What follows is an entirely accurate account of all discernible written, spoken, sung or shouted words within the 95-minute running time of Predictions of Fire.
FIRE FILM VOICE:
To make a fire, we need a flammable substance, air, that is, oxygen, and a source of heat. Making a fire goes like this. Heat the flammable substance until the temperature reaches the level where a certain chemical reaction takes place. The mixing of these gasses with oxygen results in the burning of that substance.
Death, lust is dead,
death is dead, sorrow, dead,
God is dead…
In the dark times, will there also be singing?
Yes, there will be singing. About the dark times.
Towards the end of the period of totalitarian control of East and Central Europe, an art movement named “NSK” appeared in a country then still called Yugoslavia. Using the materials of music, theater, and the visual arts, the NSK collective took on the role of catalyst, revisiting the repressed traumas of European history and exposing hidden mechanisms of ideological domination.
Tribes of Europe! Democracy has destroyed order. The ground is ready. Now we can say: no history has been decided, no nation has ever won thanks to justice. It won thanks to pure physical strength. All civilizations are based on it, all the powers of law will dance to the sound of arms.
World, without dreams, without lust,
without words, all is money.
Death, lust is dead,
death is dead, sorrow, dead,
God is dead… God is dead;
lust – lust is dead,
and sorrow is dead;
everything is dead….
Where is a space, a sacred space,
where my vows will not be disturbed?
Where is a home, a national place,
where our sighs will not be heard?
Predictions of Fire
Historiographers are gradually coming to the realization that history itself is in fact a series of consensual myths. It’s not necessarily a nation’s past that shapes its mythology, but its mythology which shapes its past. Taken apart, analyzed and then re-assembled, history’s fragments reveal a cyclical structure. Within this recurring pattern, the history of an entire people is actually no more than a collective projection — an illusion shared by millions.
Now the sun will rise as brightly
As though no misfortune had befallen in the night.
Ljubljana, a small city in the heart of Central Europe. In a global return of the repressed, the concept of Central Europe undergoes a revival, after 50 years of cold war division. Laibach, the provincial Habsburg town, became Ljubljana, the westernmost city of ex-Yugoslavia, and now plays the role of capital of Slovenia, a sovereign state. In the early 80’s, Czech writer Milan Kundera wrote an essay about the region. Central Europe as a family of small nations, he said, has its own vision of the world — a vision based on a deep mistrust of history. The people of Central Europe represent the wrong side of European history: its victims and outsiders. All of this century’s great Central European works of art, Kundera wrote, even up to the present day, can be understood as long meditations on the possible end of European humanity.
Misfortune came to me alone,
but the sun shines on everyone…
There is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism.
— Walter Benjamin
But where, exactly, is this elusive center, suspended for all of human history between the mad ambitions of the East and West? Like art, dominated on either side by politics or religion, does it finally deserve autonomy and equal status? For a millennium, Central Europe was defined by an entity known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The rise of film and the decline of the Habsburg dynasty cross in provincial Laibach in 1909. At the turn of the century, this tiny Slavic republic has lived for a thousand years under Germanic rule. Slovene cultural identity is formed specifically through resistance to external assimilation.
World War One. The conflict sparked in Sarajevo becomes the first great cataclysm of a century which invented global war. The Slovenian Alps are the largest battle-field of the eastern front. Slovenians are drafted into uniforms of two opposing armies — the Austrian and the Italian. After the war, a rally is held in Congress Square, at the center of a city now officially called Ljubljana. With the ancient Habsburg regime crumbling, the formation of a Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes is announced. But Slovenian dreams of equality within this union of the Southern Slavs soon evaporate. A more Balkan reality arrives in the form of King Alexander Karadjordjevi~. By 1929 he has established a Serbian royal dictatorship over the multi-national state, which is re-named Yugoslavia.
The arrival of the requisite Cardinal, to lead the second Eucharistic Congress for Yugoslavia in the Ljubljana stadium built specifically to host it, represents only one more in a series of conflicting claims on the allegiance of Slovenian souls. In April 1941, German, Italian and Hungarian troops occupy Slovenia within 24 hours. The victorious fascists encounter a deeply divided population. Threatened by Communism, irritated by the Serbian dictatorship, a sizable minority welcomes the German occupation. Arriving from the West, a failed Austrian artist declares “Let this land be German again.” The largest part of Slovenia is incorporated directly into the Third Reich, with the rest going to Italy and Hungary. The new regime immediately expels tens of thousands of people, handing their property over to German settlers. Opposition intellectuals are executed or sent to concentration camps. Slovenia has the distinction of being the only territory directly annexed by Greater Germany during the Second World War with its own partisan resistance army. Apart from Communists, it includes Christian socialists and other left-wing groups. But in the classical alliance of religion with power, the majority of local clergy support the fascist regime. An anti-Communist Quisling white guard is set up, and large numbers of Slovenians are drafted and sent directly to the Eastern Front. Ljubljana’s stadium, built as a Catholic Church, maintains this role as Slovenia’s archbishop blesses the proceedings.
QUISLING PROPAGANDA MINISTER:
We are proud that we warmly love our wonderful homeland, this strange God’s kindergarten in the heart of Europe. And we are prepared to defend it until the last drop of blood against the criminal liberation front and its conspirators, and so in the community of European nations contribute our share in the preservation of Christian Europe. Why? Because on our side is truth, justice, and almighty God!
