David Lynch Working Notes: There’s always music in the air

 
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Xiu Xiu / Photograph: Cara Robbins / Courtesy: the artists

In the lead up to the opening of David Lynch: Between Two Worlds on March 14, QAGOMA Senior Curator José Da Silva explores the process of developing the exhibition and its expanded program of events, screenings and performances.

Throughout his career, David Lynch has made expert use of sound and music, none more so than in the world of Twin Peaks 1991-92, where the Man from Another Place counsels: ‘there’s always music in the air.’ From the onset of developing this exhibition, Lynch’s solo and collaborative musical projects have been an essential part of my working process and an integral component of the exhibition experience. Indeed the description of Lynch’s song Pinky’s Dream (2007) has been something of an unofficial tag line for the project: ‘the horror and sadness of losing someone to other dimensions’.

One of my favourite music works in the exhibition is Sycamore Trees (1998) that featured in the series finale of Twin Peaks. Written by Angelo Badalmenti (music) and Lynch (lyrics) and featuring the late Jimmy Scott on vocals, the song was first released on the Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992) soundtrack, and its instrumental made available online through the Twin Peaks Archive (2011-12). Fansite Welcome to Twin Peaks sums up the perfect union created by Lynch here, suggesting: ‘The song on its own harnesses such a palpable mood, but to see it spotlighted in the final episode of the series is a great example of the alchemy that can happen when image and sound forge a very special reciprocal relationship.’

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Promotional poster for one of Lynch’s rare public performances as BlueBob with John Neff.

‘Between Two Worlds’ features a specially-designed music lounge presenting excerpts from Lynch’s solo recordings Crazy Clown Time (2011) and The Big Dream (2013), the acclaimed sound design for Eraserhead 1977 made with Alan Splet, the soundscape for his 2007 exhibition ‘The Air is on Fire’ created with Dean Hurley, as well as Lynch’s film soundtracks and collaborative recordings with Badalamenti, sound engineer and musician John Neff, Polish composer Marek Zebrowski, and Lynch’s muses Julee Cruise and Chrysta Bell. These playlists of music are accompanied by records, music videos and ephemera.

To get you in the mood, here is the current playlist of Lynch remixes I’m jogging to in the morning:

1. The Big Dream (Venetian Snares Remix) [from The Big Dream Remix EP, 2013]
2. I Know (Jon Hopkins Remix) [from Good Day Today / I Know, 2011]
3. Noah’s Ark (Moby Remix) [from Noah’s Ark (Moby Remix), 2012)
4. Good Day Today (Boy Noize Remix) [from Good Day Today / I Know, 2011]
5. Pinky’s Dream (Trentemøller Remix) [from Pinky’s Dream, 2012)
6. We Rolled Together (Yttling Jazz Remix) [from The Big Dream Remix EP, 2013]

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Xiu Xiu / Photograph: Cara Robbins / Courtesy: the artists

In developing ‘Between Two Worlds’, I also wanted to underscore the enduring influence of Lynch’s work on other musicians, which led to the commissioning of two special projects: a reimagining of the music of Twin Peaks by Xiu Xiu and a new work by HEXA responding to Lynch’s archive of factory photographs.

Led by Jamie Stewart, Angela Seo and Shayna Dunkelman, the music of Xiu Xiu eschews simple description. It’s a mix of post punk and synth pop, classical and experimental styles, full of brutality and emotional depth. For ‘Between Two Worlds’, Xiu Xiu aren’t simply recreating the music of Twin Peaks, but providing an entirely new interpretation, one emphasising its chaos and drama. As Stewart told me:

The music of Twin Peaks is everything that we aspire to as musicians and is everything that we want to listen to as music fans. It is romantic, it is terrifying, it is beautiful, it is unnervingly sexual. The idea of holding the ‘purity’ of the 1950’s up to the cold light of a violent moon and exposing the skull beneath the frozen, worried smile has been a stunning influence on us. There is no way that we can recreate Badalamenti and Lynch’s music as it was originally played. It is too perfect and we could never do its replication justice. Our attempt will be to play the parts of the songs as written, meaning, following the harmony melody but to arrange in the way that it has shaped us as players.

