This enchanting body of work by Sophia Szilagyi was exhibited in 2007. Back then I assisted with the exhibition at Port Jackson Press Australia, and wrote this piece which was published in Imprint Vol. 42, No. 1, Autumn, 2007, p. 12.
Dreams are rarely remembered whole. We might string them together as snatches of images and emotions during waking hours, but their full narrative takes place only in the subconscious world of sleep. Sophia Szliagyi’s work plunges into this other realm in Somewhere in the night, an exhibition of digital inkjet prints.
Mirroring the segmented nature of dreams, Szilagyi juxtaposes imagery taken from a range of sources. Drawing on film, photography, and paintings we see her preoccupation with mutating reality into fiction, by using complex processes of layering and digital manipulation. Szilagyi’s approach to making art is intuitive – driven to capture a feeling or emotion. By blurring the interplay between reality, memory, and the imagined, she investigates how the recollection of past experiences can inturn shape our emotional response to situations in the present. This is expressed in the heightened sense of mood that flows through the exhibition.
Among the most pervasive and recurrent imagery in Szilagyi’s work is that of the forest. Sometimes sparse and glistening in the moonlight, as in Somewhere in the night (2006) and softly softly (2006), or more frequently cloying and ominous as in every night (2007), the forest symbolises the unknown. These are the forests of European children’s story mythology – where the protagonist must triumph over hidden dangers before emerging on the other side. Perhaps this acts as a metaphor for diving into the murky depths of our own minds, before arriving at self-acceptance and peace. Whether for its metaphorical or mysterious mythical connotations, Szilagyi’s fascination with the forest creates the feeling in her work of being taken along an inner journey.
Every night illustrates the subtle, consistently ambiguous narrative component that appears throughout the exhibition. Here we see the woods are at their most dense and threatening, and the piece brilliantly evokes a palpable sense of claustrophobia. The influence of film noir is present, as it is throughout Szilagyi’s prints, in the dramatic and effective use of light. A single eye appears illuminated, as if peering through a peephole. The feeling of containment is immediate, and subsequent questions arise as to why the forest holds such menace, and is the eye looking out of, or onto, the forest itself. As with much her work, Szilagyi opens the door, but just a crack, allowing light to shine on numerous possibilities that shift and slide into each other but are rarely resolved.
A keen interest in film and the artist’s previous explorations in the medium is reflected in this touch of intrigue, along with the visual composition of the works. The bi or multiple panels comprising each piece are reminiscent of individual frames of film – related but separate. While they interact visually to form a whole, they also create a feeling of progression, or movement through time, that is very filmic. In softly softly the moon’s luminous reflection is depicted in the mirrored outline of trees in each panel – visually linking them. An enlarged detail of an eye looks out of the right panel, and again Szilagyi utilises the intrinsic expressive qualities that eyes contain. Just as in every night we seem to be shown two views of the same scene, but exactly how and why they interrelate is left to the viewer to decipher.
Szilagyi has created images of unquestionable beauty that resonate with emotional intensity. Manipulating the seductive power of beauty, she coaxes the viewer into the picture plane where something more may be revealed. In this way, Szilagyi’s hauntingly beautiful imagery succeeds in evoking a deeper, instinctive response; one that draws on our subconscious thoughts and feelings, like a shadowy, half-remembered dream.