RUPNIK, QUISLING PRESIDENT:
Slovenians can be rescued only by a victorious Europe, and Europe can be led to victory only by Germany!
We believe in the future, and will look for it in the past if necessary.
Forty years after the anti-Communist rally in Congress Square, Laibach, the first component part of the NSK art movement, appear directly at the center of a media sensation that they themselves have designed. Although presenting themselves as the blank-faced robots of history, Laibach stage a carefully crafted challenge to state authority. Their German name alone functions as a provocation in Socialist Yugoslavia, a state founded on a mythologized cornerstone of partisan resistance to Fascist occupation.
Is it possible? Is it possible that someone permitted that in Ljubljana, first Hero City of Yugoslavia, a youth group can have a name why unearths memories of — Laibach?
Comrade soldiers, friends! The time of peace here ends!
Many conflicting interpretations of Laibach’s first public appearance exist, but very few saw it as a confrontation of one myth using the materials of another. As in many countries, post-war historical amnesia was state-enforced in Yugoslavia.
The name itself and the sign are a visual materialization of an idea on the level of an enigmatic visual symbol. The name Laibach first appears in the year 1144, as an original name for Ljubljana with the etymological meaning “city by the river.” It surfaces again during the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, this time as an alternative to the Slovenian variant. The name Laibach appears again after the capitulation of Italy, when Nazi and Quisling forces tortured and murdered the people of Ljubljana who didn’t believe in the victory of the Third Reich. The name Laibach appears for the fourth time in 1980, when a youth cultural group bearing this name is founded, opening up a concrete possibility for the development of politicized, systematically ideological art as a consequence of the influence of politics and ideology. In this sense the name unites the horror of the communion between totalitarianism and the alienation generated by industrial production in its slave form.
But what was the real motivation behind Laibach’s early performances? Was this a politicized art, or aestheticised politics? Or were they simply a warning that if you repress history, it will eventually boil over? According to homeopathic theory, you can only cure through the symptoms of an illness. The immune system must be provoked. How better, then, to trigger the defense mechanisms of the state than to hold a mirror up to that state?
When actually Laibach first came out in the larger public space, the first reaction was so-called shock, even a political shock — which is the function of avant-garde art, we know that.
TV SLOVENIA INTERVIEWER:
You step forward as provocateurs, as, one could say, the number one enemy of the state. Do you have many followers?
Art is a noble calling which requires fanaticism. Laibach is an organism whose aims, life and means of activity of the group are higher — in strength and duration — than the aims, life and means of the individuals which compose it.
TV SLOVENIA INTERVIEWER:
Aren’t you afraid that someone might one day spank you because of all this?
Art is a noble calling which requires fanaticism.
The new art is a new era. It is a movement independent of other ideologies.
By 1984, Laibach and several other Slovenian groups took the fanaticism required of art one step further, linking together into a larger collective body. NSK, or Neue Slowenische Kunst, would encompass music, theater, design, architecture, and the visual arts. They said they were presenting art “in the image of the state.” But, like Laibach, they didn’t seem to have any specific political agenda. Manifestos issued by the new art movement said that their intention was to “revive the trauma of early 20th century avant-garde movements by identifying with them in the stage of their assimilation into the systems of totalitarian states.”
In 1927, traveling from East to West, Russian avant-gardist Kazimir Malevich passed through central Europe, arriving finally in Berlin for a series of lectures. Unfolding diagrams translated into German, the founder of the school of abstract art known as Suprematism explained some basic principles. Art, he said, had always functioned merely as a “toiletry article” within society. But the new art would have its own, independent ideology. Although in the West Malevich is credited with being a godfather of abstraction, from an Eastern viewpoint it seems clear that his main intention was to be the author of a new mythology. Two generations after the Soviet Utopian avant-garde was destroyed by the revolution it had helped create, many of its ideas came to life again in the Westernmost city of socialist Yugoslavia. Welded together into a simulation of a state bureaucracy, the groups comprising the NSK art movement together created an abstract Suprematist form. Although using the materials of history and politics as the bricks and cement of their state structure, NSK seemed to float free of any specific doctrine. If the artists of NSK could be said to have a political goal, it would be the destruction of historical naivete.
Trbovlje. This town has built us, and we continue its revolutionary tradition.
Nineteen seventeen. Shock-waves of revolution spread outwards across Europe. The best-known images of the upheaval in Russia are already the product of a myth-making art serving the direct interests of the new Soviet state. In the beginning, the Utopian rhetoric of the revolutionaries and the revolutionary ideas of the utopian artists marched together.
The success of Marxist ideology in the East inevitably impacts on the Slovenian mining town of Trbovlje. Hunger, dismal working conditions, and blatant exploitation of labor are the norm in the industrial heartlands of Royal Yugoslavia. But the revolution brings a message of hope. Strikes and street battles between fascist and socialist miners groups soon erupt. Contemporary Trbovlje’s huge coal-fired power plant has the largest smoke-stack in Europe. Laibach emerged from this machinery in 1980, producing a specifically industrial form of rock music. Thirteen years later Irwin, NSK’s collective of five painters, return to the source of the movement’s original motivating aesthetic.
