Jan Zöller and the Fire Spirits (Side A)
17.09.2021 – 13.11.2021
There is arguably no more consummate outlaw tune from the post-punk era than Fire Spirit by The Gun Club. Along with The Cramps, The Gun Club was one of the biggest bands to emerge from the U.S. punk scene of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The band fused the ferocity of punk with the raw, primal spirit of blues, rockabilly, psychedelic rock, and country, bringing a mystical and trashy Southern swamp-inspired voodoo sensibility into play. Jeffrey Lee Pierce, a founding member and the lead singer of the group, was the president of the Debbie Harry fan club at the time. Debbie Harry, lead singer of the band Blondie,” sang backup on The Gun Club’s second album. The Gun Club also inspired other bands, including Nick Cave’s The Birthday Party and the White Stripes. But unlike Jim Morrison and Kurt Cobain, Pierce, who died in 1996 as a result of alcohol and heroin addiction, has not entered mass and pop culture as a “beautiful loser,” but as an “unfinished” man, an “artist’s artist,” revered by other musicians.
In Jan Zöller and the Fire Spirits (Side A), more than in any of his previous exhibitions, he emphasizes the performative side of his art, the fact that he is not just a painter and sculptor, but uses art to create communal events, experiences, and rituals. These events, which range from the production of works or performances with friends to the realized exhibition and its visitors, simultaneously give the works a charge, provide impulses for new art, and create relationships as well as scenarios for the future. Zöller hints at this with the “merchandising” he did for the current exhibition, the posters and T-shirts that announce Jan Zöller and the Fire Spirits (Side A) like a concert. At the same time, the title implies something like an object, namely a vinyl record that has an A- and a B-side. In the Gun Club days of the dawning 1980s, the A-sides of singles were reserved for hits, the B-sides for rarities for collectors and nerds. For the most part, more experimental pieces or versions were put there. But the title of Zöller’s exhibition, as well as the posters and T-shirts, paradoxically announce only the A-side. As the saying goes, he who says A must say B. The other side of the record, the “artistic” B-song, is invisible, as it were, not realized yet. But there is a hidden hint in one of Zöller’s drawings in the exhibition, a note attached with brown adhesive tape that reads: Oct. 2023, Robert Grunenberg Berlin “Jan Zöller & the Fire Spirits (Side B),” vinyl release, new paintings, new sculptures.
In his videos, actions, and paintings, and with the idea of the band The Fire Spirits, Zöller conjures up the notion of an almost Masonic brotherhood in which work, art, and ritual are one. For Zöller and his friends, designs, architecture, and songs are a kind of thought construct in which ideas, friendship, and utopias manifest themselves. But the relaxed, almost stoned, anarchic high of his earlier paintings has vanished. While youthful crows used to loll around in bathrooms like squatters or bathe in broken fountains and tubs, Zöller’s world is now harder, drier, and sharper. The fountains that stood for all sorts of (broken and interrupted) cycles of money, creative energy, communication, and relationships, are gone, everything watery has disappeared. Flames are flickering all over the place; things are burning. The Fire Spirits crows are wingless, stuck in stiff, paint-stained blue-collar pants, lining up in classic band formations as if for a photo or about to begin a stage show. At the bottom of the hems of their pants, they seem to be making sparks with their feet. Or perhaps they’re already on fire, like Tyler, the Creator in his video for EARFQUAKE (2019), in which he sings about the end of a relationship, of an entire world, in a blond wig in an incredibly tragicomic performance, setting the junky retro stage decor and himself on fire with a smoldering cigarette.
The refinement that turns the figures into precious art objects is based on an “ignoble” aspect, an inclusive concept of art. Zöller and his friends insistently work amateurishly, as a community of autodidacts and inventors. The fixtures and objects they produce are mostly intended to be temporary, existing for the duration of an exhibition as hybrids between utilitarian objects and works of art: tables, shacks, benches, and walls. Ultimately, the forms Zoller uses for his bronze casts are also such hybrids, glued together from the cardboard packaging of the stretcher frames of his paintings. On the bronzes, you can see the imprints of the adhesive tape and the cut edges of the cardboard.
Jan Zöller and the Fire Spirits (Side A) speaks of the surrogate character of the established art world and art market, which, while making people addicted to works, stories, NFTs, and other life experiences, cannot satisfy their actual needs for community and creativity. At the same time, this criticism is meant to be ambivalent, because in the end, of course, there are Zöller’s works, which are additionally fraught with meaning. You may not be a FIRE SPIRIT, but you can look forward to the songs and the albums. You can’t be so young anymore, so addicted, so in love, so visionary, such a punk that you die from it. You cannot not give a shit about all that—your fantastic house, your great job, the same old parties, the openings, and business lunches, the kids’ tennis lessons. You can’t go to the mountains with the Fire Spirit. But you can put a FIRE SPIRIT sculpture in your backyard, with traces of that freedom, that anarchic desire, cast into it.