The Hyper (Un)Real World of Pat Flynn

Text by George Vasey

Pat Flynn’s digitally produced images and films present a deadpan world. A skull in a MAGA (Make America Great Again) cap; rainbow goo oozes from its eye socket. Green smoke emerging from the floor, slowly obscuring an office chair. Chunks of cheese melting onto a table. His images remain uprooted; objects divorced from their original context and content set free. Cosmetics and chocolate: bright shiny things made brighter and shinier. His images and animations are characterised by an airlessness enhanced by their light and flattened space. Flynn articulates an inscrutable and sanitised world, a place where blemishes are banished and time warps. We know these objects don’t exist physically and yet we remain attentive, scanning the images for imperfections trying to root them in the world of flesh and dust.

Flynn started his artistic life as a sculptor and still calls himself one. Over the last 15 years he has slowly replaced the physical world for a virtual one, offering environmental simulacrums that draw on consumer culture. First using 3D software to sell proposals to curators and galleries, Flynn’s awareness of the medium developed as the technology progressed, taking his practice over. Like the retail environments he renders, Flynn’s work stimulates desire then refuses it. We keep looking (and buying) but we are kept in a purgatorial loop. We can see these works operating a bit like adverts: as powerful mirages that dissipate the closer we get.

Playing with the language of Minimalism, they remain rooted in the everyday: Donald Judd and Cadbury, Sol LeWitt by way of Estée Lauder. Collectively, Flynn’s work doesn’t cast aspersions or polemicise but rather holds onto to uncertainty. He understands that we live in an economy of attention and that all visual culture is — at some level — about seduction. After all, the seriality of an oversized chocolate bar is not dissimilar to countless mid-century sculptures spotted in Kunsthalles across Europe.

Flynn’s work has found new resonances in a world of TikTok and Instagram, platforms that trade in seductive and desiring imagery. These sites have become saturated with ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) content. The term was first coined in 2010 to describe visual and aural forms that activate parts of the brain closely aligned to emotional arousal. My own accounts are flooded with short looped videos of people making smoothies and whispering instructions into microphones and pouring coffee. Gloopy and glitzy things filmed in HD. The omnipresence of this narcotic visual muzak glues our eyeballs to our smartphones, priming them for the inevitable sale pitch.

It is in this world of distracted attention that Flynn’s work is situated. Our eyes dart around, hungry yet never satiated. Objects are graspable and just out of reach. We see ourselves in these virtual perfect surfaces; our eyes cast as desiring machines while our bodies remain rooted to the flesh world of sagging joints and wrinkles.

(Part of a series of texts on artists participating in PIVOT, the inaugural artist development programme in the North West of England. PIVOT is delivered in partnership with Bluecoat, Liverpool and Castlefield Gallery, Manchester.)

George Vasey is a curator and writer.

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