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From glam and punk to forest and waters

In her artistic work, top model Sandra Wildbolz explores the psychological connections between humans and nature. Glam, yoga and punk elements are combined by her with nature. In Switzerland and Italy, her work is now being rediscovered.

Sandra Wildbolz enters the art world as an active player only at a later point in her life. The feelings and impressions conveyed by her work testify to freedom, but also to integrity and dedication to her artistic intentions. In the mid-seventies, she was one of the few Swiss women to make it into the league of international top models. In Paris, Wildbolz walked the runway for designers such as Jean Paul Gaultier and Thierry Mugler and still graces the covers of major fashion magazines today. But the glam also had its downsides: “After thirty years, I had enough of the fashion industry,” says Wildbolz. As a model, she began to feel like an expensive clothes hanger. She also always styled and did her own makeup for freelance projects, she says, and the photographers ultimately got more credit than the model. “That’s how I started doing video art,” she says.

Sandra Wildbolz photographed by Lorenzo Emanuele Metzler.

At the beginning still with a little inhibition, Wildbolz rediscovered herself as a video artist in 1998. She was inspired by her artist friends. “They often asked me why I didn’t express myself artistically,” she emphasizes.

A reflection between sacred and profane

The videos of her performances, often shot by Wildbolz alone, show her, who has been in front of the camera for most of her life, both as the subject and the creator of her ideas. She is guided by the typical poses of the fashion industry, “The Art of Posing,” as she calls it, mixing them with movements from yoga and meditation to create an almost indefinable combination of the sacred and the profane.

Film still of Sandra Wildbolz’ work “The Forest I” from 1999.

She often played back her videos on an analog TV screen, filming them a second time with the same camera with which they were shot. This layering process points to an exploration of temporality. The deep connection to nature and the human psyche seem to be recurring elements in Wildbolz’s work. But how did it all actually come about? “After a personal crisis at the age of 45, my dog Neptun healed me by taking long walks through the forest with me. He led me to various locations, I let myself go along with it. In this way I felt more and more part of nature. I was fascinated by the way people and vegetation flowed into each other,” she says. And what does that look like in practice? “For example, in my video “The Forest,” I reinterpreted the shapes of tree trunks and branches with my body.” From the forest, she was later drawn to bodies of water: “There are wonderful places on the Limmat where you can be completely alone at certain times of the day,” she says.

Praise from the Italian press

In 2019, Wildbolz’s works were shown at Kunsthalle Schlieren and at Art Zürich. Last year, she was invited to participate in Andrea Bocelli’s exhibition “Artinsolite of the Teatro del Silenzio” in Lajatico near Pisa with her work “Wish you were here”. In this context, the Italian newspapers “Corriere della Sera” and “Artribune” praised her engagement with nature in these times of pandemic. The attraction of her art lies in the combination of such diverse elements and, above all, in their transformation onto the medium of film.

Sandra Wildbolz also shaped Switzerland culturally, specifically the city of Zurich. In the seventies, she became an icon of gender freedom and the women’s power movement in the punk movement. What is striking is the development of her personality, which took place through her artistic work in nature. And especially during the global pandemic, Wildbolz emphasizes, “In times of higher forces, as this pandemic is one, it’s important to find yourself again. I hope that people in crisis will reconnect with nature and begin to love it, but most of all themselves, again,” she says.