Exhibition of Slovenian artists from the NSK collective
Ljubljana - Arab Today
Hitler sporting a Karl Marx beard and a swastika formed with axes are just some of the provocative pieces starring at the first show ever by Slovenia's shock art collective, NSK.
The show launches as the now cult Slovenian art project again ruffles establishment feathers by staging a pair of unlikely summer concerts in pariah nation North Korea.
Short for Neue Slowenische Kunst, or New Slovenian Art, NSK was launched in the former Yugoslavia in 1984 -- four years after the death of dictator Josip Broz, better known as Tito, when the socialist federation's institutions were falling apart.
NSK since has become synonomous with provocation and its current exhibition, titled "From Kapital to Capital", on display until August 16, is no exception.
It aims to show that if NSK emerged during communist rule, it remains "simultaneously as much a critic of socialism as a critic of capitalism", said curator Zdenka Badovinac.
This summer the collective is set to cause a new stir when its musical wing, industrial rock band Laibach, plays two concerts in North Korea on an invitation from Pyongyang.
For decades, the experimental rockers -- like the art collective they helped found -- have split audiences in Slovenia due to their deliberately ambiguous use of political and nationalist imagery.
Even the band's name is provocative: Laibach is the German name for Ljubljana first used under the Austro-Hungarian empire and during the Nazi occupation in World War II.
While many accuse the outfit of being fascist, others argue their music is a critique of totalitarian ideology.
- From prison to fame -
When it first emerged, NSK quickly gained notoriety for taking the symbols of totalitarian or extreme nationalist regimes and re-appropriating them, the same way the Dada movement did in Germany in the 1920s.
Icons of sometimes incompatible political ideologies were frequently juxtaposed for instance.
For example, in the mid-1980s, NSK artists won a national poster competition using a painting by Nazi artist Richard Klein and replacing the flag of Nazi Germany with the Yugoslav flag and the German eagle with a dove.
Such practices led to Laibach being banned and some of NSK's members being thrown into prison.
But in the West, the movement's provocations won support.
After Laibach was signed to prestigious British post-punk label Mute - also home to Depeche Mode - in 1986, the band developed a worldwide fan base.
Its clips began appearing on the MTV music channel, which had launched just five years earlier.
"It was something new for Europe - videos produced in Yugoslavia, a former communist country," said Peter Vezjak who was NSK's head of video at the time.
"I mixed the German film avant garde and New York's new independent cinema with Russian directors and put it all together in the old tradition of modernism."
- 'Art is fanaticism' -
Unsatisfied by its artistic subversion of regimes, NSK went a step further in 1992 -- a year after Slovenia had declared independence from ex-Yugoslavia -- by creating its own nation, the NSK State of Time.
More than 15,000 people from all over the globe became "citizens" and even received their own passports, featuring the motto: "Art is fanaticism that demands diplomacy."
Two decades on, the collective has clearly not lost its taste for provocation.
Laibach will perform in Pyongyang on August 19 and 20, as part of 70th anniversary celebrations of the Korean peninsula's liberation from Japanese colonial rule.
"North Korea is, the way we see it, the utopian experiment... and we always felt really good in any kind of utopia," said Laibach frontman Ivan "Jani" Novak.
Meanwhile, curator Badovinac suggested that the totalitarian aspect of Laibach's performances and videos may have given the wrong impression to the government of Kim Jong-un.
"The invitation could be based on a misunderstanding," she said with a smile.