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Working lunch with Jamie Stewart at Papa Cristo’s Taverna, Los Angeles, July 2014

For those unfamiliar with Xiu Xiu’s extraordinary discography, here are my personal favourites to get you acquainted:

1. ‘Sad Redux-O-Grapher’ [from A Promise, 2003]
2. ‘Muppet Face’ [from La Forêt, 2005]
3. ‘Stupid in the Dark’ [from Angel Guts: Red Classroom, 2014]
4. ‘Suha’ [from Knife Play, 2002]
5. ‘Cute Pee Pee’ [from Dear God, I Hate Myself, 2010]
6. ‘I Love the Valley OH!’ [from Fabulous Muscle, 2004]
7. ‘Ian Curtis Wishlist’ [from A Promise, 2003]
8. ‘Bishop CA’ [from The Air Force, 2006]
9. ‘In Lust You Can Hear the Axe Fall’ [from Women as Lovers, 2008]
10. ‘The Oldness’ [from Always, 2012]

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HEXA / Courtesy: the artists

Stewart is also working with Brisbane-based sound engineer, curator and composer Lawrence English to present HEXA, a long overdue collaboration exploring the physicality of sound and its abilities to infiltrate and occupy the body. English is one my favourite local artists and his 2014 album Wilderness of Mirrors is one of the most gripping pieces of experimental music to be released in Australia.

English and Stewart are currently working on a new piece that responds to Lynch’s photographs of disused factories featured in the exhibition. Using Lynch’s factory photographs as both a literal and metaphoric source, HEXA’s performance will draw root from the texture of Lynch’s images, the imagined and actual spaces, and the spectral histories contained within them. English describes the effect as “cascading low frequency pulses and tectonic plates of sound, suspended in cavernous cathedral-like spaces.”

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The Air is on Fire (2007) / Courtesy: Sacred Bones Records

HEXA’s performance follows in the spirit of Lynch’s own industrial soundscapes that sit between musique concrète and sound design. Lynch and Hurley’s composition The Air is on Fire accompanies the immersive installation Untitled (2007) and uses a range of sounds and samples, that Hurley describes as ‘brief phrases of machines working,’ ‘characteristic winds,’ ‘punch-presses pitched down,’ ‘train mechanisms and large steel factory samples,’ and ‘metal structures that were welded together’.

Xiu Xiu plays the music of Twin Peaks
7.00pm Friday 17 and Saturday 18 April 2015
Cinema A, GOMA

HEXA – Factory Photographs
6.00pm Sunday 19 April 2015
Cinema A, GOMA

David Lynch: Between Two Worlds

The publication David Lynch: Between Two Worlds includes over 200 images illustrating Lynch’s wide-ranging oeuvre — drawing, painting, printmaking, photography, mixed media, film and video — and an engaging interview with the artist, conducted by exhibition curator José Da Silva, Senior Curator, Australian Cinémathèque

David Lynch Working Notes: A place both wonderful and strange

Your Nostalgia is Killing Me!

 
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Fig Trees is an experimental opera about the struggles of activists Tim McCaskell and Zackie Achmat, as they fight for access to HIV drugs for all.

Presented in the lead up to World AIDS Day on 1 December is ‘Your Nostalgia is Killing Me!’, a program of contemporary film and video that reflects on AIDS cultural activism.

‘Your Nostalgia is Killing Me!’ marks three decades of artistic responses to HIV/AIDS, and highlights the intersection of art and activism in film and video relating to the epidemic. It brings together works that illustrate some of the critical positions linked with AIDS cultural activism — from the documentation of individual and collective trauma during the late 1980s and early 1990s, to rethinking issues of memory and representation in the contemporary setting.

The program takes place at an important moment in terms of AIDS visibility and cultural production. Since the mid-1990s, HIV has been recognised as a manageable illness, a shift in understanding that has been linked to a decline in the production of works dealing with the present-day experience of people living with HIV. Yet at the same time a form of nostalgia has led to a renewed recognition of AIDS in contemporary media, with the success of biographical films and documentaries revisiting the early days of the epidemic and the origins of the AIDS activist movement in the United States.

