Laibach Lives

I’ve often talked with students and colleagues about the Slovenian “band” Laibach and Goran Gajic’s very intriguing documentary about them, Laibach: Victory Under the Sun (1988)

Not only is the band an interesting phenomenon in its own right, but the documentary adds to the pleasure (and perversity) by featuring Slavoj Zizek’s commentary on Laibach and NSK, the multi-media art movement they founded back in the ’80s.

They never received much attention in the US and have been keeping a low profile for the last seven or eight years. They surfaced in July with a new album, WAT (“We Are Time”) and this month in Artforum magazine.

In the former Yugoslavia, Laibach made use of a political strategy that Zizek frequently mentions as being particularly effective under Eastern European communism — being more politically correct than one’s own leaders. By following very strictly certain guidelines and policies of the dominant regime (to which, of course, no one is expected to pay more than lip service), one is able to force the complacent authorities to confront the very symptoms of their adopted ideology.

Could such a strategy work under current politico-economic and cultural conditions in the US? My first response would be the obvious and cynical one that the manifestations of such a strategy by artists would go through successive stages of being momentarily outrageous, puzzling, adopted in small circles by those who catch on and those who don’t, appropriated by the “merchants of cool”, and finally cleaned up for mass consumption, with the result that any remnants of political effectiveness would be neutralized. But perhaps it’s worth looking beyond this rather simple reasoning.

It will be interesting to see what form Laibach takes under the “new world order” and in the aftermath of the transitions in Eastern Europe. I suggest artists in the West pay very close attention.

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