Šimon Sýkora at Polansky Gallery

Artist: Šimon Sýkora

Title: Outskirts

Venue: Polansky Gallery, Prague

Often we are told that our information technologies alienate us. Go offline, take a walk in the forest, leave the city for the weekend, or a month if you can afford it, find authentic connections with nature, with other people, with yourself. Just put your phone down and live in the moment. And suddenly you might find yourself very… alone and disconnected.

A sense of loneliness, longing and melancholy is persistent in Šimon’s works. As if seeing the world through the eyes of a wanderer the works convey the feelings of non-belonging and uprootedness. Passing through rural areas and outskirts, the painted scenes of fleeting and distant encounters explore the experience of existing on the margins and the in-betweens. Šimon’s paintings are strongly related to his own wanderings. One of his previous series was made while visiting his family in Šumava, a border town with a complicated history of evictions and dislocations. Following a character who seemed to be somehow out of place, the scenes reflected the spirit of a rural landscape and interpersonal relationships (or a lack thereof) encountered in Šimon’s hometown.

The new works draw from a two month visit to Budapest. As if observed through a window of a train or a car, the paintings show us glimpses from the edges of a city where empty buildings and parking lots and thickets beyond highways are earmarked for gentrification. An abandoned warehouse in the background. A house or two by the road in the distance. Electrical towers with a transformer. Some farming fields. A bridge. A green metal fence. In these zones of transit a girl holding a plastic bottle of beer, the face of a man moving towards us, a sad expression of a person in a black pointy hoodie. A concealed smile on an older woman’s face. Sometimes the figures have company, but the feeling of disconnectedness and out-of-placeness lingers.

The wanderers of Šimon’s paintings are not explorers, but drifters. Aimless passing through shifting landscapes far removed from the majestic vistas which could trigger any sublime experience conveys a strange sense of timelessness or existing out-of-time. Here, every place is a periphery, the whole world an outskirt. Idealizations of vagabond lifestyle aside, the experience of non-belonging which these works explore, goes beyond mere geographical or social (dis)location. Much more profound and fundamental, it cannot be overcome by any ‘grounding’ or ‘homecoming’. Feeling out-of-place can be agonizing but also powerful, as it implies that in a given place there is a spectral presence of a different one. You are not of the place you’re in, but also not yet somewhere else. With one foot in one reality and with another already in some other, the melancholic wanderers of Šimon’s paintings are not so much rebels as sorcerers. As travelers between different realms, they reveal our reality as open for intrusions from the ‘outside’ , something out of place, something not of this world. A whiff of magical, or perhaps eerie creeps into the snapshot realism of Šimon’s paintings. Through a haze of detached drifting, certain details start to glimmer. Everyday objects gain a different yet unknown significance, landscapes fill with a hint of expectation, facial expressions of strangers turn slightly mysterious. A motionless bambi. A white ribbon. A discarded banana toy. A manhole in the grass. Pink hued skyline. The way someone holds his hands. A hug. A graphic print on someone’s shirt. Lingering between reality and fiction, the banal and the magical, Šimon’s paintings seem to hint at a secret for re-enchantment of the world. You might want to brush it off as a delusion of a desperate romantic yearning for authentic connection or escapist flight into an imaginary reality to forget the hardships of capitalist everyday. But perhaps you shouldn’t. Namely, not exiting but embracing the in-between that Šimon’s work seems to commit to, opens the possibility for something other to emerge in the given. The profound feeling of not belonging to a world we inherited might just turn out to be also our magical power to reimagine it.

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