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Archive for April 26th, 2018

by Duane Porter

Art is art regardless of where you find it, in an art gallery or in the street, in a theater or on television. Art does not have to be didactic, edifying, decorative, or entertaining. As Marcel Duchamp demonstrated over a century ago, it doesn’t have to be anything at all. Embracing this uncertainty, it’s possible to think of art as research, inquiry into the unknown and perhaps the unknowable. It is also possible to think of looking at art as research. Looking can be an end in itself and a means to an end. Looking thus becomes a dynamic synthesis of perception and consciousness. Being aware of perception and conscious of consciousness, transcending the day-to-day habit of only seeing what we expect to see, an encounter with art can be an encounter with illumination. Illumination, an emergent property of the act of looking, serves self-knowledge enabling one to construct a more comprehensive worldview and with it, a more meaningful life.

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1. Twin Peaks: The Return directed by David Lynch

01_Twin Peaks

FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) is careening through the space-time continuum. A vertiginous freefall as depicted in Scotty’s nightmare in Vertigo (1958). Cooper’s face blurred and shaken fills the screen accompanied by a violent whooshing sound. The light from a myriad of stars streaks through the void. A roiling cloud forms amid violet-colored vapors. Cooper passes through and lands in a heap on the balcony of a massive metal structure rising out of a purple-tinted sea. Hearing the sound of the waves, feeling lost and confused, he stands and looks out over this never-ending otherworldly ocean. Looking around, there is a window he is able to enter. The inside vibrates with a dense electronic hum broken by random glitches, zszczch! A woman with no eyes (Nae Yuuki) wearing a red velvet dress is sitting on a couch in front of a fireplace. She turns toward him and nods. The room reverberates strangely as if time is stuttering, zszczch, zszczch! Everything seems to be moving forward and backward at the same time. He reaches out and takes the hand of the woman, he hears music and looks around the room. He asks, “Where is this? Where are we?” She pulls him down beside her, running her hands up his sleeves, she begins to feel his face. She tries to speak but is unable to form words. He is startled by a loud banging. She shushes him, putting a finger to her lips. The banging continues, the walls shake. She becomes frantic. The banging is deafening. She leads him away through a door to a small room with a ladder. They go up the ladder, pass through a trap door, and step onto the top of a metal box floating in space, stars twinkling all around them. He sees a bell-shaped structure there equipped with pressure guages and a lever. The banging continues. The woman tries to tell Cooper something but he is unable to understand her. Sidling close to the edge, she reaches for the lever and pulls it down. Electricity crackles and runs through her body. She is shaken and thrown into space. Cooper reaches for her but can only watch helplessly as she disappears. The banging has stopped. He goes back inside. Another woman (Phoebe Augustine) in a red dress sits before the fire. He begins to move toward the woman, she turns her head to look at him and then checks her watch. A lamp switches on next to an electric panel set in the wall. Moving closer to the panel he feels an electrical force field and hesitates. The woman tells him, “When you get there you will already be there.” The banging begins again. The woman says, “You’d better hurry, my mother’s coming.” The electric panel has a large outlet at it’s center. As Cooper moves closer, he appears to dematerialize and is drawn into the outlet, all except for his shoes which fall to the floor.

