IRWIN is a collective of Slovenia
Slovenia , officially the Republic of Slovenia , is a country in Central and Southeastern Europe touching the Alps and bordering the Mediterranean. Slovenia borders Italy to the west, Croatia to the south and east, Hungary to the northeast, and Austria to the north, and also has a small portion of...

n artists, primarily painters, and an original founding member of Neue Slowenische Kunst
Neue Slowenische Kunst
Neue Slowenische Kunst , aka NSK, is a controversial political art collective that announced itself in Slovenia in 1984, when Slovenia was part of Yugoslavia. NSK's name, being German, is compatible with a theme in NSK works: the complicated relationship Slovenes have had with Germans...



In 1983, the artists Dušan Mandič, Miran Mohar, Andrej Savski, Roman Uranjek, and Borut Vogelnik, coming from the punk and graffiti scene in Ljubljana
Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia and its largest city. It is the centre of the City Municipality of Ljubljana. It is located in the centre of the country in the Ljubljana Basin, and is a mid-sized city of some 270,000 inhabitants...

, formed an artistic group and called it Rrose Irwin Sélavy. This name had a reference to Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp was a French artist whose work is most often associated with the Dadaist and Surrealist movements. Considered by some to be one of the most important artists of the 20th century, Duchamp's output influenced the development of post-World War I Western art...

, who used “Rrose Sélavy” (like eros c’est la vie) as one of his feminine pseudonyms. The group would soon shorten the name to R Irwin S.

In 1984, the group co-founded a larger collective known as Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK). Acting as the fine arts wing of the group, they joined the musical group Laibach, and the Scipion Nasice Sisters Theater group. Soon after the formation of the larger collective, R Irwin S changed its name to simply Irwin.


Irwin’s work is defined largely by three main principles. The first is the idea of building one’s own artistic position out of one’s particular circumstances; by being particular, art can become truly universal. The second is working in a group, a collective, or even an organization, shifting the emphasis away from the individual personality of the artist. The third is the fundamental NSK working procedure sometimes called the retro-principle. The latter principle gives rise to the concept known as “retroavantgardism” (or, later “retrogardism”). As the name implies, retroavantgardism is somewhat paradoxical because it calls for simultaneously looking backward (“retro”) and forward (“avant-garde”). This position is evident in the paradoxical title of an official statement of the group in 1987, “The Future is the seed of the past.” In essence, retroavantgardism consists in the recycled use of past symbols, images and philosophical ideas, particularly those that have been used by governments or other institutions to accumulate and hold power.

Irwin is also very interested in the idea of the complexity of the image. For them, an image is never neutral, nor does it ever appear in a neutral space. Thus their work can be tied to the larger international inquiry known as Institutional Critique. Directly drawing upon images that have strong political and/or artistic connotations, including fascist, Soviet, religious, and Suprematist images, Irwin’s art is complex and has a traumatic and provocative effect. Reflecting their belief that there is no neutral space, Irwin’s work becomes increasingly concerned with location, both in performance pieces, but also in exhibitions. The self-curation of their shows becomes as much a part of the work, as the pieces themselves.


Irwin’s “paintings” incorporate a number of media including paint, tar, books, dishes, Lego, silkscreens and many others. The works are not signed by the group, in a traditional sense, but are presented to the collective for approval. The work will then be stamped with the groups monogram—often on a metal plate.

Performance Pieces

Although primarily painters, they have engaged in many collaborative works with other NSK art collectives, ranging from theater to music video. In 1992, in cooperation with Michael Benson, they created the performance Black Square on Red Square, in which a square of black cloth, 22 meters to a side, was unfurled on Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

's Red Square
Red Square
Red Square is a city square in Moscow, Russia. The square separates the Kremlin, the former royal citadel and currently the official residence of the President of Russia, from a historic merchant quarter known as Kitai-gorod...

, in homage to Kazimir Malevich
Kazimir Malevich
Kazimir Severinovich Malevich was a Russian painter and art theoretician, born of ethnic Polish parents. He was a pioneer of geometric abstract art and the originator of the Avant-garde Suprematist movement.-Early life:...

 and suprematism
Suprematism was an art movement focused on fundamental geometric forms which formed in Russia in 1915-1916. It was not until later that suprematism received conventional museum preparations...

. Others of their more notable activities have included the planning of the NSK Embassies and Consulates in Moscow, Gent and Florence, and the Transnacionala project—a journey from the east to the west coast of the United States in 1996.


Irwin have exhibited widely in Europe and the USA, including Manifesta in Rotterdam and Ljubljana, Venice Biennial, After the Wall, and Aspects/Positions. In 2004, they have received the Jakopič Award, the highest annual award in Slovene fine arts.

External links

  • IRWIN on the NSK State site.
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