Like Laibach, members of Irwin came from the factory and mining towns of socialist Yugoslavia. Using materials like coal, tar and blood, the earliest Irwin works consciously reflect their proletarian origins. Although their role would later evolve, in the early 80’s Irwin took on a specific mission within the NSK movement. They would be the chroniclers, or mythologizers — artists willfully serving the interests of the state they themselves had helped design.
It’s the cement factory!
CIRIL MAK, MINER:
Maybe these are old paintings, from the times when Laibach started and they painted from here in Trbovlje. They are connected with the miner’s life here.
I don’t like their style. They have a lot of… I don’t like their boots.
What do we think of the paintings? Fuck ’em. We don’t know what this is all about.
CIRIL MAK, MINER:
The painting as a painting? It’s unusual, because normally a simple person would expect a painting to represent something nice, a landscape or something. But these are… The painter who painted this wanted to say something. He is practically the only one who could explain it. I can’t get to the bottom of it.
Laibach as Laibach? Laibach as a music group is very popular abroad, in Europe. I saw on TV that they had a concert in Vienna, and in Prague they were sold out. But here, in our town, they are not so well known. Are they only a music group or are they something more?
THIRD MINER AGAIN:
We think the paintings are beautiful, but look what the mine looks like. Let’s go! Wait, we’re having an interview! Let’s go! Good luck!
CIRIL MAK, MINER:
It’s difficult to explain. I think Laibach have a very special style, a way of expressing themselves through music, it’s a kind of protest against society. Laibach was a kind of… reaction against society and the system, the whole European system.
All art is subject to political manipulation except that which speaks the language of the same manipulation.
— NSK Statement
By the middle of the century, the machinery producing power from coal and steam and the machinery producing mythology from images of power are manufacturing each other. The mass reproduction of images on strips of moving celluloid prefigures the mass media which will follow — the beginning of new, increasingly global, cycles of manipulation.
ARCHIVAL FILM TITLE:
Visit of Marshal Tito to Trbovlje.
Cleanse / klenz/ vt (formal or archaic) make thoroughly clean; make pure: ~ of/from sin. ~ n [C,U] substance that ~ses (eg a synthetic detergent).
Our mission is to make evil lose its nerves.
The big question that everybody is asking himself or herself a-propos of Laibach of course is: Are they taking themselves seriously or is this meant in an ironic way? Well, I think of course that this is the wrong alternative. Because the automatic assumption of this question is that if your attitude towards a certain social system, system of social values, etc., is ironic then you are subversive; you take it seriously, you are a conformist, etc. I think that the whole point, the basic underlying premise of Laibach strategy is that — and this holds not only for Slovenia but let’s say generally, for so-called late capitalism in general even — that the system itself has as its inherent condition of functioning that its own ideology must not be taken seriously. In other words, cynicism as today’s prevailing mode of ideology means that it is the positive condition of the functioning of the system that its own ideology must by its own subject not be taken seriously. An ideal subject today is the one who has ironic distance towards the system, etc., etc. And the reverse of this is that the only way, I would even say, to be really subversive is not to develop critical potentials, or ironic distance, but precisely to take the system more seriously than it takes itself seriously. And I think that this is, maybe, one of the keys to Laibach strategy.
Artistic representation of fascist rituals may even have good general cultural and even political effects. I think that it is a general characteristic of the Eastern Bloc that the confrontation with fascism was never really made on the symbolic level. It was clear for the rest of the Eastern Bloc that it couldn’t happen because it was too close to the ways totalitarianism functioned there, while in Yugoslavia I guess it happened for a perverted reason, namely, that the real victory over fascism, the military victory, blocked the symbolical confrontation, people thought it was OK, we defeated the Nazis we defeated the Quislings, now we didn’t have to worry about them anymore. And of course, the everyday fascism is always there, without the Quislings and the Nazis.
For example for the American public, let’s recall a typical town in the South of the United States in the 20’s. We have the official white law and order, rule etcetera. On the other hand we have the nightly dark side or it: Klu-Klux-Klan, beatings of the blacks, etcetera. Now my point is here double. First — the transgression. There is nothing subversive in the transgression of the system. This nightly suspension of the rule of law and order — lynchings, beatings of the blacks — are transgressions of the system, but transgressions which are an inherent part of the system. If you would ask an ideal subject of the small southern town: where is your real identity? You can break the official public law, you will still be considered as one of us. If you don’t solidarize with the Ku-Klux-Klan, you are excluded. So in other words, not only does every system include its own inherent transgression, but identifying with this transgression — which must remain unspoken, concealed — is the real form of conformism. And this transgression must remain hidden, unspoken. Of course, this goes for the United States. Here, in so-called ‘real socialism’, we had other forms of these hidden transgressions. And my point is that what Laibach is doing is precisely bringing to the light of the day this inherent transgression which, precisely in order for the system to reproduce itself, must remain hidden.
I think that NSK really came at a good moment, and made a symbolical artistic recapitulation of the deep virus of fascism in Slovenian tradition, as in every other European tradition. I mean, of course, fascism only came to power in certain countries. But it was present everywhere. And it still is. And you see, in Yugoslavia, how it is.
Conditions of Burning and Methods of Extinguishing.
