Predictions of Fire

Michael Benson has avoided the pedestrian approach of most art documentaries in his 1995 film about the Slovenian arts collective NSK–which includes a rock band and painting and theater groups–and instead has made a brilliantly nutty view from the inside that captures the spirit of NSK’s over-the-top provocations. Mixing the iconography of fascism and Stalinism, two of the ideologies that governed Slovenia in this century, NSK reveals similarities between these repressive systems, but one can infer from the near-anarchist spirit evoked by the film that they’re also suspicious of all governments. Footage of Hitler visiting a 1937 exhibit of official Nazi art is followed by models of Nazi–or is it Stalinist?–architecture. What look like group exercises by Hitler Youth soon cut to exercises in a Slovenian stadium in 1950. Benson suggests through these juxtapositions that the extreme and regimented nature of totalitarian imagery led to NSK’s attempts, through exaggeration, “to make evil lose its nerve.” The shirtless rocker who moves like an automaton could be mistaken for a mindless fascist, but the film argues that NSK’s work seen as a whole questions all authority. A large billboard with a bullet pointing toward the head of a child names a Nazi concept–“stop the subhumans”–in its text, but uses imagery far blunter than the Nazis would likely have allowed. A large black square placed on the pavement of Moscow’s Red Square is more than a pun; it refers to a black square painting by Kasimir Malevich, making his transcendent forms into a cute performance, while recalling the way the Soviet state suppressed abstract art–as did the Nazis. This unnerving film helped me see how any culture that’s endured shifting totalitarian systems might find all imagery absurd. Benson and the painting group will attend the screening. Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson, Wednesday, July 10, 6:00, 443-3737.

–Fred Camper

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Still.