Friday, August 08, 2008

NSK, Laibach, and Bruitism

I was lucky enough to see the NSK exhibition at the Frye Museum in Seattle its opening day, when Ivan Novak, Roman Uranjek and Peter Mlakar were there sitting on a panel and being asked questions about the work. Laibach as a sonic entity is both entertainment and very serious, but the NSK collages, paintings, and art objects are more direct presentations of the same ideas.

A lot of NSK paintings and art objects involve adding the black cross, a cubical cross resembling Fascist symbols, to otherwise normal seeming scenes, like a cup of coffee. It would be easy to see the link be a kind of superficial commentary on pop culture, the addition of fascist symbolism being a call to remember the underlying sense of seriousness of the world that the object exists within. Sort of an invasion of a reality principle into an idealized scene, something that inverts the idea of the invasion of the fantastic into reality. In practice it's easy to make pot shots at normal mass culture by doing something like....in the U.S. inserting a picture of the Abu Ghraib victim hooded and with wires attached to his hands onto an otherwise bucolic scene....and while that may be necessary, NSK in my opinion goes beyond it in depth both in the selection of images to comment on and the comment itself.

Take the cross. It could represent the general experience of Fascism in Yugoslavia and elsewhere in Europe during World War II that frames the post war experience, but it also points to generalized brutal realities underlying the normal experience of life as presented to people through mass produced culture. Violence, brutality, militarism, these are fundamental values that transcend particular Fascist experiences and touch on universal, disturbing, constants of life as it's been lived in this world for quite some time. Then take the source images used and commented on:



This is the best coffee picture I could find online. It's not the coffee drinker picture I had in mind. The coffee cup appears here not as a particularly explicit symbol from mass culture but instead is a normal, everyday object, the sort of coffee cup that you'd use on a daily basis. It's floating, as you can see from the shadow on the bottom, presented as a lone image. The blue dots give a positive feeling to it. But it exists on a background that's rusty and stained, and there's the cross on it.
The effect is not to give a cheap thrill but a very specific context for the cross to be a comment on, a context created through a mixture of abstract expressionist ideas, general impressionist techniques used to evoke emotion, and a careful choice of object.

The result is that the placement of the cross, the invasion of a dark other into the painting, has a nuanced sense to it, one suggesting a kind of banality of evil. But the banality itself makes it sinister.

The cross is always static, it doesn't vary. The context varies considerably from painting and object to painting and object, and when executed correctly makes a kind of sinister rorschach test for the viewer.

I'd argue that although the cross itself doesn't vary its use and its context fits in with the tradition of raw art in that the ideas that it represents are linked to the ideas and feelings that raw art tries to convey.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

nice txt, perhaps u were searching for this picture:

http://www.divus.cz/images/umelec/laibach.jpg

John Madziarczyk said...

Thanks for the complement.

The picture that I was looking for had a very large coffee cup in the front of it with the figure not really visible except for an arm, and a big cross on the front of the cup.

The guy who maintains the NSK State website owns it and posted a link to a picture of it on the fan list.