The program’s title is borrowed from the poster/VIRUS project by Canadian artist Vincent Chevalier and activist–academic Ian Bradley-Perrin, which asks us to rethink the cultural responses that have been canonised as part of the AIDS narrative. As writer Ted Kerr has described, the poster was an articulation that “their current life chances as people living with HIV were being reduced by a focus on AIDS of the past. The stigma, health, and social realities that they experience were being ignored in lieu of a look back.” Chevalier and Bradley-Perrin’s phrase is used here to incite a rethinking of the visual character of AIDS more generally, shifting the emphasis from gay men’s healthcare in the northern hemisphere to other histories and conversations taking place throughout the global south, where artists and filmmakers are responding to local issues of stigma, visibility and medical treatment.

‘Your Nostalgia is Killing Me!’ screens at GOMA until 1 December 2014. It is presented in the lead up to World AIDS Day and is accompanied by introductions and talks with artists and filmmakers.

The Gallery’s Australian Cinémathèque acknowledges all the filmmakers, estates, archives and distributors who have generously provided screening materials for this program.

Derek Jarman’s Cinema Of Small Gestures

 
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Portrait of Derek Jarman / Photograph: Steve Pyke / Image courtesy: British Film Institute

Opening this week is the landmark film program ‘The Last of England: Thatcherism and British Cinema’. The free program begins with a special 20th anniversary retrospective of films by the acclaimed artist and filmmaker Derek Jarman. This major survey of British cinema continues at the Gallery’s Australian Cinémathèque, GOMA until the 25 June 2014.

We are all accomplices in the dream world of soul; it is not just personal, it’s general, we make these connections all the time. As Heraclitus said: ‘Those who dream are co-authors of what happens in the world’. Derek Jarman, Kicking The Pricks, 1996:108

Derek Jarman (1942–1994) is Britain’s most singular director and one of the most compelling artists to explore the moving image. In his short but expansive career, he completed 11 feature films that eschew conventional narrative and more than 60 Super-8 and 16mm montage films. His cinema tackled subjects of sexuality, history and politics without compromise and considered the creative process itself with a deeply affecting sensibility. In addition to his work in theatre and cinema, Jarman maintained his practice as a painter, wrote a series of memoirs and diaries, made music videos and was a passionate gardener. Twenty years after his death from AIDS-related conditions, his films, writing and paintings constitute more than ever, a vital statement against cultural conservatism and the will to be a self-determining artist.

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Production still from The Last of England 1988 / Director: Derek Jarman / Image courtesy: British Film Institute, Hollywood Classics

Jarman studied painting at Kings College London and at the Slade School of Art and saw filmmaking as another form of painting. He applied his skills and interest in theatre and architecture to his role as production designer for Ken Russell’s films The Devils 1971 and Savage Messiah 1972, as well the Royal Ballet’s production of Jazz Calendar 1968. These experiences alongside his interaction with London’s gay social milieu gave him the confidence to begin developing his own projects and some of the first truly independent British features. While his filmography attests to a strong personal vision, Jarman also valued the collaborative process over individual control. Throughout his career he worked with a key group of creative collaborators, including producer James Mackay, actress Tilda Swinton, production designer Christopher Hobbs, composer Simon Fischer Turner and costume designer Sandy Powell.

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Production still from Caravaggio1986 / Director: Derek Jarman / Image courtesy: British Film Institute, Hanway Films

Working with limited resources from the late 1970s to early 1990s, Jarman developed a unique cinematographic practice that turned those restraints into a signature aesthetic – what he conceived as ‘a cinema of small gestures’. Jarman enjoyed the autonomy and portability of shooting with his Nizo 480 and Beaulieu Super-8 cameras and filmed at 3-6 frames per second (as opposed to the usual range of 16-24) to extend the duration of film stock. This made for a more economical shooting process as well as developing a visual language similar to stop-motion photography, wherein images appear suspended in time or flicker beyond comprehension. Jarman experimented with different approaches to re-filming the fragile Super-8 stock and with the aid of U-matic recording technology, developed film/video hybrids that celebrated a new vocabulary of ‘magic realism’ created with the effects of video compositing/superimpositions and editing, saturated colours, and an emphasis on the material quality of film and video stock.

