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Maya Schweizer’s new work VOICES AND SHELLS (2020) combines the central parameters of her previous film work: seeking out the visual traces of the camera’s gaze as it scans façades; strictly site specific; analytically looking for a form to materialize collective memory in buildings, monuments, images, stories. It is a dense collage of sound, text, and image material, whose multiple voices trigger a collective memory.

Schweizer approaches the city of Munich through its canalization, which functions as the infrastructure of a mnemotechnical memory palace. The voices reverberating there tell of violence, loss, and pain. The 17-minute film captivates with an associative network of images made up of original material, (historical) found footage, and (visual) citations. “The façade is not just a façade, we have to get it to talk.” Schweizer’s camera pans over the neoclassical exterior wall of the Haus of Kunst, which was opened in 1937, encircles the Kunstpavillon, which was once the atelier of the National Socialist sculptor Josef Thorak, and approaches the Propylea at Königsplatz, covered in snow. These images are contrasted with a historical view to the Feldherrnhalle, where George Stevens filmed some graffiti right after the war: “K. Z. Dachau—Velden—Buchenwald. I’m ashamed to be German.” Shots of posters deploring the deaths from the terror attack in Hanau supersede these architectural views. Such shots clarify historical continuities without overstating them. The spiral form functions as a recurring leitmotiv, it is repeated in the structure of a snail shell, the drawing of a child-like hand, in the vertical view to a stone staircase […]. As a form of time perception it stands as a symbol for the dialectical thought process of Schweizer’s short films. It implies Benjamin’s notion of the angel of history, who looks back in horror at the atrocities of the past while constantly being pulled further into the future—always aware of the danger of repeating all historical catastrophes.

Mira Anneli Naß is an art an photography historian. She is a research assistant at the University of Bremen.

Excerpt from a discussion of the exhibition “Maya Schweizer: Stimmen,” Museum Villa Struck, Munich, October 22, 2020–January 24, 2021, in: Camera Austria, Nr. 152, 2020, 77.

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