Dissidents Raise Red Flag against Legacy of Communist Imagery
The Communist culture so angrily mocked by the Slovenian artists’ collective called NSK may no longer physically exist in Eastern Europe but it remains a country of the mind — a place filled with vivid imagery of endless military parades, huge posters of balding leaders and towering, surreal statues of heroic workers.
Michael Benson’s fascinating documentary Predictions of Fire explores that stubbornly real subjective landscape by tracking the activities, from the early, pre-fall ‘80’s to today, of the NSK group — an association of dissident artists that includes a rock band called “Laibach,” a visual arts group called “Irwin” and a theater group known as “Red Pilot.”
The artists known as NSK (a German acronym for “New Slovenian Art”) are bound together by their ironic use of signs and symbols inherited from the Communist state — imagery that the state had largely appropriated from the fascist regime that preceded it. Their method, one critic notes, is to take the system more seriously than the system takes itself.
In one of NSK’s most provocative exploits, the group took a Hitler Youth image of a bare-chested Aryan boy marching bravely into the future, replaced the Nazi flag behind the figure with a Yugoslav one, and submitted it to a state competition for “Youth Day” posters. Of course, it won first prize, and later caused much embarrassment for the regime when word of its origins leaked to the press.
Benson’s film becomes a history of modern-day Yugoslavia, tracing the ways in which this potent imagery was used to serve the needs of the state, and later to feed the ethnic hatreds that arose after its fall. Through NSK, Benson reminds us that this imagery is still pervasive and still potent, reappearing as it does in the advertising and graphic design of our day. Even presented ironically — as in the Red Kamels cigaret campaign — there is something disturbing about it, a seductive brutality that won’t go away.
(Not rated by the MPAA, but contains no material threatening to, or of interest to, children.)