Maya Schweizer: “Sans histoire”

Video Installation, Winner of the Dagesh Art Award 2023

Film still: Robot fish swimming through water.

Maya Schweizer, Sans histoire, 2023, video still; © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023

Artist Maya Schweizer won the Dagesh Art Award 2023 for her video installation Sans histoire. The prize is awarded by the Jewish Museum Berlin (JMB) and Dagesh – Jewish Art in Context. In her artwork, Schweizer engages with the Jewish Museum Berlin as a site of ritualized remembrance. Reflecting on the award’s question “What Now? From Dystopias to Utopias,” her answer is open—sans histoire: both without history and without story.

Past exhibition

Map with all buildings that belong to the Jewish Museum Berlin. The Libeskind building is marked in green


Libeskind Building, ground level, Eric F. Ross Gallery
Lindenstraße 9–14, 10969 Berlin

What happens when memory fades in the face of historical upheavals, climate catastrophe, and ultimately the finitude of human existence?

In Sans histoire, the film created specially for this project, Maya Schweizer follows through her thought experiment on a consciousness without history. She delves into fears and hopes of impermanence, regarding both the museum itself as an immediate location and larger societal processes. What happens when memory fades in the face of historical upheavals, climate catastrophe, and ultimately the finitude of human existence? Does the past still impact upon the future? Does digital storage delay or hasten an incipient collective amnesia? Alternating between impulses of threat and liberation, the artist explores transhuman and posthuman scenarios.

Maya Schweizer’s experimental and cinematic works often negotiate questions of history and memory cultures, asking how their interaction influences our collective and individual experience today. Alongside her prize-winning installation, the exhibition presents three more of Schweizer’s experimental video works from the period between 2012 and 2020. In the four works, the artist weaves together fragments of memory and strands of forgetting. Texts, sounds, and images give rise to streams of thought that cannot be combined into narratives. Through the symbol of water, which recurs in the individual works and unites them, the exhibition probes the individual and collective memory.

Maya Schweizer was born in Paris in 1976 and studied art and art history in Aix-en-Provence, at the Academy of Fine Arts Leipzig (HGB), and at the Berlin University of the Arts (HdK), where she graduated as a master student of Lothar Baumgarten in 2007. Her works have been shown internationally in numerous solo and group exhibitions.

A woman with long brown hair, black jacket and blue sweater sits on a staircase and looks smiling directly into the camera.

Maya Schweizer; Dagesh – Jewish Art in Context, photo: Elena Krasnokutskaya, 2023

The Dagesh Art Award and the exhibition at the Jewish Museum Berlin are made possible by the support of the Friends of the Jewish Museum Berlin.

Logo Dagesh: Jüdische Kunst im Kontext

Sans histoire

HD / 28:30 min. / color, black and white / sound 

Maya Schweizer responds to the question posed by the Dagesh Art Award – “What Now? From Dystopias to Utopias” – with Sans histoire, her epic river of thoughts. She confronts present-day fears of the end of civilization both “without history” and “without story.” Unnerving footage of animals at night, visions of a technologized future, and images of people dancing to excess or fleeing from war combine to generate an apocalyptic atmosphere. Yet what initially appears dystopian bears a utopian potential for new beginnings: again and again, Schweizer deploys images of waves, oceans, and currents that sweep up what she shows, wash it away, and absorb it. The Jewish Museum Berlin is a site of remembrance, an institution devoted to the history of Jews in Germany. Additionally, in the Jewish tradition, memory is a ritualized act that plays an important role in every holiday. Maya Schweizer, however, guides our attention to forgetting, as a reality determined by human life. This paradox is where we find her proposal for dealing with our era’s existential fears: Sans histoire is a space to honor remembrance and a monument to forgetting.

Film still: Robot fish swimming through water.

Maya Schweizer, Sans histoire, 2023, video still; © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2023

Voices and Shells

HD video / 18 min. / color, black and white / sound 
Co-produced with Museum Villa Stuck 

The camera leads us from the sewers of Munich – the dark flow underground – to the bright daylight of the city’s built surface. There it scans the façades, uncovering traces of Munich’s Nazi history. Voices are audible, alternating with images made or found. The motif of the spiral reappears, symbolizing a vortex in time and a recurrence that transmits memories, yet also obscures them. The film seems to follow an intuition and navigation of its own. Voices and Shells, created in the context of Maya Schweizer’s exhibition at the Villa Stuck in Munich, epitomizes her exploration of the concrete sites of remembrance. In her works, these sites appear as organisms with a memory and the capacity for repression.

L’étoile de mer

HD video / 11 min. / color, black and white / sound 
Co-produced with Historisches Museum Frankfurt 

L’étoile de mer – “The Starfish” – introduces us to Maya Schweizer’s experimental filmic method. The artist submerges herself in a sea of memory, which she composes as an associative montage of film clips from her own archives and from movie history, interspersed with texts and sound collages. Because of the sheer number of these found images, carried beyond their previous contexts, forgetting becomes possible. Schweizer navigates the sea as a dream world where what is lost becomes just as tangible as what is remembered.

Manou, La Seyne sur Mer, 2011

HD video / 9:30 min. / color, black and white / no sound 

Maya Schweizer asks her grandmother about daily life in her retirement home – a conversation we can follow in the form of filmed typing, recalling an archival record. The two women talk not in the retirement home itself, but during a family gathering one afternoon. The stream of consciousness with its written documentation is punctuated by photos of the room in the retirement home. Like still lifes, they draw our gaze to the interior decor, which so often remains unnoticed. The artist tracks an individual experience, showing how thoughts take shape and then dissolve again.

Exhibition Information at a Glance

  • When 5 May to 27 Aug 2023
  • Where Libeskind Building, ground level, Eric F. Ross Gallery
    Lindenstraße 9-14, 10969 Berlin
    See Location on Map
Video still: robot fish swimming through water.

Exhibition Maya Schweizer: Sans histoire: Features & Programs

Exhibition Webpage
Current page: Maya Schweizer: Sans histoire: Dagesh Art Award 2023: Exhibition webpage with information on the exhibited works, 5 May to 27 Aug 2023
Accompanying Events
Artist talk: Shelley Harten in Conversation with Maya Schweizer: 6 July 2023
Digital Content
Speech for the Presentation of the Dagesh Art Award 2023: by curator Shelley Harten, for Maya Schweizer, 4 May 2023
See also
Maya Schweizer: website of the artist
The Violence We Have Witnessed Carries a Weight on Our Hearts: Dagesh Art Award 2021
Open, Closed, Open: Dagesh Art Award 2019

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