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.
I learned that just beneath the surface there’s another world, and still different worlds as you dig deeper. – David Lynch
I was 11 when Twin Peaks 1990–91 first aired on Australian television and I instantly fell in love with the idea of a world hidden with deeper truths. I was gripped particularly by the mythology of The Black Lodge and the location of Glastonberry Grove, where a circle of Sycamore trees and a pool of scorched engine oil marked a gateway between this world and its darker counterpart. When I arrived in Los Angeles last summer to visit Lynch’s studio, I made an impromptu detour out to the shooting location for Glastonberry Grove. With screen captures from the series and Google map in hand, I lined up the surrounding trees and stood at the ingress 25 years later.
Now this might look like a strange bit of field research – which of course it is – but it also represents an enthusiasm that underscores my entire approach to curating this project. ‘Between Two Worlds’ wasn’t born of intellectual curiosity, but from a deep love of mysteries. It’s an exhibition about the transcendent power of the imagination and about an artist who loves a mystery, particularly one that leaves room to dream. Not surprisingly, the title comes from the poem Lynch wrote during the production of the Twin Peaks pilot that sums up the idea of crossing the limits of the ordinary world: ‘Through the darkness of future past / The magician longs to see / One chants out between two worlds / Fire walk with me’.
When I imagined this exhibition, it began with a sense that it might indeed be possible to traverse the limits of the natural world – to chant out between worlds to a place both familiar and strange. Upon entering the finished exhibition, audiences will get such a chance, encountering a small drawing from the mid-1970s that illustrates the threshold of a living room. The gallery space then opens up to reveal Untitled 2007, an extraordinary installation that recreates the drawing as a théatre décor, enabling viewers to literally walk in and through its limits.
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest during the 1950s, Lynch’s world seemed idyllic. It was what lay beneath the surface of that perfection that would consume him and form the basis of his artistic preoccupations. As Lynch describes:
My childhood was elegant homes, tree-lined streets, the milkman, building backyard forts, droning airplanes, blue skies, picket fences, green grass, cherry trees. Middle America as it’s supposed to be. But on the cherry tree there’s this pitch oozing out – some black, some yellow, and millions of red ants crawling all over it. I discovered that if one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath. Because I grew up in a perfect world, other things were a contrast.
It was in the city of Philadelphia that Lynch would confront those red ants. The city’s atmosphere of violence, corruption and sadness left an indelible impression and gave him a certain way of seeing the world differently. Lynch recalls, ‘The feeling was so close to extreme danger, and the fear was intense… I saw things that were frightening, but more than that, thrilling.’
Lynch’s practice took form at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts where he experimented with an expanded field of painting and sculpture. His desire to see a ‘moving painting’ encouraged him to experiment with proto-forms of animation and make Six Men Getting Sick 1967. This defining work saw Lynch make the leap from still to moving images, using a resin screen with sculptural reliefs as a surface, he projected hand-drawn sequences of vomiting, creating – an endless cycle of sickness accompanied by the sound of siren.
Lynch’s approach to painting reflects this prescient example of action and reaction, fast and slow, as well as the organic and visceral possibilities of the painterly surface that he found inspiring in the work Francis Bacon. For Lynch, everything begins with his love of painting, and it is this activity that best represents the creative continuum: ‘You could paint forever and never paint the perfect painting and fall in love with a new thing every week and there’s no end to it, your painting is never going to die.’
At the centre of ‘Between Two Worlds’ is the idea that wisdom is gained through knowledge and experience of combined opposites. For Lynch, ‘the world we live in is a world of opposites. And to reconcile those two opposing things is the trick.’ The exhibition in turn explores the expression of these dualities throughout his practice and the search for the balancing points between them.
Shifting between the macroscopic and microscopic, the physical and the psychic, the exhibition reveals many of Lynch’s enduring subjects: industry and organic phenomena, inner conflict and bodily trauma, the interplay of light and darkness, violence and grotesque humour, life’s absurdities, and the possibility of finding a deeper reality in our everyday experience. Ultimately, it reflects Lynch’s instinctive impulses to look beneath the surface of things, to not only find moments of beauty or horror, but to also uncover deeper truths — the mysteries and possibilities that ensure the ordinary is always something more.
Which brings me back to Twin Peaks and Agent Dale Cooper who perhaps knew best what we might just discover: ‘I have no idea where this will lead us. But I have a definite feeling it will be a place both wonderful and strange.
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