The Shadow of Smoke
After immigrating to the United States, Gabriela Bulisova had a complicated relationship with her native Slovakia, returning at least once a year to visit her family in her mother’s hometown, a small village of 800 people called Chl’aba. Along the way, she began a very personal project documenting her family’s life – and the village around them – in what is by far the most personal of her projects.
After the project was underway, she met and married Mark Isaac, also an artist, and they began to collaborate on the project – and to appear in it personally. The Shadow of Smoke considers the full panoply of village and family life, including: the penetrating beauty of the vineyards, wheat fields, and the nearby Danube River; the complex relationships among family members; and the tragic loss of several loved ones, including Gabriela’s father. It also measures the slow but very real pace of change, as long-standing and gratifying traditions slowly give way to a more contemporary existence, replete with new and often difficult challenges.
Recently, the project entered a new stage as Gabriela and Mark relocated to a new base in Slovakia, significantly expanding the amount of time they spend in Chl’aba. Their move occurs at a unique time in the country’s history, including the murder of a journalist and his partner investigating rampant corruption, the election of a progressive woman president, and the ascendance of the right-wing. While Returns is fundamentally personal, the story of the Bulisova family has unavoidable implications for the future of Slovakia and Central Europe.
Over time, The Shadow of Smoke also gave birth to a second project, Fluid Borders, which considers Chl’aba and the surrounding area as a multi-faceted borderland with unique cultural resources and serious environmental problems.