Patience and Solitude

Jean-Christophe Ammann

A room, on facing walls the two parts of a work by Hannah Villiger, entitled Sculpture (1983 –1987, pp. 156–159). The division in two parts is intelligible: winter views from the balcony of her former apartment, and close-ups of her own body in pale, whitish red colors. Although taken with a Polaroid camera and enlarged to 125 x 123 cm, they were always intended as large-format images. In the beginning, there are patience and solitude. The patience necessary to deal with oneself and perception’s object. Perception that becomes itself an object of perception, dissolv ing its initial object, relegating it to sheer irrelevance, as the emptiness of the gaze becomes identical with its consistency. Solitude—homelessness of the senses in space and time. Suddenly, the object, despite its dissolution in self-reflexive perception, seems overpowering. Perception, devoid of any meaning, has detached it from itself. This is precisely the moment when Villiger’s work starts to frighten and hurt you, and a kind of desolation overcomes you.

Why Sculpture? Its spatial presentation points to an answer: the coolly subdued, precise, symmetrically contrasting arrangement, but also the fact that these works, like all of Villiger’s works, must be looked at from quite a distance, thus requiring copious amounts of space for proper viewing. You can’t look at them from up close. You can’t walk around them, as is usually the case with sculptures. But the work surrounds you. Divided in two parts, it continuously directs your attention back to the space.

Until the early 1980s, Hannah Villiger called her photographs Work, black-and-white photography, or color photography. Later, she called them Sculptures, probably because of the spatial interaction they demand.—Maybe it’s good to know that she was a trained sculptor and has worked as a sculptor until the mid-1970s. When Cesare Pavese wrote about Gertrude Stein that physical detachment from the real was the source of her inspiration, he could have been writing about Hannah Villiger.

Translation: Martin Jaeggi

This article was first published in: Exh. cat. Stiller Nachmittag. Ed.Toni Stooss. Zurich: Kunsthaus Zürich, 1987, p. 183.