NSK from Kapital to Capital Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana Moderna galerija / Museum of Modern Art
NSK Exhibition presented at the MG+ in the summer of 2015 was the largest so far on the NSK. Opened on May 27th and running until August 16th, the Laibach anniversary concert on July 5th presented an ideal time to travel to Ljubljana. The day before the concert, a guided tour by Ivan and Dejan was organised and as there was a noticeable large section of visitors from abroad Ivan delivered some parts of the tour in English.
Ivan Novak was the main tour guide with the occasional brief comments from by Dejan, who founded the group back in 1980. The guided tour showcased the Laibach exhibits while giving some background information. This was delivered in the Laibach section where Ivan could talk about the exhibits of artwork, photos and equipment. There were a number of items that caught my attention, in particular the booklets on display. The early booklets were basically photocopied sheets stapled together; I have one of them however I do imagine it would be a photocopy rather than an original though it would be difficult to tell. It brought home how raw Laibach's early material was and that they were very much part of the DIY release scene. Their first release, the tape Laibach/LFD had a photocopied sleeve or basic printing and it looks as if the music was probably transferred onto each tape by Laibach's members themselves or by the people involved with SKC. The music itself in the early days was made with home built equipment or fashioned from other devices as one display cabinet illustrated, particularly the home made electric guitar. There was also a record player were Laibach would mixed in music from other records something that became more widespread many years later when DJs move into the music creation side of things.
A number of interesting photos were on display, some seen before but there were some completely new, at least to me, and so may have been recently dug up for this exhibition from private sources. I have some photocopied photos from the early days which would be good to see in a better format or even the originals but they've not yet turned up so far and weren't found here either so it could suggests that there are many interesting photos not actually possessed by Laibach or the NSK.
The Laibach part of the exhibition was focused on Laibach's early years, a lot of it actually pre-NSK. Interactive computer screens were employed to show old press cuttings covering Laibach's progression and highlighting the attention they generated. It was useful to analyse the information with constantly growing background knowledge of how the band materialised and the environment it had operated in. Laibach formed in Slovenia at a time when punk music was very popular, so it would be interesting to know why Laibach didn't at least start off with punk music. Maybe they did, at the moment there are no publicly available recordings of anything before 1982 and some of the photos shows that Laibach could look like a typical Yugo punk band until Tomaz Hostnik appeared wearing an military outfit then they started to stand out from the rest and by the time they recorded their music it was clearly industrial. Laibach have never stated that they were a punk band but Igor Vidmar suggests that they were briefly at the beginning. One thing that did come across, was that Laibach probably right from the start were creating their music unconventionally.
There is a debate into what shaped Laibach, Dejan's father Janez is known to have influenced Laibach's artwork and the use of the Malevich cross, even suggested the name which made quite a difference. Tomaz Hostnik, despite the very short time involved with the group is linked to a number of strong characteristic features that still shapes Laibach today. While Laibach have continued to maintain a collective depersonalised approached, certain individuals have steered the group almost from the beginning. Possibly most significant question would be, how different would Laibach have been if there members hadn't visited the UK in 1982. However the exhibition was only presenting the artefacts with some background information mainly focused in Laibach's early period.
The Laibach part of the exhibition was just a section of a much larger collection concerning the NSK. For many Laibach fans outside Slovenia the NSK is quite a mystery so the work on display demonstrated the collaboration and the shared components such as the Malevich cross. The style used within the various NSK groups was very similar, even if someone had never seen Irwin's or Noordung's work before much of it would look very familiar. Projects by the groups were occasionally linked such as the Kapital projects and of course Krst pod Triglavom where the groups worked together to create the masterpiece that led to the NSK reputation as a major cultural force in Slovenia. The guided tour from Ivan was just limited to Laibach's area and lasted nearly two hours. There were many tours by others with links to the NSK through the course of its run which will have concentrated on the other areas of the NSK.
As the largest collection at one exhibition so far it was a rare opportunity to see the work, having seen many of the items over the years in books and photos it was a new experience to see them up close for the first time. It was certainly a new perspective; often it was quite surprising how small some of the artwork was. With much of the attention dominated by Laibach, it was a good opportunity to look at the work of the other group within the NSK in more details.
It was tempting to ask questions probing the ending of the groups working together as a collective, it would have been interesting to the get inside slant on the groups growing apart. However a united front was being presented and the exhibition was very much a celebration of what had been achieved. The exhibition demonstrated the impressive achievements the NSK could do as a collective and the international impact of its work, it took a long time for many realised that the NSK was actually just a small group of people.
Members of the NSK often took risks, operating within an authoritarian state that was sensitive to any potential challenges to their ideology and could be heavy handed in their response. There were a number of times members of the NSK could have been jailed for their work. Why this didn't happen at all seems to suggest that they had supporters within the Slovene ruling elite (or at least found the controversy created by Laibach and the NSK useful for their own agenda) who could counteract the clamour to prosecute. Most likely the sympathetic politicians were probably exploiting the atmosphere generated by the NSK for their own ends. Also Laibach's growing popularity outside Yugoslavia hindered attempts to silence the group and anything they did do only made Laibach and NSK more intriguing.
The end of the NSK as a collective now seems to be put at 1992, and this is when it stopped operating the way used to, though at the time the NSK appeared to drift apart rather than come to a finite stop. Years later when this was realised, it has been stated that the NSK ended around 95/96 however this came about a while later. In 1994 Laibach were actively issuing passports and their promotional video for Final Countdown was even a bit like a advert for it. When Laibach performed Final Countdown at the anniversary concert the next night the background video played scenes from Iron Sky rather than the original promotional video. During NSK Dublin back in 2004 it was quite clear to outsiders that the NSK was no longer functioning as a collective. However it never stopped becoming a source of fascination and there has been books and studies analysing its work and impact.
A book related to this exhibition was released shortly afterwards, it was much more of an analysis of the NSK and its' work rather than a historical account of the collective though you can glean some background information from some of the articles. There is also a number of interesting photos unfortunately most of them are the size of a postage stamp so there is a heavy reliance on the text but the book is highly recommended to those with a keen interest in the NSK.
Cankarjeva 15, 1000 Ljubljana
11 May – 16 August 2015.
NSK from Kapital to Capital at Moderna Galerija, the biggest and most complex exhibition on the Neue Slowensiche Kunkst (NSK) movement (1984 – 1992) so far.
There was a special Laibach performance in front of Moderna Galerija on 20 June 2015.
Exhibition Website: www.mg-lj.si/
NSK from Kapital to Capital
Moderna Galerija, Ljubljana
Moderna galerija / Museum of Modern Art