The Crypt, St. Philips Church, Salford; Saturday 6th July, 2019
Just off Chapel Street in Salford lies the basement crypt of the 200-year-old St Philips Church: an eerie vault which still holds intricately carved headstones, wispy spider’s webs, dark tunnels – and no doubt countless chronicles of those departing souls that have passed through it over the years.
An apt location then for an exhibition of art works by the revered but mysterious painting phenomenon that is Gretel Sauerbrot.
Or is it?
The choice of location is truly delicious – everything about it. The descent down steep, stone steps; the blinding and unbearable confusion of deep darkness; the nervous tip-toeing around an uneven floor of unforgiving stone slabs.
Even the smell is incredible – a dull waft of cold stone, with a touch of damp coming from somewhere, or maybe it’s just the ghostly manifestation of what stories must surely lie in this claustrophobia.
But is this an art exhibition?
Patient 4620 certainly seems to start that way. The headphones and MP3 player begin a guided tour of Sauerbrot’s works, the narrator introducing herself as one of the artist’s personal friends.
The art itself appears strong, framed by the darkness and close attention of the brick- and stone-work all around it. Themes and inspirations begin to appear: loneliness, secrecy, sadness, melancholy.
As the art tour and the narrative progresses, the paintings themselves becomes ever more fractured and loose, we are told by the voice in our heads that all was not going well for Sauerbrot at this point. “Have you ever ripped apart a human being, have you ever wanted to?” we’re asked.
The tour is soon over, the narrative ends, but there then comes a twist – one which threatens to relegate the Gretel Sauerbrot story to a mere children’s fairy tale.
Patient 4620 is a mood, a mood driven by the location and the atmosphere, even the smells and the creepy dustiness of having mortar crumble onto your head in passing under the low arches. But despite this, the theatrics don’t quite match up.
It starts well and is presented well enough. The story, the writing and the narration all tell of some sort of terror, but that background (along with the impressive physical setting) doesn’t actually quite deliver what it seemed to threaten to.
Patient 4620 is well made and is amusing enough, but at £20 for less than an hour it doesn’t quite eventually deliver the cold sweat that was suggested. A great concept and nicely presented, but slightly lacking in impact.