FIRE FILM VOICE:
During an attack, we should stay calm and peaceful in shelters.
The first task of the fireman is saving lives, then fighting the fire.
To extinguish the fire, the most important thing is to discover and control its source and prevent its spreading further. Everything must be done systematically.
The fire goes in all directions – it spreads on steps or through windows. In this way, it can jeopardize its surroundings; this can happen through sparks or heat, or burning parts of the building itself.
The area of danger can be very very big, especially in the direction the wind blows. The danger area has a circle shape when the weather is calm, or, when the wind blows, in the shape of a segment of a circle.
The neighbors, in their own interest, help with containing the fire and extinguishing it. If it’s not enough that just the neighbors help, then we must call the firemen. If even that is not enough, and there is danger that the fire would spread further, in a way in which the firemen could be trapped and surrounded, then everything should be done to place the firemen outside that area so they can continue their work. Of course, that cannot be done until the inhabitants are evacuated.
A fire like this can destroy entire parts of the city. If people react at the right time with all these small actions, then you can save your town and city from total disaster. Educated citizens can be a very important rear-guard, which is of extreme importance in defending our socialist homeland.
The brutal civil war that has been raging across the Yugoslav republics since the Axis invasion is finally extinguished in 1945, with the victory of the partisan armies. For the second time in the century, Slovenia will be ruled from the East. For the next 50 years, European stability will be enforced by an unprecedented dismemberment of Central Europe and the rest of the continent between the two great Cold War blocs.
CONGRESS SQUARE SPEECH:
The immense world of violence has fallen! Ljubljana has proved that it is the live heart, the live, beating heart of an alive, proud, heroic Slovenian national organism!
Arriving from Belgrade, a one-time Austro-Hungarian soldier speaks in Congress Square. Although the Yugoslav state has risen intact from its own ashes, its Western borders are disputed by the leader of the new Communist regime.
Ladies and Gentlemen! Comrades! We want the entire world to know that Yugoslavia, which was fighting, doesn’t want anything but that one nation, of one blood, shall live within the framework of one state!
Although Tito’s demands are not backed by force, the old Habsburg port of Trieste and part of Austria are claimed by Yugoslavia. Trieste in particular becomes the site of clashes between military police and Slovenian protesters. But it soon becomes clear that the substantial Slovenian populations here, and in the Austrian province of Koroska, will remain west of what has become known as the Iron Curtain.
Who gave their lives for the freedom of Koroska?
The Partisans of Koroska gave their lives for the freedom of Koroska!
Where, then, is our northern frontier?
Our northern border is there where our victims fell!
Let’s sing a partisan song!
Brothers, to the sun of freedom!
Brothers, come up to the light,
the painful night is behind us,
ahead lies a day of freedom!
The painful night is behind us,
ahead lies a day of freedom!
Everyone loves a parade. The concept of politics as entertainment was one of the great inventions of mass propaganda. Although the fascist states had been defeated, the aestheticization of politics lived on in communist rituals. As for the parades, they were an assembly line manufacturing the new history. Traditions had to be invented and well documented. In its own way, the ideology that had been planted in Europe’s Eastern half believed itself to be at the beginning of a thousand year Reich.
Leben / Tot
There is a life
There is a life
There is a life
There’s a Balkan quality to European history. Long before the springtime of nations and the contemporary idea of the nation-state, ethnic groups and rival religions and ideologies of Europa fought for domination over populations and scraps of land. If Slovenia was God’s Kindergarten, as the Quisling propaganda minister proclaimed, then all of Europe was his playground, dedicated to refining strategies of domination and manipulation destined to rule the world.
We march together
We march together
And that’s for sure!
Every new order pre-supposes the existence of disorder and is already infected with an inherent virus of future disorder.
Although Tito had broken Yugoslavia free from Stalin’s East Bloc in 1948, creating the world’s first non-aligned Communist state, in the end his “soft totalitarianism” was no more resilient than that of the other regimes of Eastern Europe. The crash of a unifying ideology, 45 years after its greatest victory, initially spilled more blood in the Balkans than anywhere else. Less than a year after the implosion of the USSR and the disintegration of Yugoslavia, the Irwin group flew to Moscow with the idea of facilitating communication between the post-Communist states. The evaporation of Soviet power had been characterized by what Robert Hughes called a “migration of images into oblivion.” Previously, though, Communism had erased its own large share of history. So it seemed appropriate to treat the vast stage of Red Square for what it is: a symbolic zone, in which various competing myths are presented — and sometimes re-presented.
MOSCOW POLICE MAN:
On the square? It’s normal, it’s a square on Red Square. It’s a painting, the “black square”, yes? Of course, I don’t understand this painting, but I know it.
Do you know anything about these people who put the square here?
MOSCOW POLICE MAN:
I just know they’re from Yugoslavia.
But Yugoslavia doesn’t exist.
MOSCOW POLICE MAN:
Yes, yes — Croatia, Slovenia…
IRWIN INTERVIEW, SPEAKER 1:
NSK as a system was established in Slovenia in the 80’s, and this action is the first in which this system has begun to move, where this body has moved to Moscow…
IRWIN INTERVIEW, SPEAKER 2:
I would like to make a link. In the 80’s, NSK contemplated ideology in totalitarian states, and that was a kind of answer to the position of Eastern Europe within art. In the 90’s, where totalitarian states are disappearing, and national states emerging, NSK starts to think about its own state in time, and not in space. That’s why the embassy was our ideal space, our ideal form.
