A long-running Slovenian art collective has blurred the lines among art, politics, religion, the military and citizenship as part of a powerful retrospective at The University of Akron’s Emily Davis Gallery.
IRWIN is a collective of five visual artists, established in 1983. Neue Slowenische Kunst (or NSK), an umbrella organization comprising IRWIN and other creative groups, is a fictional state with its own passports, embassies, flags and identities as a global citizenry with no territories or boundaries. IRWIN’s show, ”NSK State in Time,” is a retrospective on display at The University of Akron through through Nov. 10.
“The main point was to establish contact between fiction and reality,” says Borut Vogelnik, an artist from IRWIN, who recently visited The University of Akron for a guest lecture and opening of the exhibit.
Although the group’s current show is not overtly political, Vogelnik admits, “Having a position in the field of visual art is a political statement.”
The show features religious iconography, video, recruitment posters reminiscent of Cold War propaganda and striking photos, where soldiers from around the world pose under NSK’s fictional flag while donning armbands bearing the same imagery.
Armies from Bosnia, Austria and Croatia are among the real-life forces that have become a part of this elaborately spanning project.
NSK’s passports are a unique part of the collective’s identity, whose members note that some people have attempted to go through customs with these fake passports. There are now more than 14,000 citizens, or passport holders, says Gediminas Gasparavicius, a University of Akron art professor who had a hand in bringing this exhibit to town.
“It’s an interesting idea to organize art around the model of a state rather than around a commodity, market, gallery or model of fame or self-promotion. This is exactly what attracted me to the IRWIN group and NSK,” he says. “It’s very conceptually sound and very complex at the same time.”
The citizens of this fictitious nation even have begun producing their own folk art, he adds.
The project also includes the art group’s iconography, which in photos is being carried forth by real-life priests.
The group was formed when Slovenia was still part of Yugoslavia, and NSK comprises a number of sub-collectives, from artists (IRWIN), to musicians, filmmakers, theorists and theater groups.
Although its early aims were likely political, Vogelnik says the current “NSK State in Time” exhibit is “primarily dealing with the internal problems of NSK. Their aim was primarily not to communicate with the spectator but first to reorganize the position inwardly.”
The group’s formation has faced controversy over the years, but Vogelnik downplays this aspect of the work in favor of focusing on the art itself.
IRWIN’s work is modeled after principles like universality, working as a group to de-emphasize the individual, and the idea of “retroavantgardism,” which is a contradictory theory of looking both behind and forward.
Vogelnik discloses that the journey of this collective has not been without controversy. The chosen name for NSK’s musical arm, “Laibach,” was also a German name of the Slovene capital Ljubljana, causing some to call the group Communists, along with others accusing them of abusing their artistic license.
And his thoughts on Akron: it’s peaceful and well organized.
“NSK State in Time” runs through Oct. 24. The Emily Davis Gallery is located in Folk Hall, 150 E. Exchange St. For more information, visit www.uakron.edu or call (330) 972-6030.