Cristinas History takes as its starting point the story of four generations of a branch of Mikael Levin
s family, of which Cristina is a descendant.
It unfolds from the mid-19th century to our own times, and streches from the town of Zgierg in central Poland to the west-african nation of Guinea-Bissau, by way of Lisbon. These three places, photographed between 2003 and 2005, correspond in each case to a narrative which interweaves the lives of the characters and historical events to which those biographies are linked. As the trajectory of a Jewish family through modern European history, a journey in which each new hope is met with invariable disappointment, Cristinas History challenges the idea of continuous progress. This does not, however, mean ceding to nostalgia. nor is it an affirmation of the notion of an ineradicable identity. What this work does do is attests to the possibility of inventing ones life based on, but without being dependent of tradition. Although the story or at least the idea of a story no doubt determined the photographic project, the text and the images in a fact move along parallel lines. It is through the gap that the relationships are etablished; between the different histories and the images of the present, between the different lives described and the places where they are not, or between the narrative space, most often closed and familial, and the visible space, open and public.
From such simplicity shaped by numerous complexities emerges a poetic work cast as a documentary. It is a profound autobiographical work, though the author never appears. The space is configured around three projection rooms corresponding to the territories represented. Within each room, each cycle lasts approximately fifteen minutes and comprises some sixty images. a voice-over tells the story. In the rooms devoted to Zgierz and guinea-Bissau, two projectors are mounted back to back on a central pivot. The images rotate around the room, like the beams of a lighthouse, stretching and bending to the contours of the walls. In the Lisbon room, three projectors cast their images alternately at fixed locations.
I met Cristina da silva-schwarz in guinea-Bissau in 2003.
Four generations back our ancestor, Isuchaar szwarc, a renowned Jewish scholar, lived in Zgierz, in central Poland. In his lifetime Isuchaar saw his small medieval town transformed by industrialization. He died as the nazis exterminated the Jewish communities. Isuchaars eldest son, samuel, settled in Lisbon. a successful mining engineer also known for his scholarship, samuel lived in Portugal during the waning decades of its colonial epoch. samuels daughter Clara settled in Portuguese guinea in 1947. There she and her husband played a prominent role in the anti-colonial movement. since guinea-Bissaus independence, Carlos, their youngest son, has devoted his life to the agricultural development of this impoverished nation.
Cristina is Carlos daughter.
I had always heard of this accomplished branch of my family. It occurred to me that their lives were an embodiment of modernitys positivist belief in mobility and progress. Jewish families are often characterized by patterns of dispersal and migration, patterns that have of late come to characterize the world population in general. While my images are specific, my intent is to go beyond the narrow identifications of any particular community. It is the tension between the local and the global that interests me.
The condition of multiplicity, wandering, and exile, as shown in this story, suggests some principles for an alternative foundation for cultural identification, based on tolerance and shared patterns of experience.
Born in 1954 in New York where he now lives, Mikael Levin has also lived in Israel and France. His work Notes fromthe Periphery was presented at the 2003 Venice Biennale. That same year his work was presented in a solo exhibition at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. In 2008, gilles Peyroulet & Cie (Paris) presented his exhibition Seuil/ Treshold. Mikael Levin has also published War Story (Kehayoff, 1997).