January 30, 2012  |  Print Studio
This Week at Print Studio: IRWIN, NSK Passport Office, New York

NSK Passport, 1993. Photo courtesy of IRWIN

Fancy claiming citizenship of a state in time? Wednesday–Friday, February 1–3, Print Studio will become IRWIN, NSK Passport Office, New York. NSK, which stands for Neue Slowenische Kunst, or “New Slovenian Art” in German, is a Slovenian political-art organization and “global state in time” that emphasizes the collective over the individual. Formed by three founding groups—IRWIN, Laibach, and the Gledališče sester Scipion Nasice theater group—NSK was conceived to exist “within the framework of the former Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia.” The groups encompass various media, including music and theater, and IRWIN is their visual-arts outfit.

NSK was formed in 1984, when Slovenia was a part of Yugoslavia. Concerned with the political unrest in the region at the time, and with issues of national identity, the organization’s projects have often involved remixing aspects and aesthetics of past totalitarian governments with those of utopian and other art movements. NSK states that one of the guiding principles of its work is the recycling of “past symbols, images, and philosophical ideas, particularly those that have been used by governments or other institutions to accumulate and hold power.”

Shortly after Slovenia’s establishment as a separate state in 1992, NSK declared itself to be no longer just an organization, but a state in its own right—quite in line with their interests in the power of the collective. However, instead of existing as a geographic state with territories and borders, NSK declared itself a state in time and spirit. NSK citizenship is granted by holding an NSK passport, which anyone can attain by submitting an application and paying a small fee. The thousands of NSK citizens live everywhere around the world, from Dublin to Taipei to Sarajevo to New York.

NSK may be a “state in time” but that status is not without its physical realities. Despite NSK’s status as a non-territory, or perhaps because of it, NSK passports aided border crossing for a number of Bosnians during the war in 1995. In more recent years, there have been numerous efforts to gain passports, ostensibly through elaborate scams, from people seeking visas. While the passports are not intended to be legal travel documents, many people have sought to utilize the ambiguous status of the NSK State for practical ends. That questionable ambiguity further underscores the complexities of nationalism in a strangely and increasingly interconnected world.

IRWIN, NSK Passport Office, New York, 2011. Photo courtesy of IRWIN

With the gravitas of these situations in mind, NSK’s presentation of passports speaks to the social and political weight placed on printed materials. The process of making printed documents such as passports creates a basis around which identities or collective membership can established. NSK passports act as a tangible symbol of the abstract concept of a nation or an identity. In addition to serving as tools for granting or denying access, passports, as physical manifestations of national identity, can inspire their holders to action.

NSK citizens initiated an NSK Citizens’ Congress, which was held in Berlin in October of 2010. This first congress saw dozens of citizen delegates discussing the political and social implications of NSK passport-holding, past, present, and future. These concerns range from the efficacy of the nation-state in global society to the responsibilities of NSK as a “micronation.” The three-day congress culminated in a published book of the proceedings, as well as several “NSK Rendezvous” in France, London, and New York to continue the conversations begun at the Congress. In addition to these forums on the aesthetics and structures of governing states, there have also been NSK-issued stamps and a national anthem, as well as exhibitions of NSK Folk Art and an online news source.

We’ll be exploring expressions of citizenship, and specifically NSK identity, in relation to printed materials this week at Print Studio. Come to the studio this Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday, from 12:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., when a limited number of passports will be issued for free, while you wait. Apply to be an NSK citizen!