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Hannah Villiger

Baum, 1984-1985
C-print of Polaroid, mounted on aluminium
123.0 x 125.0 cm
Alone in her studio, holding her Polaroid camera at arm’s length, Hannah Villiger would photograph her body. Fragments, joints and intertwining flesh and skin are the focus of tightly framed shots, determined by her extended arm. Breaking with the romantic tradition of photographs of female nudes, she sculpts and probes her body like a raw material from which she removes affect and emotion, retaining only the volume and outlines, beyond any urge to charm the viewer.

These Polaroids are called Skulptural, a reference to the plastic nature of the volumes she observes and brings to light. Villiger’s art is not about questioning the identity of a person; rather, it involves plunging, almost physically, into a composition that is filled with cavities and swells, crossed by lines and curves. The logic of the body is questioned by these complex entanglements. In the haze of the grain that textures the photographic image, is it still possible to recognise an ear ( Skulptural, 1986) that has become monumental? The outline of this palpable and sensual subject is barely suggested; all that remains of it is a collection of twisting forms emerging between the shadows and the highlights.

The blurred areas, the white light of the flash and the chiaroscuro contrasts that are peculiar to Polaroid photography become the aesthetic features of Villiger’s work. She confessed to wanting “to stretch the image until [she gave] it its independent internal legibility. The inner energies unfolding on their own and no longer by allusion to the world. ” Thus, a hand gripping an ankle ( Skulptural, 1984-1985) floats in an indefinable space. Escaping gravity, it defies the usual perception of the body. On rare occasions Villiger turns the lens away from herself to capture what lies beyond her usual frame and momentarily escape to the world outside in order to catch the only views that were accessible from her studio, a street, a tree ( Baum, 1984-1985), or a building. Like her work on the body, it is a subjective gaze that takes in this urban landscape and its inverted horizon.
Hannah Villiger, Baum, Arbre, 1984-1985