Good times in Berlin

The first NSK Citizen’s Congress took place in Berlin 21-23 October writes Ian Parker.

This is not the place to rehearse again the already well-known trajectory of Neue Slowenische Kunst in the 1980s as an art-activist movement constructing an ‘authentic’ Slovenian art to ‘NSK State in Time’ founded in 1992 as a response to the reality of Slovenia as a new nation state avidly embraced by European capital. [For those who do not know this group: NSK argued through the 1980s for an ‘authentic’ Slovenian art, a sarcastic quasi-nationalist intervention into ‘socialism in one country’, with a twist, which was that all of the elements of this authentic art were taken from outside the country, from Russian socialist realism and from German national socialist art. The most notoriously and best-known element of NSK outside Slovenia are the State politicians in the form of the band Laibach that has many neo-Nazi fans, but the NSK State project is deliberately ambiguous about its own political allegiances. As a ‘State in Time’ it is not defined by geography but by the accumulated experiences of its citizens, who can join from anywhere in the world; its passport contains the declaration ‘Art is fanaticism that demands diplomacy ‘.] The question which prompted the calling of a Congress of citizens who hold NSK passports was ‘What now’? A malaise now besets some of the old members, exhaustion on the part of those who have held to that political ambiguity that defines the project – Laibach’s ‘Volkswagner’ project jostling alongside IRWIN’s recent Tel-Aviv show – and some anxiety gripped others, even with the fear as the congress approached that far right elements might take over the event.

I was there to facilitate one of the three citizen groups, and this role meant that I had to keep my own views to myself, and the deal for all of us was that we had to commit to three days intensive work which, believe me, started early and finished late. European Union funding enabled a select group of about thirty delegates chosen from those who had completed an online questionnaire about what NSK meant to them to come from Slovenia (including such luminaries as Igor Vidmar) and further afield, including other parts of Europe and America, New Zealand and Africa. The EU apparently described the NSK project in their positive appraisal of the funding bid as ‘ironic’, which is, of course, also itself rather ironic given the questioning of any form of geographically-based state identity that these comrades of the only global state in the universe incite.

In fact, irony upon irony was layered into the days of the congress. Discussion included the question of diplomatic relations with ‘micro-nations’ – the most akin to NSK State being ‘State of Sabotage’ and ‘Elgaland-Vargaland’ which claims border spaces (and has recently annexed the state of exile) – and there was some horror at NSK itself being viewed as being in any way comparable with the little fictional countries set up by kids in their own bedrooms. There was much discussion of what was referred to as ‘the Nigerian question’, which is that twenty five percent of NSK citizens may have been sold passports in a scam that made it seem they were getting European citizenship. A similar problem has hit some of the other little nations that sell their own passports, though they responded by simply closing down their operations. NSK, to its credit, followed through with letters to applicants in Nigeria, and then visited Lagos to conduct interviews with applicants. Delegates heard how some interviewees there insisted that NSK State did exist because they had friends who had visited it and thought it was lovely.

This global state functions as a bizarre disturbing shadow-side of different socialist ‘internationals’, and keys into post-punk refusal of forms of identity, bringing into left politics something that is often seen as dangerous, and it is, enjoyment. It was very enjoyable, but the statement drawn up by the citizens to take forward NSK was rather bland. IRWIN, Laibach, Cosmokinetic Theatre Noordung (the State Church) had kept out of the small groups so that their awe-struck subjects would not simply repeat back to them what they thought their masters wanted them to hear, and a number of delegates told me (when they were not commenting that they were not ‘fans’ and it would be horrible to be thought to be so) that they did not really believe that power was being turned over to them at all. If there was any kind of revolution in Berlin as a result of this weird well-managed constituent assembly, it was surely of the kind that replicated what had occurred in Slovenia in the early 1990s. The political ambiguity of the NSK State project finally seemed to have been resolved, twenty years after the event, with the victory of liberal ‘democratic’ forms, with a twist; behind this democratic facade – and we should hope that this is actually the case for NSK – there is still a strong and cryptic state in control for the real next step, which could be something more disturbing.

[You can read this in Slovene at http://www.eurovizija.si/kolumne/a/zabava_v_berlinu/1853]

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