In a way you could say that Russia, or actually even Moscow, all that we see here is a natural environment of Laibach. And that’s one of the reasons why they are here of course, because this is a sort of mythical source of theirs… NSK people are clever enough that they know that this Western-Eastern communication is not enough to restructure the entire Eastern world, that another contact between East and East is just as necessary as the first one.
MOSCOW TV SPEAKER 1:
There’s a new embassy in Moscow. True, it was not announced in the newspapers, or mentioned on TV, or anywhere else.
MOSCOW TV SPEAKER 2:
The NSK Embassy is in a normal domestic apartment on Leninsky Prospect. Still, it has attracted large crowds of people, including artists, intellectuals, and punks. NSK Ambassador Miran Mohar says that NSK came to Moscow….
RASTKO MOCNIK (EXTERIOR):
NSK has an embassy in Moscow, and they are actually simulating a state. It’s not just a parody; I think it’s deeper. It means that they are really functioning as a state, as an artistic collective, so that they expose the statehood mechanisms that work in everybody of us, and we should be aware of them if we want to enter into a state that would not be an oppressive hat on everybody, but would be an enlightened mechanism of human coexistence. So, of course, that’s an ideal we want to achieve, but I think it’s good to see that we are state builders spontaneously. So its better to do it in an artistic way than in the real world, where the state may turn around and hit you, when the moment comes.
RASTKO MOCNIK (INTERIOR):
So that’s domination, ‘D.’ Capitalism relies upon economic domination, domination by economic means. Yeah, that we’ll learn in a few years, both you and me. And non-economic constraint is typical of most of the other systems, and Communism is, let’s say, a post-modern version of them. Now, non-economic constraint can be either repression, or ideological interpolation. The systems that rely on repression are not very efficient…
After they’d removed all our famous and majestic monuments, such as this one of Dzerzinsky, the chief and organizer of the KGB, and Kalinin, our first and most beloved president, who ruled in Stalin’s time, and Yakov Sverdlov, whom everybody called Vyashka, and who played a wholly unimportant role in Russian history, after they’d removed all of these monuments, they spent a long time contemplating what to do with them. On the one hand, this was, of course, a vandalistic act, it was quite obviously vandalism, since history may not be forgotten, no matter what it may have been like, and on the other hand, it was almost necessary to remove them, in this moment, it meant an enormous emotional unburdening. I think that if Irwin had been in Moscow at the time it would have been an interesting and unusual experience for them, since they experiment with the same principles: to break down, to build, to break down, to build again, and in such a way build their own system. The experience of NSK in relation to the darkest and most tragic — and for this reason also the most interesting — moments in history is very important for us at this particular time, as the dilemma of what to do with the past is what intellectuals are currently dealing with. But NSK was the first to formulate precisely what we can do with our experiences, that we need no fear them, that we can harmonize them into an artistic system.
Fascism will not win! Fascism will not win!
DEMONSTRATOR WITH MEGAPHONE:
Americans! Listen to the voice of working Russia! Take your dirty hands off Serbia!
How will we build our country? Brick by brick by brick…
Art and totalitarianism do not exclude each other.
According to theory, the past itself is no more than an archive of collective memory. By the 90’s, the songs of the Great October Revolution have become the property of an aging rear-guard.
But if history is in fact a sum total of re-writings through time, what then to do with this cargo of conflicting myths? Like the ideologies which inspired them, the early 20th century Utopian avant-garde movements were largely organized as collectives –experimental social structures. The Eastern Modernists believed that the world could be completely transformed according to principles of a new and unified aesthetic. If the state was to wither away, as Marx predicted, then the Soviet avant-garde would take on the job of replacing it with a total art-form — something the Germans call a Gesampt-kunstwerk. At the close of the Modern era, with the wreckage of these utopian dreams strewn across the landscape like pieces of a crashed airplane, it made a certain sense to reassemble the mechanism — to try to determine what had happened.
If the beginning of the avant garde is romanticism and the avant garde is the legal successor of romanticism, then retrogardism is the legal successor of the avant garde. Historical avant garde is a style, written at the beginning of the century as a response to the mimetic art which dominated the world for 2000 years. Retrogardism, of course, is like the avant garde a style formation in art. Its method is the retro-method.
LAIBACH SONG VOICES:
This is the end, the end of the world!
German Nazism, Italian Fascism and Soviet Communism all first repressed, then took direct control of, the ideas and energies of the early 20th century modernists. Each in their own way transformed the Utopian premise of the state as a work of art into an art at the direct service of the state. Both Adolf Hitler, the art school reject, and Josef Stalin, the self-described engineer of human souls, transformed their societies into vast ritualistic dystopias. If the state was an art-work, they were its artist; the people were their material. If the state was a church, then their role was clear. They were God.
LAIBACH SONG VOICES:
Actor! Actor! Actor!
