Zilla Leutenegger

A hotel on the moon: Under the black night sky, in the lurid light of the sun as it shines relentlessly on the surface of the moon, Zilla Leutenegger sits on the flat roof of the Forum Hotel and gazes into the endless lunar landscape of dusty seabed and craters. Through splintered vistas our view is directed to an unpeopled region at once strange and familiar. In long, slow sweeps we occasionally see the hotel from the exterior, as if we were flying toward it. It really is somehow reminiscent of that urban wasteland and the actual site of the Forum Hotel, Berlin’s Alexanderplatz. We see Leutenegger, first pacing between ventilation pipes, then sitting and staring into the distance, and finally calling out “Mama!” like a lost child when the blue planet edges across the horizon.

This childishly dreamy, dreamily traumatic image of a lonely little girl on the moon, homesick for Mother Earth, was presented (in a comer projection and on four video monitors) with the illusionistic power of a fairy tale—which at the same time was dispelled by the omnipresence of technology and the Styrofoam slabs jammed tightly into the room. As if on a Romantic stage, we found ourselves in the center of the action in Forum Hotel (all works 2002); and yet we remained excluded, mere observers. As unreachable as Earth is to the “little princess,” so she was to us.

Leutenegger is one of the young artists who emerged in Zurich in the ’90s. But by now she has left behind the scene’s purely atmospheric lounge decorations and party duties. In her installations she takes up narrative elements in order to consolidate them into a comprehensive mythology of her own person. The artist herself continually appears in short sequences, but each work reveals new facets of a complex persona. Whereas Pipilotti Rist keeps restaging her distinctive character, Leutenegger always appears in new forms, one dissimilar to the next. The echoing—not the dramatic shattering—of communication in a communications-obsessed world permeates her work and makes the identification of a person, let alone a position, all the more difficult.

Sleep, too, is a witness to falling silent. At the entrance to the darkened gallery were four projected Schlafstudien (Sleep studies), which explore a fascinating tension between the static drawing and the moving image. Video sequences reduced to white contour lines by a computer program, or, in other cases, animated hand drawings, were beamed onto the wall or onto a Styrofoam block just above the floor line. Only on careful examination could one discern in them the subtle movements of the sleeping Leutenegger.

Leutenegger’s fairy tale of a biography is determined not by horrific conjurings and transformations but by unprepossessing deviations and displacements. Perhaps the girl on the moon will visit other planets during her interstellar journeys, always in sight of Earth and always on her way, offering the universe a gift of her own loneliness.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Sara Ogger.