Fotograf Magazine

Breath of the Cosmos

“I sometimes miss the words to express my feelings, but they stay with my papers, with tiny records of wind, water flow, a fallen leaf… an imprint of the world,” we can read in the manifesto of Jiří Šigut in Cameracura, a new series of Czech and English catalogues from the Moravian Gallery in Brno, brought out by the same publishers through whose care the half-yearly Fotograf appears.
Jiří Šigut (b. 1960) has worked in graphic design since 1980, and since the mid-1990s he has worked freelance. In 1985 he started taking photographs, and since the beginning of the 1990s he has worked directly with photosensitive paper: “Actually, photographers kill the paper with the swift sharp exposure,” Jaromír F. Typlt quotes the artist in one of the introductory texts in the catalogue.
Šigut’s photographs from the second half of the 1980s were time- gathering exposures, enlarged each time from a medium-format negative onto a single square positive, with each side measuring one meter. From the titles, we may divine what the nearly abstract images are about: Přeprava Opava – Ostrava Poruba (vlak č. 3441), 17. 8. 1985 (Transport between Opava – Ostrava Poruba, train No 3441, 17. 8. 1985); Novoroční procházka, 1. 1. 1986 (A New Year’s Walk, 1. 1. 1986); 36 tepů mého srdce, 22. 12. 1990 (36 Heartbeats, 22. 12. 1990). The process of taking the photographs was determined by non-photo- graphic circumstances, among them such categories as the duration of lovemaking, riding in an elevator, or shopping. What is revealed is not only the value of those experiences that we ascribe importance, but also those that we usually pay little attention to. We realize this all the more since Šigut’s photographs bypass the customary layer of aesthetization. They were created in the course of minutes or hours, by placing layer upon layer of traces, the arrangement of which was not quite under the artist’s control. On the contrary, he consciously opened up the the creation of his work to accidental influences. Since 1987, he has not even been employed focusing.
The basic quality of the current creative period in the artist’s work also remains the effort to concentrate gradual time projections into unique exhibition pieces. This continuity is apparent also from the most frequenttitle of Šigut’s exhibitions, the word Records (Záznamy). The artist exposes sheets of photopaper by laying them upon grass, snow, or decaying foliage, in order to merely interrupt the contact of the medium with a natural environment, and then fixing the result of the procedure. At times he finds photographic paper with the emulsion washed away, and instead covered in a film of mold. He names the artefacts that thus emerge in such a way that the information given includes the period of exposure, which may last days or weeks: Bulrush, 1. – 18. 1. 2002.
Along with enriching the range of conceptual art, Šigut has also brought to life new ways to take photographs. He avoids using additional lighting from unnatural sources. At most, he uses fire, for instance candlelight. Following reality determines the look of the creation: “the resulting form is not as important as the event itself.” Of his motivation, the artist says: “I’m interested in the processes that are here and may last up to several million years, processes and elements that are perceived by animals, and were perceived also by the first humans. If in a transversely laid sheet of paper, I connect the two opposing banks of a creek, the water brings deposits, and next to each other in one place organic materials may be present that the creek has ‘brought’ from different locations. The falling of the leaf is the beginning of the expiration of life, its end. It leaves its last trace, its shape, and it will never be the same. It is the memory of the tree, the mourning of the forest. A tremendously important part of my current work is also the evening or nighttime journey to the places where I lay my sheets of paper. These take place in the night because I place the sheets in the night, so that their exposure begins with the coming of daybreak. In this way I sometimes perceive part of my journey (if the moon doesn’t shine) and the surrounding nature in such darkness that you could literally cut it with a knife. It is a totally different experience. I feel as though at night I perceive everything around me more intensely. I hear my breathing more, I step with deliberation, I touch the trees, listen to the sounds of the creek which guides me. I can concentrate better.”

josef moucha