The works of NSK’s Irwin collective revealed fascism and communism as two sides of the same totalitarian canvas. But they went beyond that. By deploying a variety world mythologies together within the same work, the Irwin artists exposed a broad spectrum of domination codes. Placing quotations from Western modernist art and consumer culture side by side with symbols of both totalitarian and religious art, they revealed their essential similarity within the world ideological constellation. The works of Irwin, wrote Russian theorist Boris Groys, “had already appeared, long before the end of the Cold War in political life, as an artistic rendition of its end.”
The people around here are either scientists or ideologists or religious representatives or artists or philosophers. They cover the global experience of the planet Earth. Each has its own rituals: religion has numerical rituals, ideology fascinating ones, science magical ones. Art, of course, has to act through the ritual of obsessive neurosis. Obsessive neurosis is the field where the sacred paradox becomes evident. At this point, assuming numerical or fascinating rituals means assuming the fields that either ideology or religion express…
LAIBACH SONG VOICES:
Actor! Actor! Actor!
The only truly aesthetic vision of the State is the vision of the impossible State.
— Scipion Nasice Theater.
Within the cosmology of NSK’s virtual state, Laibach plays the role of the politicians or ideologists, Irwin are the state artists, and the theater group, now called the Cosmokinetic Theater Noordung, functions as a kind of church — a place where obsessive neurosis is transformed into ritual ceremony.
The ballet we are preparing will first be shown on December 11, 1992. It is dedicated to Herman Poto~nik Noordung, or rather to the centenary of his birth.
Prayer Machine Noordung
FIRST VOICE IN BALLET MUSIC:
Capital of pain. Capital of pain.
SECOND VOICE IN BALLET MUSIC:
You are free. No charge. No sense. You are totally alone. One plus one, plus one….
Throughout history, art has served power — be it political, religious, or economic. Viewed in the light of Kazimir Malevich’s observation, the entire NSK project can be interpreted as an attempt to reclaim an aesthetic legacy. If the ideas and artistic methods of the early avant gardes were exploited by political forces, creating a kind of ceremonial theater in the service of politics, then NSK was reasserting aesthetic control over this work — while accomplishing an even more subversive reversal. Politics and religion would not only remain within the work. It would now be they which would serve art. This is the “hidden transgression” at the core of the Neue Slowenische Kunst art movement. Call it politics in the service of theater.
ADDITIONAL VOICES IN BALLET MUSIC:
Quickly! Before its too late!
There’s no alternative.
It’s an emergency.
Moscow is already destroyed.
It’s not war — its peace!
And what is art? Art is the goal and the end of progress.
Suspended as they are between East and West, NSK seemingly made a determination: no one side would ever be adequate. A comprehensive world-view required that neither hemisphere be denied, just as neither be wholly accepted. No matter how intense the ideological pressure, the truth of their specific historical condition could only include both sides of the story. And suspicion of history must be matched by a profound ambivalence about any single mythology, iconography or state system. Only in this way could an artistic project defined as a “state in time” chart an autonomous course.
The famous Slovenian architect Joze Plecnik, active at the end of the Habsburg era, once said the following: “Of course we have our own culture, its just that we have to look for it in Germany, France and Italy.” At the end of a century in which the border between East and West crossed Slovenia five times, that list of influences has expanded considerably. Maybe this is why post-modernism, with its endless appropriations, came along as something the Slovenes had already understood better, as part of their national fabric. More importantly, in a culture marked by successive periods of denial of one or another side of history, Irwin’s work represents a voluntary endorsement of “outside” influences. In New York, these influences are once again visible as building blocks of the recombinant Slovene identity.
When I walked in here today, I sort of glanced at one of the paintings on the wall, and all of a sudden there was the ghost of Vassarelli as, as a kind of patterned background on it. And mixed in with that there are remnants of Beuys, and Malevich, and Duchamp, and all the kitsch Slovenian images that Irwin members probably grew up with, and all the pictures they probably saw in church… It’s not about, so much, the old idea of what things should look like. And when I say old, I mean Modern.
Well, I don’t think you can tell who did which work, I mean they’re not separate identities. And they say that they get rid of the idea of the author. When you get rid of the author in a country which at the time I first saw their work and when they first started doing it several years before that, was a totalitarian, communist society, it’s very different from getting rid of the author in a society based on individuality and the individual.
Not surprisingly, NSK’s authorless distillations of an East-West cultural schizophrenia have not always been well understood — or liked — at home. And the prevailing political climate has inevitably played a role in this. Before Slovenia’s first democratic elections, a perception existed that NSK was producing a fascistic, or right-wing art. Later, their use of Eastern modernist images resulted in their being directly accused of working for the discredited Communists.
Well it’s hard to say the collapse of communism makes it less relevant, because they look relevant in a different way right now, since the various ethnic groups in Yugoslavia are… kind of in the midst of a war and trying to kill each other, and so suddenly their work, instead of being relationed to the old politics, I can start looking at their work in terms of: it’s full of conflicting pasts, I mean it’s full of nationalistic imagery, international modern art imagery, old religious imagery, and… I mean, it’s almost as if they internalized this conflict that’s happening now, or anticipated it or something.
PARTISAN SONG (SUNG BY IRWIN MEMBER):
Rifle on the shoulder
in the hands, a machine gun
the foe will feel how bitter it is
to dance with us!
