Steffen Zillig
Geordneter Rückzug / Orderly Retreat

Orderly Retreat is the title of the new exhibition of works by Steffen Zillig, on view at Galerie Conradi’s Brussels showroom.

A video (Part I: Soil Samples) gives the floor to conspiracy theorists, fanatics, and others on the fringes of society who, in a tragic quest for self-expression, have painted themselves into a corner. Numerous YouTube videos appear on the screen, shifting around like windows on a computer desktop to form forever changing constellations. The magnetic allure of the collage pulls the viewer into lonely depths where the distinction between public and intimate expression no longer applies and truth disintegrates into “alternative facts” (as Trump’s counselor Kellyanne Conway put it). Amateur musicians repeatedly interrupt the narrators’ ramblings with selections from Shine On You Crazy Diamond, a popular Pink Floyd song. It is dedicated to the band’s former member Syd Barrett, whose heavy drug use led to a psychosis in which he lost touch with the real world around him. Another video in this section surveys the barren surface of the moon in silent and steady panning shots.

In the second part of the exhibition (Part II: Space Fantasy), a comic strip in eighteen panels explores the idea of an organized escape from Planet Earth. Collaging diverse adventure cartoons in the style of the 1970s, the picture story opens with dialogues in which the speakers voice their despair and disappointment over the state of Western civilization. They articulate views many visitors will have heard acquaintances or talk-show guests express; op-ed articles in newspapers, too, are rife with this sort of pessimism. In Zillig’s plot, the members of a secret society decide that they will no longer stand idle as the end of the world draws near. To prevent the complete and utter defeat of the Enlightenment ideals of emancipation and solidarity, they plan to separate the civilized segments of society from the idiotic masses—fear that the accomplishments of social progress will be lost turns into elitist isolation and conspiratorial escapism. Next to the comic strip, a projection shows a solitary astronaut floating in the void—the patient screensaver, as it were, of fatalism.

In terms of seeking, finding and using found material, Zillig’s installations, too, are permeated by an ‘internet state of mind’ (as curator Carson Chan once called it), an approach to thinking and linking learned through the internet and its mechanisms. At the same time, they contradict everything that is fashionable, any fascination with the purely technical, any unbroken pleasure in the contemporary. ‘The aesthetically new’, Zillig wrote in a text recently published in Kultur & Gespenster magazine, ‘is itself already corrupted; as the ultimate accelerator, it has entered into a union with the dominant economy’. Zillig’s work, too, speaks of the digital breaking into the material world. But his interest in this world remains political even where it seems concerned ‘only’ with aesthetic issues.

The artist would like to thank Sohyun Jung (animation), Frauke Müller, David Koloßka, Marcel Bisevic, and Dominic Osterried for helping him produce the works in the show.