Laibach and NSK
400 pp., 6 x 9 in, 50 b&w illus., 17 color plates
- Published: October 14, 2005
The first English-language study of NSK—one of the contemporary art world's most radical forces—with particular focus on the performances and productions of NSK's musical and conceptual division, Laibach.
NSK is considered by many to be the last true avant-garde of the twentieth century and the most consistently challenging artistic force in Eastern Europe today. The acronym refers to Neue Slowenische Kunst, a Slovene collective that emerged in the wake of Tito's death and was shaped by the breakup of Yugoslavia. Its complex and disturbing work—in fields including experimental music and theater, painting, philosophy, writing, performance, and design—has an international following but a powerful and specific cultural context. Within the NSK organization are a number of divisions, the best-known of which is Laibach, an alternative music group known for its blending of popular culture with subversive politics, high art with underground provocation—reflecting the political and cultural chaos of its time.
In Interrogation Machine, Alexei Monroe offers the first critical appraisal of the entire NSK phenomenon, from its elaborate organizational structure and its internal logics to its controversial public actions. The result is a fascinating portrait not only of NSK but of the complex political and cultural context within which it operates. Monroe analyzes the paradoxes, perplexities, and traumas of NSK's work at its deepest levels. His investigation of the relationships between conceptual content, stylistic method, and ideological subtext demonstrates the relevance of NSK in general and Laibach in particular to current debates about culture, power, war, politics, globalization, the marketplace, and life itself. As Slavoj Zizek writes in his foreword, "Today, the lesson of Laibach is more pertinent than ever."
Monroe uses a variety of theoretical and historical approaches, as is appropriate to the shifting and elusive nature of his subject. The use of theory reflects NSK's own theoretical engagement; it is also a valuable way to read the issues raised by the work. Neither oversimplifying nor uncritically mystifying, Monroe leaves intact the "gaps, contradictions, and shadows" inherent in his subject, demonstrating that "it should still be possible to appreciate the work as art that moves, confuses, agitates, or fascinates."
A real explosion of artistic and intellectual energy took place in Ljubljana during the 1980s, the impact of which reverberated throughout the global cultural landscape. Alexei Monroe not only describes this explosion but transmits its energy to the reader.
Boris Groys, Professor of Philosophy and Art Theory, Academy of Design, Karlsruhe
Among postcommunist states, Slovenia is widely known to have one of the most vibrant contemporary art scenes, at the center of which are Laibach and NSK. Alexei Monroe's book is a thoroughly researched and theoretically witty account of the strategies behind these well-known cultural brands.
Konstantin Akinsha, art historian, contributing editor to ARTnews, and coauthor of Beautiful Loot: The Soviet Plunder of Europe's Art Treasures
This book is for intelligent troublemakers everywhere and a must for those who would learn how to challenge any state hegemony through art. Following the story of NSK, we see how artists can open up the cracks in belief systems, whatever their political orientation, through a precise combination of pop culture and critical engagement.
Charles Esche, Director, van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands, and Editor, Afterall Publishing, London
Are you a totalitarian or do you just play one on TV? It's a question that's long plagued the NSK art collective. It's brilliantly answered by critic Alexei Monroe in Interrogation Machine, the first substantial English work on the collective.... Monroe's writing is accessible and potent, making for the best and most thought-provoking art book of the year so far.
Hitler, Stalin, Tito... art theorists? How have these icons of totalitarianism inspired the politically subversive aesthetic interventions of Laibach and the NSK art collective? Interrogation Machine offers what is to date the most historically detailed, factually accurate, and theoretically insightful account of what is arguably the most significant artistic phenomenon in Eastern Europe since the Soviet avant-garde.
Dusan I. Bjelic, Professor of Sociology, University of Southern Maine, coeditor of Balkan as Metaphor: Between Globalization and Fragmentation