Fotograf Magazine

Dušan Šimánek

Silence. 1978–1985, Ektachrome, 4x5 in.

Although in its entirety the work of Šimánek might seem abstract, it has, from the beginning to this day, always been firmly rooted in reality. It tells of a process proceeding from seeing into insight, in which an object changes from an original idea into a new vision. (Anna Fárová, 2005)


Šimánek’s series, Ticho / Silence, is unique for Czech photography. First of all, it is one of the initial attempts to use colour photography artistically; at the time still looked down upon by the majority of photographers. Secondly, it brings to Czech art the specific option of critical civilisational detachment and amazement that one can find only slightly earlier, for example, in the works of Stephen Shore and William Eggleston. This is the expectation of cultural studies: that even in the smallest, most boring and most bizarre facts a fundamental piece of our own history is hidden.
A part of Žižkov, the pre-war proletarian district in Prague, where Šimánek has his studio (from 1974 until the present day), fell victim during Communism to the construction of new panel-block apartment buildings. It is in fact here that Šimánek found in the homes, prior to demolition, these abandoned walls bearing traces of cultural history, redrawing the history of the 20th century as the ornaments and wear of empty walls. From them at the end of the 1970s/early 1980’s an entire series gradually took shape. It would first appear in 1980 at the artist’s exhibition in the Činoherní klub (drama club) and afterwards in 1981 at the today now legendary 9&9 exhibition in Plasy (put together by Anna Fárová). At the time it was only seen in the (form of) contact sheets for original slides 9×12 cm in size and several 30×40 cm enlargements. Already in the 1980’s Ticho / Silence became the central series in Šimánek’s free creative work and already then it was shown at international exhibitions (Frankfurt, Köln, Japan). Šimánek presented the series‘ final form of more than metre-large, blown up photos (enlargements), allowed only by post-revolution production options, at the Dům umění (House of Arts) in Brno and in Prague’s Nová síň (New Hall) Gallery in 1993.
Šimánek was fundamentally ahead of his time with his emphasis on history and the memory of ages; something that has made a comeback today in the form of retro-style. Along the lines of his predecessors, Šimánek combines both discreetly and intelligently the influences of supreme painterly modernism (i.e. Marc Rothko and in the Czech Republic, Václav Boštík), as well as the Czech tradition of melancholic photography, culminating in the works of Jan Svoboda. In fact, both Svoboda’s and Šimánek’s walls beg for comparison when Šimánek elaborates Svoboda’s studies of light and surfaces on a more civilised, socially-anchored level, while however carefully and respectfully preserving their nostalgic intimacy. The prevailing dry frontalness actually enables the photographs from the series, Ticho / Silence, to be seen as the pure reproduction of surfaces; as an absolute vera icon, standing the viewer before a fact that is both truth and fiction, present and history.

Pavel Vančát