July 16, 1945, White Sands, New Mexico, 5:29 AM (MWT) a countdown begins, 10, 9 . . .3, 2, 1. The discordant strains of Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima (1960) accompany a blindingly bright flash of light that obliterates the landscape. An ominous cloud shaped like a mushroom grows up from the desert floor. Great clouds of dust and debris ride the radiating shock-wave. The shrieking screaming of the Threnody builds as inside the growing mushroom swirling vapors of black and white intertwine. Fiery flashes give way to chaotic particles dancing in darkness. The Threnody becomes a droning as the particles begin to swarm like a plague of locusts. Momentarily resuming their dance, the particles increase to a frantic infinitude of bright dots and streaks resembling a film by Brakhage. As the Threnody reaches a crescendo billowing whorls of fire coalesce into explosians of color, red, green, blue, violet and yellow. Then, out of black and white clouds, appears a convenience store with two gas pumps out front. In the darkness, a steamy vapor rises amid sputtering dimensional glitches of static and bright flashes of light inside the store. A group of men converge in front of the store and seem to be pacing about in random patterns as the static and bright flashes continue. They gather inside as the flashes of light intensify and the store and the ground it sits on begin to disruptively shake. All grows dark and a calmness descends. A figure (Erica Eynon) in the darkness spews from its mouth a stream of foam and bubbles looking much like a latex sculpture by Eva Hesse. From within this gooey fecund mass a black bubble comes to the surface containing BOB (Frank Silva), the embodiment of evil let loose in the world by the deeds of men. The Threnody bursts forth again as a conflagration of fire and dark energy erupts with fiery explosions. From the heart of this inferno comes forth a golden seed, closer and closer, until it fills the entire screen. On the strains of the Threnody, a vision of hurtling through the space-time continuum recalls the stargate sequence in Kubrick’s 2001 (1968), coming again to a vast purple sea, the sound of wind and waves all around, a modernist castle, like something out of the films of Fritz Lang, rests atop a towering pinnacle of rock. Inside, a woman named Dido (Joy Nash) sits listening to a gramophone. A very tall gaunt-looking man (Carel Struycken) slowly climbs a carpeted stairway and enters into a large auditorium that contains a movie screen but no seats. On the screen, he is shown the events that led up to the birth of BOB. With an expression of disquiet on his face, he floats toward the ceiling. Dido comes into the room and watches in wonder as a stream of golden particles issue from the top of his head forming a cloud out of which a golden orb floats down into Dido’s reaching hands. Looking into the orb, she sees the angelic face of Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), she kisses it and sends it out into the world.

It’s nightfall as Agent Cooper and Carrie Page (Sheryl Lee) pull out of Odessa. The headlights probing into the darkness illuminate the white lines of the lost highway. Two lights appear in the rear window and seem to hover there. Sensing dread, Carrie turns her head and looks back. The lights continue to hover there. After a few long minutes, Carrie looks back again, anxiety showing in her face. Cooper glances in the rearview mirror but keeps his attention on the road ahead. Carrie looks back a third time and asks, “Is someone following us?” Cooper looks in the rearview mirror again but says nothing. Time passes slowly until, at last, the lights overtake them and a car passes and moves on ahead. Carrie, breathing a sigh of relief, leans back in her seat and closes her eyes. On and on they drive, the white lines flashing by in the dark induce a sense of interdimensional uncertainty. Crossing a bridge, they pull into Twin Peaks. It is late at night, everything is closed and no one is out on the street. Driving through town, Cooper looks over at Carrie and asks, “Do you recognize anything?” He parks across the street in front of the Palmer house and shuts off the engine. “Do you recognize that house?” She says, “no.” He takes her by the hand and leads her up to the front door. He asks for Sarah Palmer but the people living in the house know no one by that name. Cooper and Carrie walk slowly toward their car. Stopping in the middle of the street, they both turn around and look back at the house. Cooper, looking for a clue and straining to understand asks himself, “What year is this?” Carrie looks up at the house again, recognition gradually seeping into her consciousness, she faintly hears someone call out, “Laura!” Suddenly she is overcome by a shattering hysteria, erupting in shrieking anguish. The lights on the street glitch and splutter, zszczch! zszczch! and all goes dark.

A memory of something I once heard long ago comes into my head, “. . . the feeling of something half remembered . . . the face in the misty light, footsteps that you hear down the hall, the laugh that floats on a summer night . . . that was Laura but she’s only a dream.”

