When Yesterday the Sea Was Flat | Zilla Leutenegger

The Heder Gallery, Tel-Aviv, September - November 2011

Zilla Leutenegger, born in 1968, is a Swiss artist living and working in Zurich. Drawing, sculpture and video art come together to form a complete and harmonious piece that stretches the limits of each and every one of these media and examines the congruence between them, their functionality relative to one another and the interactions between the two-dimensional and the three-dimensional. Her works inhabit the ephemeral spaces between reality and fantasy, fiction and truth, playfulness and melancholy, lies and memory. It is characterized by an ethereality and atmosphere of silent desolation.

The juxtaposition of different media in Leutenegger’s work, combines the flatness of wall drawings with the fluidity of “video drawings” in a surprising and innovative manner. Thus the classic drawing medium receives new qualities of liveliness and mobility.

According to Leutenegger, by means of her “video drawings” she tests the bounds of existence of a projected figure moving inside a defined physical space, likewise the qualities of light which has picked up material properties. In many of Leutenegger’s pieces, self portrait appears only in the form of light rays- as an image projected on the wall that comes to life in the dark. This image creates self-portraits that are both intimate and fictive simultaneously. Its appearance as a “drawing of light” on the walls of the exhibition deceives the viewer—reminiscent of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave1—and raises a question about reality and our ability to grasp it.

In her work, Leutenegger produces a theatrical performance with a subtle and refined character. The insignificant nature of the actions portrayed in the projected drawings, as well as in the color drawings in the paper works in the exhibition emphasizes the sense of beauty that exists in simplicity, banality and imperfection.

Deception and deceit are key elements in Leutenegger’s art. Her work brings forth a sense of enchantment and wonder in the viewer. “It was through the feeling of wonder that men now and at first began to philosophize” – Aristotle. Leutenegger’s works indeed raise thoughts regarding the existential status of man in the world, his ability to form a meaningful bond with others and the degree to which his life is real.2

Leutenegger characterizes her works as addressing success attempts, failures and dreams. “The times I particularly try to succeed are precisely those where I fail,” she testifies. “Failure is an important component of my work, my drawings convey weakness and a constant search. I try to be as honest as I can while working. Perhaps that is why my works convey a childlike naïevete.”

Furthermore, Leutenegger indicates that she is in a constant search for images of ordinary, everyday movement as well as other forms of absence and presence, which she can interpret in terms of graphics and space design.

Despite the repetition of self-appearance in Leutenegger’s works, her image seems universal, almost anonymous to the eye, due to minimal use of linear characteristics. “The only reason I show my own image in my works is that I do not want to project (in this case, literally) my own image on someone elses… In general, I can say that I work with my own image in order to reconstruct the experience of being alone. The hardest part is not to play a role. I try to use my body as a neutral, unassuming artistic medium. Someone once said that the secret of life lies within art, I feel the same way… “

Neta Gal-Azmon

1 An allegory that analyzes the human condition. The cave is a metaphor for reality which Plato considers a world of illusions, ignorance and darkness. The shadows projected on the cave walls represent the world outside the cave to the prisoners chained within.

2 In accordance with the ancient Greek ideal, Plato considered art in its entirety to be illusional, or more accurately, delusional—creating excitement from deception.

The Heder Gallery, Tel-Aviv

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