Oulipian writer Georges Perec’s 1974 essay cycle Espèces d’espaces (Species of Spaces) provided the title for this Zilla Leutenegger exhibition in Eastern Switzerland. The comparison does some work: Leutenegger’s installation is as evocative and precise as Perec’s prose, but while the author begins with the blank page and via a spiraling series of associations surveys the space of the bed, the city, and the planet, Leutenegger, who is well known for her drawings and paintings, has constructed a kind of memory apartment within the museum.
In the subterranean galleries, the viewer enters on a life-size wall painting of a nineteenth century facade flanked by bronze cats. When turning right, one glimpses a streetlamp with its shadow cast on the back wall, where it becomes a stage for another shadow, that of an invisible young woman doing gymnastics—an avatar for the artist. Leutenegger’s presence manifests throughout the show, the rooms of which are are filled with familiar domestic objects from hat racks to sinks, their animation is often augmented with video and mirrors. It is only in the final gallery, which barely contains the body of a massive, recumbent gorilla, that it becomes clear that the entire exhibition is a psychological self-portrait. The primate stands in for the latent animal energy of the psyche, but for me it was in no way sinister: atavistic, sure, but a kind of uncanny that has been reassimilated, and as comfortable as a hand-me-down sweater. The production is both accessible and adroitly executed, but also—in its retreat to a more decent, private past—perhaps too safe.