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David Lynch is in his studio working on a painting, the paint is thickly textured on the canvas. The image is dark, almost black. Putting his brush aside, he sits back in his chair, lights a cigarette, a cloud of smoke gathering above his head, and he looks at the painting. There is a suggestion of a figure in the darkness, blurry and indistinct, an organic body inhabiting a physical space, reminiscent of the distressed bodies in the paintings of Francis Bacon. Looking at the painting he begins to wonder what it might be like if the wind were blowing through it. Dreamlike the images on the canvas begin to move swaying to and fro reflecting the uncertainty of the physical world. Attempting to grasp an image rising from perceptions passing through the nervous system into consciousness, he picks up the brush and begins moving the paint, his gestural brushstrokes leave tracks on the thick impasto surface, pressing harder he uses his fingers to manipulate the textures and spaces, openly experimenting to see what happens, where it will go. Lynch explains, “The more you throw black into a colour, the more dreamy it gets. . . Black is depth. It’s like a little egress; you can go into it, and because it keeps on continuing to be dark, the mind kicks in, and a lot of things that are going on in there become manifest. And you start seeing what you’re afraid of. You start seeing what you love, and it becomes like a dream.” In the years since Inland Empire (2006), his paintings have admitted more color and light while continuing to look into a resolute darkness. His art is one of philosophical and personal inquiry using language, light, motion, sound, and texture to explore the ungraspable nature of reality. For years, he has practiced a systematic meditation seeking a sort of hyperconsciousness, working toward a connection with the universal consciousness of ultimate reality. In his view, it is for this that we exist.

During the late 1960s David Lynch was an art student at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) in Philadelphia. It was here, David Lynch: the Unified Field, 2014, the first major U.S. exhibition of his artworks was held. An extensive retrospective selection of paintings, assemblage, photography, and graphic works, as well as the multi-media Six Men Getting Sick (1967). Also included were several of his early short films that were made in Philadelphia. Less than two miles away from the Academy, in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Marcel Duchamp’s Étant donnés: 1. La chute d’eau, 2. Le gaz d’éclairage (1946-66) can be found. In a half-lit alcove there is a door made of ancient darkened rough-hewn wood set into an arched brick border, many visitors pass it by with only a cursory glance, but behind the door is a room-size diorama, a scene of pastoral eroticism rendered with a disturbingly provocative naturalism, a hole in a brick wall reveals the life-size figure of a nude woman lying on a bed of twigs holding in her upraised arm a gas lamp that illuminates a scenic landscape containing a running waterfall. Stepping up close to the door and pressing one’s eyes to a pair of peepholes, the disconcerted viewer has become the voyeur. The Philadelphia Museum holds the largest collection of Duchamp’s work to be found anywhere and the spirit of Dada and Surrealism pervades the cultural atmosphere of the city. Even though David Lynch claims to not have been much of a museum goer, he was much affected by the time he spent in Philadelphia. Twin Peaks: The Return can be seen as an extension of his greater body of work referencing the early films, The Grandmother (1970) and Eraserhead (1977), many of the paintings and drawings such as Woman with Screaming Head (1968), So This is Love (1992), and Pete Goes to His Girlfriend’s House (2009), as well as the feature films Lost Highway (1997) and Mulholland Dr. (2001). If the value of art, and I believe it is, is to alter consciousness, to allow us to see the world differently than we saw it before, then David Lynch is indeed one of the major artists of our time.

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2. On the Beach at Night Alone directed by Hong Sangsoo

02_On a Beach at Night Alone Kim Min-hee

Younghee (Kim Minhee) visiting her friend, Jeeyoung (Seo Younghwa), in Hamburg, sits on the living room sofa amusing herself with a small electric keyboard on her lap. Clear soft light from a window brightens a bouquet of purple flowers standing in a jar on a low table at her feet. Going out, Younghee and Jeeyoung walk under an overpass as a train goes by overhead. Looking up, a large leafless tree is silhouetted against the overcast sky. Walking side by side with hands in coatpockets through the green expanse of the city park, they pass others, a boy on a bicycle, a woman with a stroller, someone has a large black dog. A man in a dark coat and knit cap stops them to ask the time, they look at each other and don’t answer, he goes on. Across the park stands the Hamburg Planetarium with its domed rooftop symmetrically framed by a grove of trees to each side. Jeeyoung walks by with Younghee a few steps behind her, figures passing through the frame. Approaching a small footbridge with slightly arched mossy wood railings, Jeeyoung proceeds directly across but Younghee hesitates. She stops, Jeeyoung looks back at her but continues on across, stopping to look back again from the other side. As Schubert’s String Quintet in C Major fills the air, Younghee falls to her knees and bows down, her head nearly touching the ground. Jeeyoung stands and waits, turns away and looks at the ground. A few moments pass, Younghee rises and walks across the bridge. (more…)

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