Frank McElhinney - Flight
20th August - 30th October 2022
Flight is a new solo exhibition by artist Frank McElhinney that reflects upon the long history of migration between Ireland and Scotland, with a particular focus on the effects of the Great Famine during the mid-nineteenth century. His work investigates contemporary issues through a historical lens. Recent wars in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan have forced millions of people to flee their homelands. The worsening climate crisis almost guarantees other major population shifts in the near future.
Throughout his practice and long-term projects, McElhinney addresses issues around conflict, migration and nationhood. This work poses the question of considering our own history so that we can better understand the response required to meet the contemporary challenges of mass migration. Whilst he works with different mediums, photography is foremost in his practice - his photographs are made outdoors, using a wide range of techniques and almost all his work is made in Scotland and Ireland. Having studied Fine Art Photography at Glasgow School of Art and Medieval and Modern History at Glasgow University, McElhinney has developed a particular interest in the combined histories of these nations:
I’m an atypical artist in a way, in that I’ve started so late. I never thought about making art until I was in my early 40s… After graduating from art school in 2014, the news was full of coverage of people trying to come across the Mediterranean Sea. It was a real tragedy that was unravelling in front of our eyes on the television every night. That had an effect on me and I wanted to make work that responded to that. The first thing that I looked at was the clearances that had happened in Scotland throughout the 19th Century. There was a lot of migration out of Scotland, often in circumstances where that was forced. In a way, I’m not Scottish, I’m an Irish Scot. All my family, on both sides, have come from Ireland and the names of my four grandparents are all Irish. That led me to Donegal, where the McElhinneys came from in the 1870s when they moved to Scotland, looking at things in a more personal way, it was really quite moving, retracing the steps back to the source. – Frank McElhinney
This exhibition is the outcome of a long-term and ongoing project which originated in a residency exchange programme in 2019 between Street Level Photoworks and Artlink, Fort Dunree in Donegal, a project which aims to strengthen dialogue and cooperation between Scotland and other European countries, supported by British Council Scotland and Arts Council Ireland. Following his residency in Donegal McElhinney continued working on the project during his residency at An Cridhe, Isle of Coll, as part of the RSA Residencies for Scotland (2019). An earlier iteration of this work featured in a solo show at Letterkenny Cultural Centre in 2021. All the work in the exhibition was made in the facilities and darkrooms at Street Level Photoworks.
View the Virtual Exhibition here
Frank McElhinney is a visual artist based in Scotland. His work extends to public engagement activity around various techniques and themes within his work, such as solargraphy and pinhole, and kite aerial photography. Solo exhibitions include Eist (2021), at the Regional Cultural Centre, Letterkenny, Donegal, Ireland; and group exhibitions Scotland Small? at the Royal Scottish Academy, Edinburgh (2022); Impression Remains, at the Finnish Museum of Photography, as part of the Finnish Darkroom Festival 2022. His online exhibition and associated events around Only for freedom was supported by Street Level in 2020 and marked the beginning of an online series of activities across the lockdowns as a result of the pandemic. In 2018, ‘Postcards from Scotland’ was produced with Street Level Photoworks as an audio-visual work presented at the NIDA International Photography Symposium in Lithuania and as part of La Nuit de l’Instant, in partnership with the Marseille Centre of Photography. He was one of the exhibiting artists in Tabula Rasa, which was exhibited at Kaunas Photography Gallery, Lithuania (2015) and Street Level Photoworks (2016). He was the First Prize recipient of the Jill Todd Photographic Award 2014.
Images: © Frank McElhinney