Art Review by Sarah Bartram
The University of Akron’s Myers School of Art provides a rare treat for University of Akron students, and the public with their newest exhibition, “NSK: State in Time,” held in the Emily Davis Gallery. The University of Akron’s Associate Professor of Contemporary Art, Dr. Gediminas Gasparavicius brought members of the collective group NSK to work with students in The Myers Forum, an advanced course that brings prominent artists and critics to participate with School of Art students.
As a result of the visiting artists, the current show housed in the Emily Davis Gallery, “IRWIN: NSK State in Time,” is presented to the general public. The September 25th opening reception included an artist’s talk by IRWIN member, Borut Vogelnik. The exhibition was comprised of a collection of NSK and IRWIN’s most significant works since 1992.
The exhibit establishes a relationship between the pictures and viewer, emphasizing that NSK State exists in a state of images in this gallery space. Borut Vogelnik and his group IRWIN established the conceptual state of arts, this “NSK: State in Time,” which exists in time, but without any real territory. The exhibition, as well as the talk, brings to light questions surrounding the conceptual idea of a state: “Can contemporary art mimic the rituals and ideology of a state? What does it mean to belong to a “state” that has no territory and exists only in the actions, collaborations and experiences of its participants? Through a series of posters, photographs, video, and explanatory didactics, the audience is given the opportunity to be a part of this virtual utopian state.
NSK is an internationally acclaimed Slovenian art collective, consisting not only of visual artists, but also representatives from the literary, musical, and the philosophical world. IRWIN is one of the founding groups of NSK, along with Laibach and Scipion Nasice Sisters Theater. IRWIN explores the above-mentioned questions within the elaborate conceptual art project, “NSK State in Time,” which began in 1992 on the cusp of Slovenia’s independence from Yugoslavia. The NSK State’s art project issues it’s own passports, opens its own “embassies”, “congress,” and commands fictional armed forces. In essence, The NSK State is a utopian world running parallel with the Yugoslav, and now Slovenian state. Of course, NSK state is not recognized as an official state with powers, nor is it the intention of NSK state to become recognized as its own government in political terms.
Inke Arns, in her article, “IRWIN (NSK) 1983-2002: From “Was ist Kunst?” perfectly explains the ideology of NSK State. “From the beginning, NSK’s radical strategy was one of over-identification with the “hidden reverse” or the implicit premise of state ideology. Influenced by the theory of the Slovenian Lacan School, NSK was a genuine part of Ljubljana’s sub-cultural scene. The response to Laibach and NSK amongst the youth subcultures all over Yugoslavia in the 1980’s was more than positive, because in their performances of radical ‘over-identification- they exactly alluded to the universal nature of totalitarian forms of domination. All these gestures served a dual purpose: they objectified and defamiliarized the ideological discourses of the authoritarian state, but they also produced new relational mechanisms, however artificial and alienating they might have appeared to the participating audience.” With NSK’s appropriation of objects that serve primarily as one’s “identity”, they effectively create their own global culture through authenticity, suggesting that the identity of Slovenian’s was comprised of many cultural influences.
Possibly the most known project of NSK is the NSK Diplomatic Passport. There are approximately 14,000 passport holders around the globe who consider themselves citizens of NSK. The passports are made by The Ministry of Internal Affairs-the official passport printers. By using the official paper, stamps, printing, colors, etc., these artifacts essentially are the same as an official Slovenian passport. Something like this should be impossible to proceed with, it certainly would never happen in the United States, but NSK was able to successfully work with the Ministry, whose participation was essential. It was a collaborative effort from one field (Art) to another (Government), and that is an essential element of the NSK: State in Time, collaboration.
Passport holders must have an understanding of and participation in contemporary art. It is not meant to be used solely as a form of official documentation. However, many NSK citizens were abled to cross borders. To use Bosnia as an example, at a time when the war period in that region was very displeasing, and most Bosnians new that their Bosnian passports were to be looked on with suspicion and dislike, but NSK passports were not. There were many men and women who took the risk and presented their NSK diplomatic passport in place of their country’s passport. The NSK passports, while not only an art object, were still not meant to be a replacement for other documents, however many still risked using them in cases of necessity. Many people living in Bosnia did not possess ANY official documents of identification during the war. So for some, having an NSK passport was a way to have an identity, and an identity is what embodies humanism. NSK passport holders were able to identify themselves as global citizens. The fact that people were able to successfully cross international borders with NSK passports is to attest to the effectiveness of the NSK: State in Time. The exhibit shows a video consisting of interviews with multiple NSK Diplomatic Passport holders. These citizens of NSK tell very detailed and very fascinating stories of how and when they used their passports. The video is an integral part of the exhibit, as it also gives the audience an insight into the importance of these passports on an artistic and ethical level.
