and the beginning of total capitalism.
On the one hand, NSK seemed like the paradigmatic art of the 1980s; on the other, its cornerstone was its difference from the postmodernism typical of the time. Rather than the noncommittal postmodern “collaging” it used appropriation and fusion of antithetical aesthetic concepts to take a clear stand on burning issues, challenging also its audience to do so with its often provocative actions. A shared stance regarding alternative art, the “red” bourgeoisie, and capitalism slowly seeping into Yugoslavian society informed an alternative community, which became part of civil society, of the public sphere in 1980s Slovenia. At least on the aesthetic level, NSK managed to articulate what other agents of civil society were unable to do at the time. By founding the NSK State in Time in 1992, NSK proved to be the only one capable of answering the question of what kind of society we wanted after the failure of socialism: a global community based on aesthetic and ethical principles.
NSK countered the mania for citation prevalent in the 1980s with its retro method: Laibach with the retro-avant-garde, the Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre with the retrogarde, and Irwin with the retro principle. Persistently coining their own terminology, the three groups contextualized their practice in the framework of Eastern European avant-garde traditions, distancing themselves from the national art canon and other cultural hegemonies. On its multiple fronts of resistance NSK was invariably ambiguous, bringing together contrasting artistic traditions, Nazi and communist symbols, quotes from speeches by socialist and capitalist leaders, as well as using such obscure sources as e.g. bylaws of a hunting club. Though calling itself New Slovenian Art, it operated with anachronistic images and used the German language in its name to allude to a more than thousand-year-long German political and cultural hegemony over the small Slovenian nation. The new national art could thus only be deliberate eclecticism based on both Eastern and Western cultural influences.
Not wanting to be dissident art, NSK followed Eastern European avant-garde traditions and socialist realism, adopting an apparently affirmative approach; not interested in improving the existing social system through critique, it strove for more fundamental changes proposed in the form of its retro method, estrangement, over-identification, appropriation, and by ordering the economy of pleasure, on which every ideology is based. It was, in relation to this, that Žižek defined the Laibach and NSK method with the term “over-identification.” In 1984, the Orwellian year in which NSK was founded, it was evident both in the East and the West that authoritarian discourse was no longer something outside us, but had come to reside inside us and could therefore only be tackled from within, by repeating its symbols, rituals, order, and rules. It was through such repetition that NSK formulated a world of different rules and agreements, and it did this with its performances, paintings and theatre, as well as programmatic texts, codified attire, conduct, and social networking. In its exposing the common foundations of different totalitarianisms, NSK was universal rather than particular, i.e. Eastern European, and in proposing a different kind of regime, one founded on ethics and aesthetics, NSK constituted a rupture in art, and in so doing became an event.
The exhibition is part of the five-year programme The Uses of Art—The Legacy of 1848 and 1989, organised by L’Internationale. It is supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Republic of Slovenia, European Union Culture Programme and Fundation for Arts Initiatives.