My Head is Disconnect: Exhibition Review

My Head is Disconnected by David Lynch at HOME mcr

Written by Harry Hunter

‘For me, living the art life meant a dedication to painting – a complete dedication to it, making everything else secondary’. – David Lynch in Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity

In the 1990s, David Lynch arrived in northern England on a hunt to photograph the factories and industrial wasteland that dominated the landscape of his debut film – the monochrome-shot Eraserhead. Lynch, however, was ultimately disappointed – citing the trip as depressing. ‘When I got there it was really too late. They were tearing down a smokestack a week and the old factories were disappearing, replaced by pathetic, corrugated metal buildings’. It seems ironic that given Lynch’s damning statement of gentrification, his first major UK exhibition, ‘My Head is Disconnected’, is currently housed in a city that is in a state of rapid hyper-development with a skyline dominated by cranes.

The City of Fire

Returning to the north once again over 20 years later in the seventh incarnation of Manchester International Festival, all aspects of Lynch’s oeuvre, from his filmography, books, music and experiences with transcendental meditation have taken over HOME, but it’s the collection of over 80 artworks dating from the late 1960s to the present day that for me is the real highlight of MIF – a rare opportunity to delve into the mind of one of America’s premier surrealists. Split into four chapters, ‘My Head is Disconnected’ begins with ‘City of Fire’ – an exploration of extreme, dystopian landscapes and how these environments affect the people that inhabit them. Fire is a prevalent image across all of Lynch’s work – from the burning match in the opening credits in ‘Wild at Heart’ to ‘Twin Peaks’’ Killer BOB, who leaves his mark – FIRE WALK WITH ME – written in blood.

Here, in ‘City of Fire’, Lynch’s large scale paintings feature a disturbing child-arsonist with freakishly large arms in ‘Boy Lights Fire’, a painting that incorporates real matches and flickering lightbulbs. We are also presented with apparent social commentary in ‘Bob Finds Himself in a World in Which He Has No Understanding’ (that could perhaps be interpreted as a criticism of the current political climate in both the UK and the United States). Again, Lynch seemingly criticises America’s lack of gun control as a feral-looking child apologises in a piece called ‘I Not Know Gun Was Loaded Sorry’. The mixed media paintings here are consistent in their childlike, loss of innocence tone – all using dirty earth tones that feature barren landscapes – save for bare trees skies.

Nothing Here

Moving out of the room where dreams give way to nightmares, we enter the second chapter, ‘Nothing Here’, which features the title piece, ‘My Head is Disconnected’. This painting is an exploration into the human psyche and the fragility of the mind as the painted figure’s camera-like head with a lens floats away. There is also Lynch’s play on words piece, ‘Bee Board’ (drawing from a ‘Ricky Board’), that consists of rows of identical dead insects that have each been given individual names such as Chuck, Bing, Ralph and Hank. Here, Lynch is seeking to draw multiple interpretations from his audience whilst also addressing the impossibility of coming to a shared conclusion. He even invites us to make our own ‘board’ by observing the rules of his poem:

Four rows of five
Your rickies come alive
Twenty is plenty. It isn’t tricky
Just name each ricky
Even though they’re all the same
The change comes from the name

The use of a poem to generate a response is Lynch’s method of inspiring creativity in the viewer as opposed to simply attaching an interpretation or meaning behind it. Across all of his work, Lynch refuses to share the true meaning behind his pieces and is more interested in the multiple interpretations and ideas that people can gauge through interaction.

Industrial Empire

In the third chapter of the exhibition, ‘Industrial Empire’ presents drawings on the theme of labour, industry and the environment, which is curated in a way to evoke Manchester’s architectural heritage. There are drawings here that seem to evoke past works as the mixed media piece, ‘Truck Carries Log’, brings images of the Packard Sawmill in Twin Peaks and the similar stylistic piece, ‘Factory Building’ recalls his Factory Photographs. For me, the most visually interesting section of the entire exhibition is Lynch’s Matchbox series, 27 drawings created in the early 1970s at a time when he had few resources and was working towards his first feature film – Eraserhead. These pencil, ballpoint and felt tip pen drawings portray Lynch’s vision in a microcosm form and almost appear Mancunian in their rainy, windswept settings. Within this space there is also an interlude that features a collection of Lynch’s expressive lamp light structures that illuminates Lynch’s longstanding fixation with electricity and flickering lightbulbs.

Bedtime Stories

The concluding chapter of the exhibition features Lynch’s newest works and presents a serial on the twisted adventures of Billy, Sally, Bob, Ricky and friends. Several of these pieces incorporate hair, bone, wax, chewing gum and cigarette ends to paint a distorted vision of American suburbia. In this dystopic, alternate reality, we learn that ‘Ricky Finds out He Has Shit for Brains’ in a dark-toned, part-collage work and where ‘Billy (and His Friends) Did Find Sally in the Tree’ in which the gang find her dangling, noose-looped under a barren tree. This chapter works to fold Lynch’s dark narratives and characters together in their own universe and typify his prolific five-decade career.

Like any true artist, Lynch is all at once divisive, difficult and disturbing and one of his particular tropes is to uncover the darkness in the otherwise healthy and light. Delving into Lynch’s filmography we can find small town, white picket fence America hiding the nightclub weirdness of Blue Velvet and in Mullholland Drive, we’re just a short nap away from nightmare and noir killers. Even in the ostensibly Straight Story, there’s roadkill, pregnant teenage runaways and shotgun blasts. Lynch is a great American artist who helps us to see beyond, deeper and further into our unconscious and to confront the weird and eerie head on. Here, at HOME however, the horror within his artwork is on full show albeit with a strand of wicked humour. For me, there is no development/progression in Lynch’s work as such but rather a grotesque weirdness that runs throughout, presenting ideals of the American Dream descending into something nightmarish.

‘My Head is Disconnected’ is on at Home mcr from 6th July – 21st September.

Our guest blogger is Harry Hunter, a Copywriter and Literature postgraduate based in Manchester. His writing focuses primarily on memory, hauntology and psychogeography and how these interrelate to forgotten places in the North West. Follow him on Instagram.

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