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Pat Flynn’s ‘Half Life of a Miracle’ show is currently appearing at Manchester Art Gallery in the ‘Manchester Gallery’, a section set aside for art from the city itself. The ‘Manchester Gallery’ used to be a space featuring a hotchpotch of artists and works all jumbled together under the banner ‘Manchester art’.
But the gallery have now thankfully abandoned that concept, so that the whole space is used for a solo show by an artist who just happens to be based in Manchester. This, I think, is a great idea. The work has to be strong enough to stand on its own two feet in a very prominent, major gallery space right in the centre of the city.
Saying that I was a bit nervous as I approached. I have known the artist Patt Flynn for a number of years – his work has appeared in Flux Magazine several times and he’s featured in shows we’ve produced in the past as well. My fears dissolved away though as I walked into the gallery and was faced with the piece Untitled (Floor) 2007. It’s grand scale and kaleidoscopic nature pulled me in but simultaneously held me back. At first this looks like an abstracted, almost cubist-style piece but with Flynn’s work there is often a twist and a turn. In this case as your bombarded senses begin to calm, you make out parallel lines and then repeated forms running through the image. On reading the title and the accompanying description it all begins to make a new kind of sense. It is actually a close up photograph of a shoe shop floor. So you are seeing the reflection in the shiny tiled surface of the broken up elements that make up the shop. It’s a great piece and it made my mind wander off into the faded grandeur of the shoe shop and to ponder on how beauty is so subjective.
The whole show has this kind of mischievous sense of trickery and chicanery running through it. Pat is deceiving us but also revealing his deception, letting us in on the magic if we care to wonder. Other times he questions our belief in the magic itself – our human need to hang onto to the spectacle. He plays with our belief systems and muddies the water just that little bit to make us question, well, just about anything. Religion, beauty, myth, magic and even art itself.
Wise Man / Shining City Upon a Hill recalls the classic film, Wizard of Oz, and the scene where the wizard is hidden behind a screen. I can still recall the shock when I realised what was happening as the wizard turned out to be a mere mortal. It was all just a trick. The image itself is powerful though and so again it questions our ideas of magic whilst retaining the mystique of the very thing it critiques.
A series of images of circulating smoke seemingly shot against a glaring orange artificial background turned out to be digital smoke created using a machine Flynn had developed himself. The smoke is too perfect, too clean. Again it makes you question reality and how images we see and are shown are often manipulated.
Juice 2015 was for me one of the most emotionally charged and moving pieces. This is an image of the altar in the 1950s modernist church of Saint Catherine of Siena in Lowton near Wigan. It has the look of the screen from Oz, but there’s a modesty here too. It’s beautifully shot with reflections hitting the ribbed backdrop and the wire draping over the steps. Despite the colour and the light it had a melancholy feel. This is where Flynn was christened as an infant, and also where his mother’s funeral was held. The image has a certain subtle power that holds you in its grip, and also brought back my own feelings as my own mum passed away quite recently. These buildings where we begin and end our lives still have a potency although the grip of religion itself has loosened over time. I think it’s the absence of the preacher and the congregation that gives the image its power. You have to imagine the scenario when the people are placed back into the scene. As it is, we stare at the empty altar, the stage, the scene of the action, and let our minds and emotions fill in the gaps.
In another piece we see row upon row of empty photograph frames; the kind of frames that fill every home. We are accustomed to seeing them in prominent places at your mum and nan’s house filled with snapshots of our close family. As you get older your own home too becomes filled with these frames. In Flynn’s work the people have been taken out. There is a potent melancholy in the emptying of what is usually filled. The loved ones are missing. There is a great feeling of loss but I find myself again filling in the gaps and imagining who should be in these frames.
This is a fascinating exhibition that has the power to amuse, provoke and entertain. It messes with your head and your heart. It has the power to pull at your emotions too as the show is anything but cold. It wants to tell us stories and also question those same stories. It’s like having your preconceptions questioned, poked and played with to the point where you’re joining in yourself, having fun with the work. The show has a subtle power and, after having been picked up and shaken around a little, I left feeling quite uplifted.
The exhibition Half-Life of a Miracle presents a decade of photography and film by British contemporary artist Pat Flynn from 2005 to 2015, the most comprehensive survey of his art to date.
The exhibition is at Manchester Art Gallery until Sunday 17 April 2016
The work of Pat Flynn also features in the group show Nothing Happens, Twice: Artists Explore the Absurdity of Life showing at the Harris Museum and Art Gallery until 4 June 2016
words Lee Taylor