Journal vom 29.6.2018

Steffen Zillig


This text was first published by Frieze in October 2017

Throughout, the impending crisis shifts in nature. Early on, two pompous suits pontificate about the degradation of popular consciousness. While one mourns “the decline of the education system [and] the lost pride of ordinary people“, his bow-tied associate snaps back that these so-called “ordinary people’ are just ‘small-time fascists like everybody else“. A few pages ahead, fantasies of intergalactic escape begin to manifest, as regular folk panic amidst pluming smoke and falling debris. Nearby in the gallery, an astronaut hovers, projected onto a wall of the gallery. Though intermittently laced with dialogue about dissolving enlightenment ideals, these comic scenes remain ideologically oblique: escapist libertarian types mix with more sober critics of neo-liberalism, the alcoholically resigned and, eventually, white-robed stewards of a future space colony.

Speaking in histrionic proclamations, Zillig’s characters seem subtly mocked, and as a result the work takes on a kind of punk-academic attitude that is reinforced by Zillig’s matter of fact techniques. Take the projected video Part 1: Soil Samples (You Tubes, Crazy Diamonds) (2017), wherein clustered video windows juxtapose YouTube exhibitionists in every variety: conspiracy theorists, self-made soothsayers, homespun spiritualism, depressive drug abusers, naked yogis. Sluggishly paced and indulging ridiculous conjecture, the video could be an opioid addled cousin to Peter Joseph’s 2007 conspiracy theorist wet dream, Zeitgeist: The Movie. Atop his montaged clips, Zillig has superimposed block letter titles: “DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE TRUTH’; ‘SEE BENEATH THE SURFACE“. At intervals, amateur musicians play Pink Floyd’s elegiac chef-d’oeuvre, “Shine on You Crazy Diamond“ (1975), a rejoinder to band-member Syd Barrett’s disappearance into mental illness. This choice of song is fraught, swaying between cruel cleverness and incisive reflection; in Zillig’s film, its intonation morphs in concert with each passing clip: pitying, judgemental, and sometimes fearful. In one clip, a young person insists upon the presence of ‘Reptoids’ among us; in another, an un-hinged Neo-Nazi pines for his lost ancestors in a snowy clearing. As if wanting to double-down on brutality, Zillig cuts the footage of this sobbing xenophobe with clips of a sickening hooligan fight and additional shots of young men gripping their freshly shorn skulls.

At a time when confederate flags and Sieg-Heiling frat boys clog Facebook feeds, these images bite. But the tricky thing about watching Zillig’s video is reconciling these pictures with the other spliced clips. As a morose poetry of socially inflected imagery, the video seems a grim scion of Robert Rauschenberg’s mid-century collages: rudimentarily pieced together, with a flatness that sits in sharp contrast to its fractious—and here, delusional—subject matter. But it is the comic works that hold the show. In combining pages redolent of the 1970s and ’80s with dialogue evocative of our early 20th century moment, these works seem to fold time. Moreover, they do so in a manner that balances understatement and an oddly compelling “fuck off“ disposition.