Hans Rudolf Reust

Many are Zilla

"I know, Signor Fava, you wish to look through my spectacles at Princess Brambilla, the image of your dreams; though you will not succeed as yet! – But take them and try!" Full of desire, Giglio grasped the beautiful, shining, oversized glasses, which Celionati offered him, and gazed at the palace. Miraculously, the walls of the palace seemed to be transformed into transparent crystal; but only a colourful, blurred confusion of strange figures was revealed to him, with now and then an electric bolt, flashing through him, presaging the lovely object of his dreams, which seemed to be attempting, in vain, to escape the madness." E.T. A. Hoffmann, Prinzessin Brambilla, 1821.

At the end of the Great Tales, the lives begin in brief sequences and short sentences. For instance: Zilla-Brambilla lives in flesh and blood and pictures. Many are Zilla and anyone who claims to know them all is courting self-deception. For one thing, all of these video short stories without a detailed storyboard are subject to the direction and enchantment of a single name. Zilla's circling around herself engenders centrifugal and centripetal forces.

1st Round: Multiplying. Zilla turns into Nina turns into Catherina (1996), when, under the trinity of names, the portraits blend into each other, dissolve, and drift apart. As one photograph imperceptibly fades like a dying ember, its subject has already been inscribed with the closely related features of Nina. The way you make me feel (1997) seems understated, but still synthetically palpable on the stage of a dance floor in the studio. Zilla emerges from behind a partition to the left and opens the dance, until Zilla the second appears and moves in front of herself in monogamous solitude, then turns towards Zilla the third, inserted into the static cut as a clone with variations. The triple-gängers move towards and past each other as if they had never met before, or then only in the anonymity of a disco.

2nd Round: Verifying. The dance within the camera lens' magnetic field of attraction may appear to be self-absorbed. But Ms Narcissus has actually long abandoned her naïve faith in the authenticity of pictures. She gazes into the time-warped mirror of the camera with dream-like indifference. She looks at, through and out of it. Only familiar, everyday situations and children's stories enable her to verify her own identity. There's klein Zilla (Little Zilla, 1997) sitting alone at the grown-up's table, buttering her bread; or seen in restful, restless sleep, morphed into spidery black contours against a pure white video interior. But oddly enough, the glistening rays of the monitor still manage to evoke the light of the moon, just as the luminous white spaces in between recall the ground of a drawing. Zilla Leutenegger has projected selected video stills on white, ragged ribbons of paper and traced them in rapid strokes of black paint. The picture seems to be verifying its own physicality now that motifs flaunt their manipulability, now that every stroke of the brush alludes to faded posters or to stereotyped memories of films.

3rd Round: Leaving. Black snow also falls in silence. The voice over of Japanese murmuring in Marmoru (2001) follows the line drawing of the mobile speaker, as she stands, turns and walks about. Talking long distance always meant being here and somewhere else at the same time. This kind of mobility signifies the conquest of distances that one can never catch up with. From two corners of an exhibition space, Zilla has a conversation with herself sent into orbit via stationary satellite in an age of free-floating communication. The ceaseless effort to place signals has led to a lack of place. In addition, short messages rise up out of the black hole of the monitor, inscribe a meteoric loop and immediately sink back into illegibility. The technically contingent abbreviation of attention to only a few signs provokes endless repetition. Every short message simply makes room for the next one.

Art is still associated with a claim to permanence. This invests Zilla's fleeting sequences with an inner tension. What will happen if the short message is forever burned into the screen? What will happen if, over the years, Zilla learns to understand Japanese? What will happen if the third wish in the fairy tale comes true, and Catherina's kiss wakes up Zilla and Nina? Digital romanticism has heightened the power of polished spectacles. In the panoptic gaze of omnipresent cameras, new assumptions are gradually taking root. We practice life surrounded by the echo of people we're constantly running into and will never meet. Many are Zilla, yet Zilla is only one of a kind: and so many.
Hans-Rudolf Reust

Translation: Catherine Schelbert