Currently, applications exceeding 1,000 have been coming in from Nigeria. These people are not asking for a passport as a means to be part of a collaborative art system, but to be used solely to pass borders. This brings Borut Vogelnik to ask the questions: “How did an art object from a first world country become a functional object in the third world? How can an artifact emancipate to such a state?”
On of the most significant and momentous moments for IRWIN and NSK was the NSK Embassy Moscow, a gathering of artists who held discussions, lectures, and exhibitions. Vogelnik told of the experience, “It (The Embassy Moscow) offered the possibility to develop long lasting relationships with Moscow artists, to develop an alliance. It was extremely important. This was the moment we spoke out, to give communication to the public. It was that moment we dared to enter into open discussion. We knew there was no other way.” This artistic community was seen as a virtual non-territorial state. NSK State in Time was no longer just an idea. It was real, with its own documents, coat of arms, embassy, guards, administrators and citizens.
Also featured in the exhibit were photographs of NSK Garda, a fictional guard. Photographs of NSK Garda Graz (In collaboration with Austrian Army), NSK Garda Zagreb (In collaboration with Croatian army), and NSK Garda Sarajevo (In collaboration with Bosnian Army). During his lecture, Vogelnik emphasizes the importance of collaboration in these works between the government and the artists. NSK went into each city and asked to use four soldiers to guard the flag of the conceptual NSK state for a half an hour, and to be photographed while doing this performance. Two key aspects of this performance are the location and the honor. The location of the flag was usually placed in front of a government building that garnered a regular flow of traffic as well as attention. Vogelnik explains the second aspect, honor, in his lecture. He goes on to say that honor has to do with the oath that every soldier takes at some point in their career; to never put another symbol on their uniform other than their state, and the other to never stand guard of a another state’s flag. In essence, NSK Garda should be something impossible to achieve, and reluctance was surely present, but when the high officials gave the order for the soldiers to comply with the NSK project, they did it. During their performance as “Guards” of the NSK State, they were no longer soldiers, but artists. Vogelnik emphasized again the importance of the collaboration they had established with the army and the significance of such a feat, “For the army, as an institution, to get into collaboration with us- to get into the field of art…”, this is how fiction gains concreteness-through these collaborations.
The exhibit reinforces that NSK State in Time is not to be read only as an art project, but as a collaboration happening in real time. Although there exists no concrete geographical territory, NSK state exists with the accumulation of performances orchestrated by IRWIN and NSK, in addition to individual experiences of NSK citizens. The existence of NSK state is dependent on the conceptual participation and collaboration between the artists, citizens, and the governing bodies that occupy the globe. NSK’s existence becomes more concrete as exhibits like “IRWIN: NSK State in Time” are made a participatory experience for the viewer.
IRWIN members are: Dusan Mandic (Ljubljana 1954), MIran Mohar (Novo Mesto 1958), Andrej Savski (Ljubljana 1961), Roman Uranjek (Trbovlje 1961), Borut Vogelnik (Kranj 1959)
IRWIN’s projects have been presented in Venice Biennale (2013, 1993), Museum of Modern Art, New York (2012, 2009), Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven (2013-14), Tate Modern, London (2013), Moscow Museum of Modern Art (2011), Centre Pompidou, Paris (2010), Istanbul Biennale (2005, 1997), and many other international venues.
IRWIN: NSK State in Time runs from September 22- October 24, 2014.
Emily Davis Gallery Myers School of Art, Folk Hall University of Akron 150 E. Exchange St. Akron, OH 44325-7801
Gallery hours are Monday 10am-3:30pm, Tuesday 10am-2pm, Wednesday and Thursday 10am-4:30pm, Friday 10am-5pm.
Please contact the Myers School of Art for more information: ph. 330-972-6030; email firstname.lastname@example.org
Exhibit is free and open to the public.
Sarah Bartram received her B.A. in Art History from The University of Akron. She is currently pursuing her M.A. in Art History at Kent State University where she also teaches Art History courses as a graduate assistant. You can contact Sarah at email@example.com.