Zilla’s House (2014) makes use of the existing architecture and furnishings of an old residential building on Cockatoo Island for a mixed-media installation combining drawings, sculpture and projections. Long abandoned, the house is now occupied once more, transformed by Swiss artist Zilla Leutenegger for her new site-specific installation.
Built in the late nineteenth century, the house has been used as a residence throughout the island’s history – for military officers of the convict prison, the superintendent of the Industrial School for Girls, the governor of Biloela Gaol, and later the general manager of the dockyard – but has lain dormant in recent times. Now the new occupant of the house appears repeatedly in the warren of rooms, unaware of being observed in their everyday surrounds. Leutenegger has animated life back into these once quiet rooms, in her domestic phantasmagoria or shadow play.
Leutenegger often includes such a person in her artworks. Typically androgynous and of ambiguous age, the apparition is often assumed to be an image of the artist, but could just as easily be a projection of our own selves, engaged in familiar domestic activity. Leutenegger’s deceptively simple installations combine filmed and projected images, together with paintings and drawings to create multidimensional artworks that play with perception. Real objects and trompe l’oeil illusions sit side-by-side in Leutenegger’s projected animations, or video-drawings, as she refers to them. Through the use of objects, sculpture and technology, Leutenegger brings her drawings to life, extending lines beyond the wall into three-dimensional installations, encouraging the viewer to step into a world of her imagining.
Unlike traditional hand-drawn animation, Leutenegger’s projections lack narrative and dramatic structure. Her drawings break from convention, sprawled directly on to walls to become a physical part of the building. A definite trace of the artist’s hand appears in her mark-making. If her sketches give the impression of being unfinished or open-ended, it is because Leutenegger welcomes the sense of fragility that this reveals. Leutenegger’s drawings possess a naïve and child-like quality – beautiful in their minimalist simplicity and sincerity. The artist is influenced by childhood memories of moving 12 times, and never having a fixed home and stable group of friends. Leutenegger often appears as a solitary figure in her work, as with Rock the chair (2011) where she is pictured sitting alone at a table, seemingly lit from above by a soft light that is from an entirely different source. Leutenegger’s self-portraits are intentionally ambiguous, allowing the viewer to project their own emotions and imagination on to the artworks.
In Library (2007), Leutenegger plays with our comprehension of what is real and what is imaginary by painting shelves filled with books on the wall and placing a projector in the hearth of a fireplace, throwing light upon an Eames chair and footstool in the centre of the room. The shadow cast on to the wall is that of the chair, yet at the same time it is not. A figure can clearly be seen reclining on the shadow chair, while the real chair remains empty. Leutenegger’s animations are without narrative or dramatic structure; they instead celebrate the beauty and poetry found in small moments and mundane activities. The projected figure drinks a glass of milk, sits on the stairs, plays a piano; there is no dramatic climax or unfolding plot. The artist considers experiencing her installations to be more like looking at a picture than watching a film; the focus is on the study of movement and perception of time passing, rather than telling a story.
Recent solo exhibitions of Leutenegger’s work include ‘13 Räume’, Museum Morsbroich, Leverkusen (2013); ‘Umlaufbahn, Gast Zilla Leutenegger’, Stiftung Trudi Demut und Otto Müller, Zurich (2012); ‘When yesterday the sea was flat’, The Heder Contemporary Art Gallery, Tel Aviv (2011); and ‘Rocksie’, Perry Rubenstein Gallery, New York (2010). Her work has been exhibited in numerous group exhibitions, including ‘Parallelwelt Zirkus’, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (2012); ‘30 Künstler, 30 Räume’, Institute für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, Nuremberg (2012); ‘Shadowdance’, Kunsthal KadE, Amersfoort (2010); and ‘Make Yourself At Home’, 7eleven Gallery, New York (2010).