Upon graduating from the Lucerne School of Applied Arts in 1974, Hannah Villiger (1951–1997) immediately defined herself as a sculptor. But contrary to convention, the vast majority of her “sculptures” were in fact two-dimensional pieces captured on photographic film. Indeed, after making a handful of objects such as spears and javelins, she abandoned materials such as iron and clay and focused solely on photography. For her first shots (a pétanque ball moving through the sand, an airship crossing the sky), she transformed “transient events” into sculptures—not physical, three-dimensional objects, but “experiences of perception.”

Villiger subsequently developed a profoundly personal, intimate practice focused on her own body. But unlike other Body art of the time, her close-up snapshots—of her own ear, the fold of an elbow, age spots on the skin, brawny fingers, and bony feet—were devoid of all violence or sexualization. Each image, a part of her body suspended in time, was captured for posterity on Polaroid film (an instant technique that cuts out the lengthy development process) and glued to a thin aluminum plate. Her early works were small in size and organized in series, as if Villiger were keeping a personal diary. She went on to produce much larger pieces, which she presented individually (Skulptural) or in deliberately arranged compositions (Block XXXVIII, 1994–1995). 

Working without a tripod, Villiger moved the camera lens carefully over her body, pausing to capture interesting details with minute precision. The resulting photographs defy the normal rules of perceptual experience: each section, each fragment of skin, has a universal quality. Although the artist took her own body as her subject, her work is anything but inward-looking: these fragmented views explore how her body—and the human body in general—bears the marks of experience.

  • Exhibition curated by Françoise Ninghetto, with works from the MAMCO collection
FONDATION MAMCOÉtat de GenèveVille de GenèveJTIFondation LeenaardsFondation genevoise de bienfaisance Valeria Rossi di Montelera