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Production still from Blue 1993 / Director: Derek Jarman / Image courtesy: Basilisk Communications

After publically disclosing his status as HIV-positive in 1986, Jarman worked under the spectre of death, writing and directing with urgency. His work took on a political dimension, aimed at tackling the cultural reversals occurring in British society under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government. While he would refer to himself as ‘small-c conservative’, desiring the age of Shakespeare to escape the plight of England, his strident politics were always on show and his artistic vision was nothing short of revolutionary. Jarman’s storytelling was anachronistic, connecting the historical and contemporary through costuming, staging and dialogue, and throughout his career he sought to connect aspects of his personal history with public history. Music journalist Jon Savage has commented that Jarman’s subversive statements about British society ‘gave both his life and work a sharpened focus’ and made him ‘a standard for those who every fibre revolted against the power politics of the early to mid-1980s.’

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Production still from Edward II / Director: Derek Jarman / Image courtesy: British Film Institute, The Works International

Never one to allow his personal and public life to diverge, Jarman was one of the few openly Queer filmmakers during his lifetime and was unapologetic about his quest to represent homosexuality onscreen. Taking cues from filmmakers Pier Paolo Pasolini and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, his films are dominated by stories of exiles and outsiders – from Saint Sebastian to William Shakespeare, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, Benjamin Britten, Wilfred Owen, Christopher Marlow and Ludwig Wittgenstein. Jarman’s project was to re-mythologise the importance of these homosexual artists, writers and intellectuals within cultural history and make visible through his work a strong Queer sensibility within the history of British art and film.  Driven by the knowledge that his time was limited, Jarman was also an outspoken activist and used his life and work to negate the stigma associated with living with HIV and rally against the threat of Section 28, the 1988 British law introduced by Thatcher’s government that legislated against the promotion of homosexuality. He died of bronchial pneumonia shortly after his 52nd birthday on February 19, 1994. Jarman’s parting words in his last memoir At Your Own Risk: A Saint’s Testament (1993) read:

I am tired tonight. My eyes are out of focus, my body droops under the weight of the day, but as I leave you Queer lads let me leave you singing. I had to write of sad time as a witness ― not to cloud your smiles ― please read the cares of the world that I have locked in these pages; and after, put this book aside and love. May you of a better future, love without care and remember we loved too. As the shadows closed in, the stars came out. I am in love.

Earth and Elsewhere

 
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Patricio Guzmán, Chile b.1941 | Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light) 2010 | HD Video, colour, Dolby Digital, 90 minutes, Chile, Spanish/English (English subtitles) | Courtesy: the artist and Icarus Films, New York

Drawing together works from the Gallery’s contemporary collections, ‘Earth and Elsewhere’ features artists whose works frame the past and help shape our understanding of the delicate and often paradoxical synapses between memory and history, empathy and reception. The exhibition tracks a path across the planet’s surface and atmosphere, mapping an interpretation of the human condition through a series of poetic and philosophical associations. From fissures in memory, to structures of interpersonal relations, and the in-between spaces that have the capacity to transport us from here to elsewhere, the exhibition is presented in three interconnected constellations of works — ‘The cracked earth’, ‘Personal cosmologies’ and ‘Farewell to the sea’ — that begin on the ground before taking to the stars.

The exhibition was inspired by Patricio Guzmán’s poetic film essay Nostalgia de la luz (Nostalgia for the Light) 2010, which positions memory as central to understanding the human condition. Set in Chile’s Atacama Desert, the film features three interconnected searches into the past: astronomers study distant stars and solar systems located billions of years ago; archaeologists exhume and study carefully preserved human remains and artefacts; and a group of women search for Chile’s desaparecidos ― loved ones assassinated during Augusto Pinochet’s 17-year military dictatorship whose bodies are believed to have been scattered in the desert. Nostalgia de la luz unites these different attempts to connect with the past by balancing that which defines one’s personal experience of the world with the larger narrative of how and why we remember.