PARTISAN SONG (ORIGINAL, CONTINUED):
Hey comrades! We don’t regret
the blood for a free Slovenia!
Now, rifles in the hands, now
let the machine gun sing,
our foe will feel how bitter it is
to dance with us!
EIGHTEENTH INTER-TITLE (WITH BULLET HOLES):
Fascism under the guise of democracy is the rule of financial capital itself.
PARTISAN SONG (CONTINUED):
There’s land waiting for us,
there’s a burned home waiting…
The East collapsed because it blindly believed Western utopian ideas of the freedom of the individual. The West, on the other hand, survived because through its corporate logic it discreetly introduces a system of unconscious, collective non-freedom. The collapse of communism no longer means a permanent triumph of classical capitalism. In its core, capitalism has a tendency towards self-destruction. The fundamental self-destructive substance of capitalism, and its driving force, is greed. It is a characteristic of greed that it only appeases its hunger when it destroys itself.
The End of History.
Slovenia entered the age of the electronic camera at around the same time Josip Broz Tito died in a Ljubljana hospital in 1980.
Adopting a Yugocentric view, the global decline of Communism began not with the rise of Mikhail Gorbachev to the East, but with the fall of the founder of Socialist Yugoslavia in the Westernmost republic of his domain. Everything else was just details — including Gorby’s visit to Ljubljana in 1988.
Another type of communist was on the way. The decline of the ideology of 1917 paved the way for a one-time Belgrade banker preaching nationalist fundamentalism.
Comrades! There is no price, and there is no force, which could shake the leadership of Serbia, and the citizens of Serbia, in the struggle for just aims!
We want weapons! We want weapons!
I don’t hear you well! I don’t hear you well, but I want to give you the answer that what you require — soon all the names will be published! And I want to tell you that those who used people in order to manipulate with them in order to realize political aims against Yugoslavia, that they will be punished and they will be arrested! This I guarentee you!
Elias Canetti has said that each war starts with pictures. Ex-Yugoslavia’s contemporary horror was started consciously, on Serbian state-controlled TV. Years before fighting erupted, a relentless tape-loop of fifty-year-old war crimes — including the forced baptism of Orthodox Serbs by a Catholic priest in Croatia’s notorious Jesenovac death camp — flickered in millions of Serbian living rooms every night. It was in Serbia that Communism made its first — but not last — post-modern transition to a televisual fascism. It began as a return of the repressed. The century had vanished into the archives, but the archives came to life again, releasing stored demons in prime time.
Slovenia reacted to events in the South with a kind of pragmatic rebirth of national feeling. Slovenian secessionists were given a massive boost by the Yugoslav National Army’s clumsy political trial of four Ljubljana journalists in 1988. A rally in Congress Square pounded some final nails into the coffin of Yugoslav unity. The proceedings bore an eerie resemblance to those of 70 years before, in which the first Yugoslav state was announced, in a shower of hope and goodwill.
Mr. President! The troop of the Territorial Defense is lined up in honor of the Republic of Slovenia as an independent state, and it is prepared for your review.
Our history is honorable and clean. Until now, history didn’t give us anything for free; we had to work hard for everything. That is why we still exist.
Slovenia’s secession from the bankrupt Yugoslav federation recycled a time-worn dramaturgy, bringing a familiar cast of characters and costumes back into the limelight of history. But there was a difference. This time, for the first time, the rituals of the state endorsed autonomy from, rather than subservience to, an external capital power. If art can declare independence, why not the state itself?
Through burned fields, all the way to white Ljubljana,
our army breaks through like a storm!
As long as the brigades are here, who can steal our land?
On Slovenian land we are master!
Ideology relies on rhetoric because it constructs subjects who subscribe to their own freedom.
— Bill Nichols
In March of 1989, the year in which Slovenia took it’s first legislative steps towards full separation, Laibach made the risky decision to play a concert in the center of Serbian nationalism: Belgrade, the Yugoslav capital. Part of the performance was a speech, delivered in a politically explosive mixture of Serbian and German.
Brother Serbs! You are here, from alpha to omega! You rule this land, and we will not let you be raped. This I guarentee you! You believe in God’s penalties and rewards! Your holy towns will remain holy. Saint Sava says that this land has to be Serbian! Profaned graves — we’ve thought about it as well. But He believes in attack and honor!
Reality has a way of taking its revenge. The speech, which started by appropriating two statement by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, would end by directly quoting British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, the key architect of European pre-war appeasement of Adolf Hitler. NSK’s “retrogardism” had reached its closest encounter with the very phenomenon it had anticipated. In both form and content, Laibach’s provocation in Belgrade that day was as precise as a chemical formula. It seemed to crystallize the exact moment of transition between Yugoslav socialist speech and Serbia’s emerging ethnic nationalist rhetoric. The first had always stressed brotherhood and unity among the Southern Slavs. The cadences of the second had not been heard in Europe since the dark days of the thirties.
Listen! The violence, the war, the love, and eternal holiness… Upon these premises we guarantee you your borders, and that means peace in our time.
Language is a system of orders, not a medium of information.
— Gilles Deleuze
RADIO VOICE 1:
Germany calling! Germany calling! We are continuing our news in English.
