In 1983, the artists Dušan Mandič, Miran Mohar, Andrej Savski, Roman Uranjek, and Borut Vogelnik, coming from the punk and graffiti scene in Ljubljana, formed an artistic group and called it Rrose Irwin Sélavy. This name had a reference to Marcel Duchamp, who used “Rrose Sélavy” (like eros c’est la vie) as one of his feminine pseudonyms.[original research?] 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 Theatre group. Soon after the formation of the larger collective, R Irwin S changed its name to simply Irwin.
In 1987, IRWIN, Novi Kolektivizem and Scipion Nasice Sisters Theatre were involved in one of the greatest art scandals in the history of Yugoslavia when they proposed a poster, based on a Nazi kunst poster, for the celebration of the Youth Day, Tito's birth anniversary. In the history of art, this scandal is known as the Poster Scandal. In 2012, D'Art documentaries production is to release a 1-hour documentary about the scandal, entitled "The Fine Art of Mirroring".
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.
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's Red Square, in homage to Kazimir Malevich and suprematism. 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.
East Art Map
East Art Map is a project to create a history and vocabulary for Eastern European art starting in 1945 by identifying and compiling a sourcebook of influential artists.
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.
- Arns, Inke, Ed. (2003). IrwinRetroprincip. Revolver. ISBN 3-936919-56-9.
- Cufer, Eda, Ed. (1992). NSK Embassy Moscow: How the East Sees the East. Loza Gallery.
- Cufer, Eda, Ed. (1999). Transnacionala: Highway Collisions Between East and West at the Crossroads of Art. Studentska organizacija Univerze v Ljubljana, SOU. ISBN 961-6211-62-5.
- IRWIN (2006). East Art Map. Afterall Books and The MIT Press. ISBN 1-84638-005-7.
- New Collectivism (1991). Neue Slowenische Kunst. AMOK Books and Neue Slowenische Kunst. ISBN 1-878923-05-6.
- Arns, Inke. "Irwin Navigator: Retroprincip 1983-2003" in IrwinRetroprincip edited by Inke Arns (Frankfurt am main: Revolver 2003)
- Zabel, Igor. "Recall," in East Art Map: Contemporary Art in Eastern Europe edited by IRWIN (London: Afterall Books, 2006)
- Neue Slowenische Kunst edited by New Collectivism (Los Angeles: Amok, 1991
- Arns, Inke (2002). Neue Slowenische Kunst (NSK) - eine Analyse ihrer kuenstlerischen Strategien im Kontext der 1980er Jahre in Jugoslawien. Museum Ostdeutsche Galerie, Regensburg. ISBN 961-90851-1-6.
- Arns (ed.), Inke (2003). Irwin: Retroprincip 1983-2003. Frankfurt/Main: Revolver - Archiv für aktuelle Kunst. ISBN 3-936919-56-9.CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
- Monroe, Alexei (2005). Interrogation Machine: Laibach and NSK. The MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-63315-4.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to IRWIN.|
- IRWIN on the NSK State site.
- (in Slovene) Irwin: Uporaba retroprincipa je bila v začetni fazi osvobajajoča [The Usage of Retroprincip Was at First Liberating]. Interview with Irwin. Planet Siol.net. Published 28 March 2012. Retrieved 28 March 2012.