Like the grating sonic chime of a synth drum on an early 80’s pop hit, an artists over investment in the contemporary potentials of digital media can very quickly reveal itself to be the seduction of an artist by a new tool.
From a distance of years the results of these stumbling techno-seductions can still have a charm and attraction above and beyond a mere visual nostalgia.
Canny ‘Digital’ artists have learnt to indulge this love of retro-naffness by presenting increasingly layered visual compressions: art historical references and outmoded stylistic productions dictated by technology’s previous limitations sprinkled with the ‘Nowness’ of High Definition.
The ticking of government funding bodies boxes and the blatant promotion of computer technologies latest innovations may now be inseparable, especially in the space between many gallery curators ears, but as long as a critical unpicking of the medium used and of its uses remains intact in works produced the artists are doing their job.
Pat Flynn has been operating in this area for some time and his ‘Half Life Of A Miracle’ exhibition at Manchester (UK) Art Gallery is a summation of a decade refining the use of 3D computer graphics software to produce big pictures and digital animations of things which never really existed.
It’s an impressively cold-bloodied and nihilistic affair: the images seem to announce concerns with a loss of an intimate tactility, death, an inability to communication and the perpetual failure of desire.
Finding things which look like famous art works of the past and riffing off them is a pretty standard way of proceeding; here explanatory labels make explicit connections with historical precedents, some relatively recent.
In ‘Cheeses’ Mondrian coloured wedges, wheels, angles of cheese shapes are grouped in an antiseptic space like a deli food promotion; another digital print has the top of a skull lifted from a Breughel peeping over the top of a white bowl; another a bucket of strings of lumpen sausage meat pink lifted from Hogarth.
‘Chocolate’ (2015), a seven foot vertical stack of chocolate brown chunks, is reminiscent of Donald Judd’s lines of boxy forms; seduction and desire re-injected into the corporate banality of Minimalism’s forms.
It is, however, dependent on an overly simplistic reading of Minimalism when considering Judd’s unconvincing dismissal of the anthropomorphism inherent in his works human scale, its failed straining towards physical purity, the complex of political implications ingrained in the practice, and so on.
Similarly ‘Juice’ (2015) apparently a recreation of the pale vertical strips of a Modernist alter from a recently leveled local church is seen to echo Dan Flavin’s colourful fluorescent tubes and their implications of life’s short-lived spark. In reality, Flavin’s pieces tend to infect the area around them, glow and stain surfaces; their finite life span is a secondary thought for the viewer and more likely to be typed up as a bit of supporting dust jacket fluff.
It may be that Flynn’s concern with reducing the physically substantial to codings which transcribe into a dead slickness of surface effect itself flag up a cynicism about the hefty conceit of ‘content’ stapled to Judd and Flavin’s output. The middle brow precis from a coffee table art book may be more than enough explanation for the circulation of art as product.
The three panel series ‘Untitled (Smoke)’ points to this display of smoke and mirrors, of empty misdirection; a wispy chaos of smudged white and grey sitting in front of a left to right graduation of ice cream cheery pink and orange, simulating a localized tangle of smoke.
The slick vacuity of surface play is further complicated by the recurring theme of truncated communication and mortality - ‘Speaker’ (2015) shows the back of a squared, freestanding speaker shaped box; ‘Mother’ a length of shiny black rubbery flex lying on a marbled reflective step and cut in the middle; ‘Cold Children’ (2012), a simulation of a series of reflective, multipart metallic picture frames. Pictures excluded. Even the frame is a digital parody of a metallic frame.
The whole thing is topped off by two digital animations - ‘Other Fatherland’ and ‘Half Life Of A Miracle’ - which make resoundingly explicit the penetration of distances between, and within, objects as a metaphor for the joyless circularity of human animal desires invested in the outpourings of the art world.