"I discovered that if one looks a little closer at this beautiful world, there are always red ants underneath." – David Lynch
It's David Lynch's first time in Australia. Ever. And from the rapturous greeting he received from the sold-out crowd at the Queensland Gallery of Modern Art, he couldn't have come soon enough.
If you've seen any of his works — from his incredible debut Eraserhead to the all-time classic Blue Velvet, the groundbreaking TV series Twin Peaks or the terrifying and beautiful Mulholland Drive — you could make the very easy mistake of thinking he himself is an intangible, dreamlike artist who lives in the moment and never deals in specifics. It's tempting to assume that, because it's difficult to accept that a human brain could create the images that Lynch has, moments that elicit an existential terror only hinted at in, say, the works of HP Lovecraft.
And yet, the opposite is true.
In front of the crowd on Saturday 14 March 2015, he discusses the making of his films and the behind-the-scenes stories in minute detail, shutting his eyes as if he is being transported back there. Every moment is remembered. He is exacting and precise.
Moderator David Stratton keeps things moving along, but rarely digs deeper than "What was it like to make this film?" His desire to namecheck every film Lynch has worked on means there's really only time for one question per project, and most answers are necessarily perfunctory. The talk is only one hour long, so there's not really time for a proper career autopsy, but it would have been nice for Stratton to have dug a bit deeper. Lynch is reluctant to give anything away; he's a big believer in the death of the author, and maintains that everything you need to understand his work is contained within the work itself. Perhaps the questions could have been designed accordingly.
Lynch is, somewhat inevitably, asked about the reboot of Twin Peaks that has basically been confirmed, and Lynch keeps his cards close to his chest, suggesting that the contracts haven't been signed yet and the show's return is still up in the air. It seems a lot like a tactic to deflect any further questions.
As we exit the auditorium, Brisbane film critic Sarah Ward predicts it'll only be a few minutes before the internet explodes with " Twin Peaks reboot not happening says David Lynch!" panic pieces.
A contingent of film critics from around Australia converge on a nearby pub. We've not finished the first round before someone holds up their phone to show an article from Pedestrian.tv with the dangling modifier-heavy headline: "David Lynch says Twin Peaks reboot might not go ahead at talk in Brisbane." I won't bother linking to it.
The internet only exists in binary states. Things are good or bad. Project are definitely happening or definitely not happening. There's rarely room for nuance.
Fittingly, this exhibition of David Lynch's works is called Between Two Worlds. The line is taken from a poem Lynch wrote during the filming of the Twin Peaks pilot, and one that appears throughout the series. It is the perfect description for the themes contained in Lynch's works: he is fascinated with duality and doubles – people and places that exist on the extremes that so fascinate netizen hacks – but places his work firmly in between them. His films and works exist in the disconcerting centre, a place that helps to draw out the intense unease so wonderfully suffered by the audience.
David Lynch has left Brisbane, but the exhibition (brilliantly curated by José Da Silva) remains, and will do until June. Those even mildly fond of Lynch must go. I knew Lynch was an accomplished photographer and artist, but the sheer scope of his output in terms of quality and quantity is remarkable. This isn't an ego trip, like when a movie star suddenly decides they want to write a book or direct a film: Lynch's accomplishments as a painter and photographer are equal to those as a filmmaker.
A small thumbnail picture of Lynch's greets you when you enter the exhibition. Two feet on, the room from the picture is recreated in exacting, warped detail. Entering that room takes you through to the exhibition.
He told Stratton that he was equally obsessed with the nude form and with old factories. Proof comes in the exhibition and his 2007 picture "Factory at Night with Nude".
A row of frames captures tiny drawings he made on matchbooks over the years, and a row of framed pictures depict the doodles he did on napkins at Bob's Big Boy restaurant in Los Angeles. It sounds like the usually-best-ignored bottom drawer, but in reality it's carefully curated and enthralling.
His horror is captured in paintings with the petrifying "Somethingone is in my house"; his dark humour is present in the form of a model airplane-inspired chicken construction set. The painting "Bob sees himself walking toward a formidable abstraction" is a masterful piece that contains all the horror and mundanity and duality and complexity of Lynch's films. There were a number of pieces that stunned me, but this was my favourite.
There are screening rooms playing selections of his short films, and some are on display in the main walkthrough. Towards the end of the exhibition, you can put on headphones to hear selections from various albums, including soundtracks to his films and Lynch's own work "The Air Is On Fire". A young boy beside me puts the headphones on and begins humming what sounds like a tuneful kindergarten song; it doesn't sound anything like Lynch. I put the other set of headphones on to see what he's listening to: it's ambient, electric, typically-unsettling Lynchian soundscapes. The boy moves across to the Eraserhead listening post, puts on the headphones for that album, and again hums a melodious, tuneful song. I don't want to be suckered a second time, but I can't help it: I pick up the other headphones, and discover the kid was again playing his own tune. I put down the headphones, and the kid has disappeared. I'm convinced he's part of the exhibition, an otherworldly spirit there to mess with our perceptions.
There's a shop at the end filled with books on Lynch, branded notepads and pencils, t-shirts and fridge magnets with Lynch's face on. I've been keen for David Lynch brand coffee, but I'm told they've just sold out and won't be getting any more until Wednesday. A mysterious figure (a guy who works there) tells me there is one very special pack of coffee left that must not be sold to the general public (he'd dropped it on the ground and broken the seal), but that he could give it to me in exchange for something very valuable to me (a bit of money) if I followed him down a dark and terrifying corridor (an extremely bright foyer leading to another shop). It's hard not to see everything through Lynchian eyes.
Downstairs, out in the sunshine, a café serves cherry pies and coffee. It's a bright Brisbane day, and the light glistens off the river. Toddlers chase ibis around on the finely-cut green lawn. It's idyllic. Maybe if we look closer, we'll see red ants underneath.
David Lynch: Between Two Worlds is open from now until 7 June 2015 at Brisbane's Queensland Gallery of Modern Art. For more information, visit the exhibition's website.
Follow Lee on Twitter: @leezachariah