When trying to describe physical feelings of any kind, we find ourselves shortchanged by language. I arrived at this conclusion after several, always hopelessly crude attempts to describe fundamental moments in Hannah Villiger’s oeuvre. The public-at-large is quite capable of registering feelings of repulsion or extreme empathy when blood flows in the movies, when some-one is cut or surgery is performed, or when faced with eroticism, vertigo on a lookout tower or sports—all points on a scale that are clearly designated and defined. But in between lie immense micro-regions, dead lands, where words fail. This is the territory that Hannah Villiger explores. With a well-honed consciousness she masterfully negotiates the overall system of obstruction (of hindrance and enfeeblement). When communication is constantly kept in check, metaphor comes to the rescue. Perhaps this is why Hannah Villiger’s work seems so womanly and so strong.
It is conceivable that the vertigo caused by verticals (at the edge of the abyss) has a gentle partner in horizontals. A kind of window feeling. When it is very intense, you feel it in your nostrils, your ears, your chest or (in connection with speed) your bottom. The fixed point is not the abyss but the horizon. When I was a child and we went for a drive on Sundays, I would sit in the backseat and imagine—especially in fast curves—that I was riding a bicycle because I was never given one. Hannah Villiger can do it without a bicycle. That’s what I have to think of when I see her photographs of gushing water, swift birds or colliding boccie balls. And there is also the mute, squat airship, suspended in the sky, or the burning palm leaf thrown into the air. Here pleasurable and extremely subtle use is made of the potential of empathy, which in turn makes us aware of our own potential and position as part of a greater whole.
Hannah Villiger’s much enlarged color Polaroids no longer record the vehemence of directly transmitted physical sensations; they have quieted down. “He had teeth like luxury hotels on the beach in Florida and when he closed his mouth, there was a big scar.” (Laurie Anderson) These color photographs, usually one meter square, gradually turn into boxes the longer you look at them. Boxes into which you poke your head very, very slowly without noticing, because the pull is so gentle. And damp fog, pointed palm leaves, skin or gazes brush against us, passing by. But there are also pictures whose energy is directed outwards, pictures that radiate, so that we already notice from afar that we are being kept at bay. These are the cold pictures, like the eye with a razor-sharp gaze. Once you have stood in front of them, you know that the format of these photographs is incontestable.
Sometimes the subject matter of a picture ignites feelings; other times it is a vessel or a catchment for them. In memory such distinctions are often utterly irrelevant. For this reason, Hannah Villiger’s wooden or plexiglas objects crop up again in her photo works. Is Hannah Villiger the fog creeping around the mountain, or is the fog enveloping her? Movement back and forth, sudden clashes and leaps, simultaneous flowing and flying flit through Hannah Villiger’s work until a compact whole emerges—like her name HANNAH…