RADIO VOICE 2:
But Europe is not the same…
RADIO VOICE 3 (CHAMBERLAIN):
It has become like a disease which has been long neglected, and a surgical operation was necessary to save the life of the patient.
RADIO VOICE 4 (MUSSOLINI):
The solution which is now obviously the most proper is the most simple, the most logical, the most radical. It’s the one that we fascists are calling totalitarian.
Details of the past, transposed as metaphors to the present, are sometimes capable of anticipating the future. For the remainder of European history, Chamberlain’s voice will be synonymous with the weakness of democracy when confronted with fascism.
They were nailing criminals alive to trees
torturing them terribly, gouging eyes out
crushing their limbs, putting their crossed arms
they slaughtered whole criminal families
some specialist for killing guilty children and women
they cut some heads off with pocket knives
death for death
death for death
death for death
The carnage in the East came via the Kum and Krvavec TV towers, across the ridges of mountains that had protected Central Europe from the Ottoman Empire for 500 years. These images of horror were relayed across the new Slovenian state to the great democracies of the West, where they were surrounded by late-night pornography and ultra-violent movies. The autumn of the century had become the season of the channel changer. Atrocity was replaced by entertainment, or simulated atrocity as entertainment.
The Heaven Over Trbovlje
The Heaven Over Ljubljana
When Slovenia became the first target of the Yugoslav Army in 1991, its network of TV towers were a top priority. If history increasingly consists of images, those who control the images control history. By the end of the century, the mass rallies of the 30’s were largely unnecessary. With the precision of a guillotine, film sliced history into 24 frames per second, transporting it into the future.
In 1983, the so-called “interview” of Laibach by TV Slovenia defined an early landmark in what critics of mass media have termed “culture jamming.” Conducted more by the group than by unwitting journalist Jure Pengov, Laibach revealed the way state-controlled media work by externalizing both its methods and its codes. Although interpretable now as a kind of failed inoculation, Laibach’s action anticipated both the visual appearance and the televisual method that would later be used to trigger dormant nationalism within the Balkans.
Television. Within the industry of consciousness the television medium is, besides the school system, the leading molder of uniform thinking. Television programs are basically centralized, with one transmitter and many receivers. No communication is possible between them.
Yeah, I think it was Goebbels who formulated the equation ‘one transmitter, ten thousand receivers.’ The idea is that the transmitter would cut out any idea of two-way communication with the receiver, the receiver was in a passive position all the time, and that is the pure principle of rock music. And when you think about what they’re doing, they’re not actually glorifying totalitarianism, they’re revealing the mechanism of totalitarianism. The paradox of Laibach is, Laibach would not be tolerated in a totalitarian state, because they’re giving too much away. Totalitarianism only wants a celebration of itself, it doesn’t want a revelation of itself.
We use mainly tools with a manipulative possibility and with a propagandistic character, and repressively use the power of information. These tools are used for collective consumption, and are the best for deterring the masses from critical thinking — for instance film as the most powerful weapon with the longest strength and the most powerful influence on the human spirit.
TV SLOVENIA INTERVIEWER:
If I got it right, you use television to challenge us. Fine, so do we. Maybe, maybe now somebody will act and repress these horrifying ideas and declarations here in the middle of Ljubljana.
We are the children of the spirit, brothers of might,
whose promises are still nowhere in sight,
we are the black specters of this world below,
we are singing of this mad picture of woe,
we are the first TV generation.
Yugoslavia / Force
There’s a European quality to Balkan history. When Europe falls out of balance, it is visible here before anywhere else. At the end of the bloodiest century in history, and with the finest armies and weapons in the world, a complacent Europe grows accustomed to watching its own primitive past play like a violent film safely on the other side of the old East-West boundary. But more than a decade after its founding, the warning of a group of artist from one of Central Europe’s forgotten cities still resounds. Look at the past, NSK said, and you will see the future. Look at the Balkans, Europe. You are looking into a mirror.
TWENTY-FIFTH AND LAST INTER-TITLE:
In the middle of the nineties, the most successful pop-cultural export from the old East performs for the first time in the cradle of democracy. As usual in Athens, reminders of history don’t have to announce themselves. They are visible everywhere — like the signs reflecting an irrational Greek fury at the tiny ex-Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, just to the north.
So, would you call yourselves Nazis?
FIRST GREEK SKINHEAD:
No, we don’t call ourselves Nazis, you in the media call us Nazis. We call ourselves Greek National Socialists.
SECOND GREEK SKINHEAD
For example, we believe that here in Greece, there is land only for Greeks.
Would you consider them a fascist band, or…
SECOND GREEK SKINHEAD:
FIRST GREEK SKINHEAD:
I don’t know, yet.
So again, the big question is: are they fascists or not, to put it simply, what are they? What is at stake in their act is precisely to return this question back to ourselves, to ask ourselves. We have there a certain performance; how do we stand towards it? They are not the answer, they are the question, they are a big question mark on-stage. We must answer it.
At the close of the millennium, Slovenia remains an independent and democratic nation. It is visible on the map, within a Central Europe uneasily balanced between the East and West.
As for NSK, the art movement organized “as a state without territory, a state in time” recently started issuing its own passports. They have been used successfully to cross international frontiers — including by a number of citizens of the besieged Republic of Bosnia Herzegovina, who otherwise have great difficulty crossing state borders.