‘My Head is Disconnected’ spans 50 years of David Lynch’s non-filmmaking career. It is also one of the flagship offerings at Manchester International Festival, a bi-annual festival of new arts commissions which locates itself in venues both established (like HOME) and a little more unconventional (an underground brewery). The main gallery at HOME, one of the more serious festival venues, is filled with drawings, paintings, assemblages, lithographs and lamps - more on these later. The work is rich in depictions of internal torment interior and exterior spaces, children and insects. So far, so Lynch.
‘Depiction’ is a key word - a lot of the work is literal in its despair. In recent works, windingly descriptive sentences scrawled in children’s handwriting accompany the recurring characters of Bob and Sally. Wax heads and wire protrude from the paintings, and bodily fluids are invoked in gooey materiality. Bob, Sally and their half-insect counterparts are found in dark woods or bleak rooms. Tiny hut motifs act as horizon markers. Rooms are painted red. Curiously, the paintings are inscribed with their titles, including ‘The Thoughts of Mr. Bee Man’ (2018), ‘I Was a Teenage Insect’ (2018) and ‘Who Is Outside My House My Dog Is Running Away. They Came In Thru My T.V. Where Is My Dog’ (2018). It’s interesting that a filmmaker who does so much solely with the visual language of the big screen would doubly narrate in this way.
Some of the most compelling pieces in the show are Lynch’s biro-on-matchbook drawings from the early 1970s. The dimensions of the folded out matchbooks create frames for miniature cinematic landscapes. They are the most logical point of connection to Lynch’s more familiar film work and contain a strange depth, heightened by the ubiquity of the material on which they’ve been produced. One of the tiny ‘windows’ features tall tendrils, elsewhere brought to life as an installation in the form of a collection of clustered lamps. Lynch has used metal and reclaimed wood to create floor lamps which are counter-intuitive in their heights, dimensions and light-emitting qualities. There’s an inverted domesticity about them, and something too about illumination not always giving relief, but perhaps not enough to get away from the feeling that you’re in a fancy lighting showroom.
With reports of awkward, literally phoned-in Q&As via Skype, and unsatisfying responses to the festival as a whole, some are likely to feel ‘My Head is Disconnected’ is a disingenuous performance of Lynch’s own persona. But with an icon like Lynch, you can’t help but indulge it; seeking autobiographical moments and links to his cinematic output, wondering if he can possibly really be this messed up. We revel in the idea of him tasking his staff with collecting loads of bees or making dozens of tiny wax heads, or picking your favourite fancy lamp.