Elevate Difference

The Air is on Fire, David Lynch (9/24/2010)

Copenhagen, Denmark

A couple of years ago, David Lynch spoke at my graduate school. At one of the top communication colleges in the country, he refused to take media questions and would only talk about transcendental meditation. Flanked by men in suits who sat in high-backed chairs behind him on the stage, Lynch urged us each to dive into the reflecting pool of our soul. One woman stood at a mic in the auditorium aisle and said, “I meditate, and I understand your films.”

It seems like every encounter with the artist is like this: mildly amusing, somewhat bewildering, and much more surreal than one ever anticipates, even if you know the ground rules going in. Speaking to a crowd of assembled journalists and photographers at Copenhagen’s Gl. Strand in late September, Lynch spoke of the distinctive nature of the elements for which his showcase is named. “Air is very beautiful. When it moves, it makes a sound called wind. Fire: what a magical thing fire is... It’s always changing. It makes heat. It’s so incredible; it makes you dream, and it’s so different than water. Water is such an incredible thing. Fish go in it, you can drink it, and it’s wet.”

Before he became a film director best known for Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, and Mulholland Drive, Lynch studied expressionist painting at the Pennsylvania Academia of Fine Arts in Philadelphia and the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. Not unlike his films, his work in other mediums is loosely tied to unsettling themes such as sexualized violence and insect infestation.

For his second exhibition showing, following a debut showcase of the same name in Paris, the newly renovated Danish contemporary art museum turned three floors into a Lynchian gallery of paintings, lithographs, short films, and sketches on scraps of paper, from the 1960s to present. Entire binders of his work had been disassembled and displayed on glass wall cases. With heavy bass sound installation throughout, the entire experience was not unlike an episode of Twin Peaks, with spookily dramatic, vibrating music causing an uneasy sense of dread that might nevertheless turn out to be for nothing. Indeed, among the sketches displayed as a drawing of the infamous Twin Peaks fish on the cover of the show’s first screenplay.

Lynch’s non-filmic artistic work displayed in The Air is on Fire exhibition proved to be as memorable as his directorial features. Many of his painting featured guns and vaginas and often had literal titles: “This Man Was Shot Seconds Ago,” “Rock with Seven Eyes,” “Insect Bites Woman.” One entire room was filled with untitled prints. Complex architectural drawings were just as likely to have phone numbers scrawled in the margins as they were to be on stationary from The Claremont Resort, Hotel and Tennis Club. Several sculptures like “Component #3 for Night Fishing,” were made in Copenhagen, specifically for the Gl. Strand exhibition.

Exiting through the back, an enormous story-high neon sign of the artist’s name—of which I’d seen a drawing inside—hit me in the face with its purple glow. As I unlocked my bike and headed home, I thought about the magical nature of the wind that made it difficult to peddle.

The Air is on Fire runs through January 16, 2011.

Written by: Brittany Shoot, October 12th 2010