Spaces brought alive - Tóth Szilvia’s exhibition at the Bratislava Month of photography

Life has been often and by many understood or presented as a stage play, which we incline to accept in certain situations. This supposed theatre however serves less and less as a mirror of the world perceived to be real, it reminds more of the strange medieval carnivals, antics and rites, which were once intended to show a willingly twisted and deformed picture of reality. The possibility of such a mode of being becomes seemingly lasting in the flash of the festivities momentary flush. The world continues to exist in an ever obviously inverted way, becoming a grotesque picture of itself. The persisting and over-the-edge pursuing of the “joys of life”, the ever more crazy vortex of amusement in the culture of entertaining and entertainment push this grotesque form from the peripherals of society into its very center. There the appearance, the surface appearing modes and forms become the most important. The being outside of territory, coincidence and things based upon other code systems get into the center, the antipole becomes the pole, the ”good and civilized” world and its “truth and beauty” become accordingly marginal: the difference becomes normality.
Szilvia Tóth shows such a possible appearance of society made up by the people she meets. “My main theme is the man, who brings the city to life with his existence.” - she says. Her pictures present people removed from the reality of their surrounding and their determining modes. Only the individual is seen, frontally opposite the photographer and her camera. This direct position, nevertheless becoming mediated because of the presence of the camera, is an ancient pattern of behavior. Once this open position of the body was communicating the vital meaning of “you can trust me”. The pictured individuals with their openness only make the appearance obvious, because though they – seemingly – give themselves, they are probably only acting. It is hard to decide, if they play a role and if so, who’s role it really is. And Szilvia Tóth admits, what more, she struggles to interfere with the natural flow of the things she sees by treating the chosen persons as models. She instructs them according to her will, she rules their movements, body positions – even though not in a total manner, like the photographer rules over his real model. In her case this is a necessity, since most of the people she meets are unable to behave in such a natural way – or to act that naturally – as they did at the moment of meeting. But Szilvia Tóth doesn’t want to take on the role of an image thief watching and lurking in the shadows. She finds it important, that the person she photographs knows about what happens to her and to her picture (virtually and literally), because the persons help and cooperation is necessary in order to recreate on film the movement, facial expression or their combination (a kind of rewind, replay), which captured the imagination of the photographer. “I am making a photograph, when in a space I find a being, whose inner world radiates into its surrounding, makes it colorful, brings it alive.” – in the authors words. She generates through the act of photographing the situations, in which these influences become real, sensible and graspable. She makes the chosen persons involved in this act, they are not damned to passivity by her. They can become part of all this by accepting the improvised roles given to them in order to recreate chosen moments, while there is still space left for coincidence. Because of the interference, even the spontaneity of the almost natural acting becomes an artificial, rigid, nearly mechanical function. Though the reactions might be reflex-like, they still appear to be forced. As if there was a jamming in the system. Their gesticulation becomes a grimace, they try to stimulate the medium with their “act”, in order to force some kind of a counter-step from it. However, as inexperienced “media-players”, they become confused, clumsy, clown-like, they turn into a parody of the part they play. This contributes to a picture of reality that is unlikely, or rather dreamlike. It does not grow based upon a given plan, it cannot be derived from a given certainty – it is the virtual product of experiencing the own self.
„[…] during my walks I search for something […].” – continues Szilvia Tóth. Her search focuses on human relations. The nature of her search constitutes mainly of watching, it is the position of the outward standing, a person observing with great interest everything and everyone around. The goal is to see the situations that can be filled with meaning in time, without getting tied up in the emotional and moral dimensions. Thus she examines the object of her observation – the city-dwelling man, the man who “makes the city” and who makes her wander in the whirl of the city’s labyrinths – without any special preconception. In case of Szilvia Tóth the action modus of surveying, stretching out in space and time, spreads out even onto the medium. She gives the film time in order to fix this non-momentary. Within this period of time it is her who stresses, underlines, points out, flashes at. Simultaneously she gives free reign to the light to wander around, to visit the space without limitations, and she lets these movements project on film (picture) in space and time. Thus the moment is not always (or not in the first place) stopped, frozen by the closing mechanism of the camera, but rather through the flashing of the artificial light, which plays a determining role in her pictures. Her lighting technique sometimes reminds of the primitive theatre stage lights of old, other times she creates a separate work of art through it within the space of the picture. At the same time the light makes us sense the finesses of movements, it blows up and twists the faces and gestures. It separates and binds objects and people. It organizes and defines space and the positions of those rambling around in it. Szilvia Tóth finds her themes via the surrealistic subconscious gesture of searching, however the spontaneous dream-like situations appearing on her pictures become visible as a result of a conscious activity. The act of deciphering private dreams ready to be analyzed closely relates her work to the genre of grotesque, which potentially bears within itself the dream-likeness. We are facing pictures of elements of such a society here, in which this grotesque is echoing one of the biggest problems: adhering to a single level reality, while at the same time acknowledging it to be multi-leveled.

Gábor Pfisztner