Comme De Garcons, Hannam-dong
5th November- 2nd January
Opening hours: Daily 11am- 8pm
David Lynch is well known as a multiple award winning, cooly quiffed figurehead of contemporary cinema. His films, such as Eraserhead, Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet, are renowned for their surrealistic, dark and downright disturbing (non) narratives. They variably deal with recurring themes of industry, deformity, the nonsensical and subconscious, death and the seedy underbelly of white picket fence suburbia. What’s lesser known is that he’s also a painter, sculptor and musician and that his initial forays into film making derived from a desire to see his paintings move. This unmissable exhibition, Darkened Room, at Gallery Six, curated by founder of Comme de Garcons and artist in her own right, Rei Kawakubo, gives platform to Lynch’s recent paintings and film shorts as well as early film shorts which display the organic flow of cryptic, psychological investigations and ideas which occur between the mediums of screen and canvas for him.
The seven paintings on display, (all 2009), are hung round an imposing floor to ceiling white column which decreases the size of the already narrow space. It demands the viewer confront the paintings in a claustrophobic setting, just as his cinematic works often force the viewer to witness distressing scenes in close proximity. Rei Kawakubo has omitted title cards from the exhibition, forcing the viewer straight into a personal narrative with the images of unsettling figures which loom out of dark backgrounds. They are abstract figures formed crudely in thick, cracked and visceral looking paint. The fact that they are deformed, lonesome figures, relate back to some of the well known characters in his films such as James Merrick, the Elephant Man, or the ‘baby’ in Eraserhead. Some figures are throwing up, an action that is repeated in some of the film shorts and can be read as an indication of internal darkness or an attempt to ex purge it. These figures appear to be trapped in a personal hell and cannot be determined as wholly bad because they cannot fully control of their dark desires, just as one cannot fully control bodily functions such as being sick.
Still from 'Darkened Room,' (2002)
The first of two sets of film shorts being screened during this show, is ‘Dynamic:01: The Best of DavidLynch.com.’ It comprises of seven recent short films, premiered on his website from 2002 and amalgamated on DVD format in 2009. The viewer is witness first to a lady babbling about bananas, then to a harrowing threat from one woman to another, in typical close proximity and seemingly unrelated narratives, in the exhibition’s namesake, ‘The Darkened Room,’ (2002). ‘The Boat,’ (2007) sees Lynch take a boat ride betwixt alternating dark and light realities, whilst the brooding ‘Industrial Soundscape,’ (2007) and ‘Intervalometer Experiments,’ (2007) relay Lynch’s interests in industry with a specific inspiration in sound, and technology, respectively. ‘Bug Crawls,’ (2007), is the only animation of these shorts, portraying a bug crawling over, then falling from a lone house with mechanical innards, in a barren dystopian landscape, set to another industrial soundscape. ‘Lamp’ (2007) takes a different direction and sees Lynch set to work in his studio, making a giant yellow lamp. The tedious nature of this short, I believe, is intended to test the viewer in a display of Lynchinian humour.
‘Out Yonder- Neighbour Boy,’ (2007), is a straight narrative which sees Lynch and his son cast as a pair of hillbilly types with a strange way of talking, including overuse of the phrase “be’s bein’.” They encounter a giant ‘neighbour boy’ in search of milk, whose cartoon-like, monstrous silhouette shadows the pair, as if one of the twisted figures from the paintings behind the makeshift cinema has come to life. It is bizarre, very funny, and Lynch’s standout piece from this set of film shorts.
'Six Men Getting Sick,' (1966)
Whilst familiar Lynchinian themes of alternate, dystopian realities and industry with dark, often humorous undertones can be detected in the first set of film shorts, it’s the second set that offer the viewer a real insight into Lynch’s natural transgression from painting to film. They are a chronological set of his first five film shorts, three of which contain animation and are literally moving paintings. In the animation, ‘Six Men Getting Sick,’ (1966), viewers are subject to a looped sequence of six crudely formed figures growing and then throwing up, set to the sound of a piercing siren. They closely resemble the painted spewing figures and the repeated sequence gives a similar sense of being trapped in a personal hell.
Still from 'The Alphabet,' (1968)
‘The Alphabet,’ (1968) is a mix of animation and live action with themes of childhood innocence and dark torment. A child repeats the alphabet as if possessed and not in control of her actions, also a feeling repeated in the paintings.
‘The Grandmother,’ (1970), is similarly dark. Figures grow out of messy, organic matter. A boy is subject to abusive parents, abuse being a common theme throughout Lynch’s feature length films, so ‘grows’ a Grandmother, who offers respite from the abuse until she dies. It has a ‘scratchy’, industrial aesthetic, found in ‘Six Men…’ and ‘The Alphabet,’ but fully realised in ‘Eraserhead.’
Still from, 'The Grandmother,' (1970)
A twisted kind of respite is given from the intense nature of the first three shorts, and the first hint of Lynch’s morbid humour shines through in ‘The Amputee,’ (1974). A female amputee patient attempts to write a letter whilst Lynch, in drag as a broad shouldered, female nurse tends her stumps. Lynch diligently sets to work, loudly snipping pieces of dead flesh from the wounds, as the camera remains trained on the scene. Again, viewers find themselves faced close up with a situation which is hand to mouth, eyes squeezed shut, nervous laughter inducing.
Still from, 'The Amputee,' (1974)
‘Lumiere,’ (1996), is a 57 second experiment on an original Lumiere camera, with a lovely ‘old’, jerky, grainy look to the series of harrowing images and an equally creepy soundtrack.
The exhibition sits superbly in the Comme de Garcons building, which is a confusing construction of long, sloping tunnels between different levels. A walk along tunnels give a surreal view of single garments of clothing at the end of them, for example, a magnificent pair of sparkling, silver, leopard print brogues!
‘Darkened Room’ is an absolute gem, even if you leave shuddering and giggling nervously at the same time. I think Lynch would most definitely take that as a compliment. Kawakubo has expertly curated the exhibition so that the viewer is physically involved in the feeling of unease and claustrophobia depicted in the paintings and shorts. It’s as if an invisible force grabs you by the back of the neck and thrusts you into the dark but thrilling world of demonic and tormented spewing souls created by Lynch to an equally unsettling soundtrack. It’s sure to challenge and delight and is thankfully peppered with some humour to take off the edge. I be’s a bein’ recommendin’ this exhibition to y’all!