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Harun Farocki, Czech Republic/Germany b.1944 | Übertragung (Transmission) 2007 | HD video transferred to Digital Betacam, colour, stereo, 43 minutes | Purchased 2011. John Darnell Bequest | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © The artist

Like Guzmán’s film, ‘Earth and Elsewhere’ asks why we are drawn to, and grounded by, acts of remembrance. This question is connected to the creation and reception of art itself, conjoining the processes of retaining and reviving impressions of the past with the motivations for making physical that which cannot be reconciled by memory alone. Art becomes a site in which the experience of memory is given primacy, and to borrow Guzmán’s expression, embodied as a ‘fragile present moment’ when he ends Nostalgia de la luz with the suggestion: ‘Those who have a memory are able to live in the fragile present moment. Those who have none don’t live anywhere’.

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Simryn Gill, Malaysia b.1959 | Dalam 2001 | Type C photograph on paper | The Kenneth and Yasuko Myer Collection of Contemporary Asian Art. Purchased 2003 with funds from The Myer Foundation, a project of the Sidney Myer Centenary Celebration 1899–1999, through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © The artist

‘The cracked earth’ brings together works that make symbolic connections between bodies and landforms, revealing the imprint of lived experience and the complexities of returning to a past which is now beyond our grasp. Some artists excavate individual and collective trauma by showing the earth broken and damaged, while others summon spectres from the past to make visible the gaps in social and political histories. The body’s material presence is given primacy in works that record its imprint and allegorise the fragility of land with the bodies that inhabit it. ‘Personal cosmologies’ examines the larger world of emotions constructed through personal exchange, confession and participation, with artists’ structures and archives recovering lost pasts or imagining repositories for individual and collective memories. Other works in this section encourage activities in the gallery space that make empathy the subject of art itself. ‘Farewell to the sea’ considers the vastness of the earth’s liminal spaces: the sea and the sky are recurring characters in the final section, as are metaphors for the dissolving of physical and psychic boundaries and the infinite possibilities offered by abstraction.

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Dadang Christanto, Indonesia b.1957 | For those: Who are poor, Who are suffer(ing), Who are oppressed, Who are voiceless, Who are powerless, Who are burdened, Who are victims of violence, Who are victims of a dupe, Who are victims of injustice 1993 | Bamboo, cane, 37 pieces of varying lengths | The Kenneth and Yasuko Myer Collection of Contemporary Asian Art. Purchased 1993 with funds from The Myer Foundation and Michael Sidney Myer through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © The artist

‘Earth and Elsewhere’ stresses the importance of the past ― indeed, that we have no future without the past ― and highlights our collective desires to seek objects and images that connect us with it. The exhibition queries what binds these questions of personal and social desire to bigger ideas about our place in history and the universe. From the experiences of trauma seen on the ground, the exhibition ends by looking outward, above and beyond, as an alternative means of understanding and reconciling our relationships with the past, present and future. For, as Guzmán urges, “the matter of our bodies is the matter of the stars. We belong to the Milky Way – that’s our home, not just the Earth.”

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Segar Passi, Meriam Mir people, Australia b.1942 | Kerkar meb 1 2011 | Synthetic polymer paint on paper | Purchased 2011 with funds from Anne Best through the Queensland Art Gallery Foundation | Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | © The artist

The exhibition also features work by Sadie Benning (USA), Latifa Echakhch (Morocco/France), Tracey Emin (England), Guan Wei (China/Australia), Emily Jacir (Palestine/United States), Anish Kapoor (England), William Kentridge (South Africa), Dinh Q Le (Vietnam), Lee Mingwei (Taiwan/USA), Jose Legaspi (The Philippines), Jorge Mendez Blake (Mexico), Rivane Neuenschwander (Brazil), Henrique Oliveira (Brazil), Mitra Tabrizian (Iran/England), Chandraguptha Thenuwara (Sri Lanka), Judy Watson (Waanyi people, Australia), Sharif Waked (Palestine) and others.

Earth and Elsewhere: Works from the Contemporary Collection’ opens at GOMA on Saturday 25 May with a curatorial talk and a welcoming performance by artist Dadang Christanto in relation to his work, For those: Who are poor, Who are suffer(ing), Who are oppressed, Who are voiceless, Who are powerless, Who are burdened, Who are victims of violence, Who are victims of a dupe, Who are victims of injustice [pictured] 1993.