NSK in the UK

Spring 2012 has seen something of an explosion of happenings in Britain connected with the Slovenian-origin “State in time” NSK-State. This is the ‘state’ declared in 1992 by the Llubljana-based arts collective (more properly perhaps, collective of collectives) Neue Slowenische Kunst (‘New Slovenian Art’ – but the fact that is in German is not without significance). So Calvert 22, the Russian-owned art gallery in Shoreditch, London, is currently hosting a sort of dual exhibition on the NSK, running until June 24th 2012.

Upstairs we find Irwin (one of the ‘collectives’, who mainly work in fine arts) and their exhibition “Time for a New State”. The work there includes paintings, interspersed with animal taxidermy exhibits, video installations and the like. Downstairs there is an exhibition of folk art, including ceramic plates, video interviews, and a rather Beuys-like sledge-type piece, produced by citizens of the NSK State. There are currently around 14,000 such citizens – people who have sent around 25 euros and an application form to an information bureau in Llubljana and received their NSK passport in return. Urban legends – some of which may or may not have some basis in truth – about these documents’ use as ‘real’ passports abound, such as the alleged pre-2001 entry into the USA by one citizen using only their NSK documentation.

In the week beginning 9th April 2012, another of the NSK collectives, the industrial music band Laibach (German for Llubljana – again, not without significance) embarked on a mini-tour of the UK, with gigs in Birmingham on April 11th, Manchester on the 12th, and finally the Tate Modern in London on the 14th. The latter event sold out, and demand for tickets was so high that timings had to be altered. We weren’t able to get to the Tate Modern (though the inevitable YouTube videos that were online within hours of the end of the concert suggested that the band were able to use the cavernous space of the Turbine Hall to its full potential), but the Manchester event, held at Academy 3, a small club-like venue, at which we were in attendance, was an excellent concert.

Although there was an element of ‘greatest hits’ about it, this was not just Laibach going through the motions, and there was a palpable energy from frontman Milan Fras, ably assisted by Mina Spiler (keyboards/assistant frontwoman/occasionally loudhailer), with two other keyboard players and a drummer who worked hard all night. The set, which featured 20 songs, illustrated an interesting point about Laibach, which is that their strongest material spans a wide time period. The encore included a powerful version of “Leben heißt leben”, originally featured on 1986 album “Opus Dei”; two of the other highlights of the night – “America” and “Anglia”, the latter particularly well executed – come from the cd “Volk”, released in 2006. Laibach don’t tread water, and the material from the soundtrack of the Finnish Space-Nazis Comedy film “Iron Sky” that was featured brought home the point.

As would be expected with Laibach, there was an element of the gesamtkunstwerk about the show; continuous film projections behind the band (the YouTube material from the Tate gig unsurprisingly suggests a scale and grandeur unattainable in a venue the size of the Academy) included material from “Iron Sky” along with the videos that accompanied some of the tracks on release – notably “Anglia”, and, perhaps most familiar, “Tanz mit Laibach”. Indeed, the show worked on a number of levels: as a musical concert; as artistic happening; as a provocative and stimulating intellectual event… There was a lot going on, and it was brilliantly done. If Laibach are bringing this show – “We come in Peace” – to your town anytime soon, get along and see it. The Calvert exhibition has some time to run, and events around it continue for some time too. So for instance, on the 6th June NSKologist Alexei Monroe (author of Interogation Machine, the leading English language book on Laibach and NSK) will be doing a guided tour of the exhibition. Check the Calvert webpage for details of this and other events.

So what is of interest in all this for readers of Secessio? Perhaps crucially, the NSK State in Time is an interesting example of a community based around elective affinity – or perhaps elective affinities. Its citizens might be Laibach fans, politically-motivated in some way or another, folk from Ibadan desperate for a means to get them into Europe, or simply the curious with a spare 25 €. But within this disparate community things are stirring. A citizens’ congress was held in Berlin in 2010 (its ‘proceedings’ were published as State of Emergence, ed. Alexei Monroe, Plöttner Verlag, Leipzig/London, 2011), and since then there have been citizens’ rendez-vous in a number of cities. Among intellectuals participating in the State there has been some talk of the relationship between the State in Time and Hakim Bey’s notion of the Temporary Autonomous Zone (which in turn is a notion that holds some relevance for some of the thinkers important to what Secessio is about, as discussed in Brian Lovell’s article in the first issue).

The NSK State in Time is not a TAZ, but there are some family resemblances. And there are more than a few ways in which it can be compared to the Nomadic Tribes of postmodernity Maffesoli has written about, even if it does its best to look like something very different. That said, if the Manchester gig is anything to go by a considerable segment of those who identify with NSK and/or Laibach take a tribal approach, if only at the level of the way they dress for concerts. Those who find something of interest in the themes of Secessio might well keep an eye on the NSK State in Time.

Michael Tyldesley


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