Born in 1951 in Cham, near Zug, Villiger obtained a diploma in sculpture from Lucerne’s Schule für Gestaltung at the age of twenty-three. Her work immediately draws the attention of the critics, including Jean-Christophe Ammann, whose support helps her to make a name for herself in little time. In search of a language all her own, Villiger gradually switches to working in photography alone, initially using a reflex camera and producing black-and-white images, still under the influence of Land Art and Arte Povera.
In 1980 she begins using Polaroid film exclusively, and her photography now takes shape around a single subject, her own body. For seventeen years, Villiger adopts a novel view of that body, avoiding personal anecdote and the attraction of the flesh. Shamelessly and without narcissism, she focuses solely on the volume and forms of this anatomy, which she cuts up, fragments, manipulates and twists as she would working with clay or wielding the sculptor’s chisel. Because of their considerable size – the Polaroids are enlarged and indeed bigger than life size – these images have a strong physical presence. Yet Villiger imposes no voyeurism on the viewer, unlike some of her contemporaries who are part of the Body Art movement.
Settling in Paris in 1986, she takes part in the Venice Biennial in 1991 and the São Paulo Biennial in 1994, jointly showing with Pipilotti Rist. A personality of great intensity, Villiger died prematurely at the age of forty-six, leaving behind a bold and singular body of work, which figures in both public and private collections in Switzerland and abroad, notably in the United States. In recent years, her work has been the subject of exhaustive posthumous shows, in Basel (Kunsthalle, 2001; Museum für Gegenwartskunst, 2009) and Geneva (Mamco, 2007), as well as Bonn and Berlin.