Uplands Gallery, Melbourne, Australia
Carlos Castaneda’s novel The Teachings of Don Juan (1968) describes fantastical dream sequences with a brilliance and clarity that are utterly convincing - and which make the book all the more disturbing. In what is allegedly the authentic record of spiritual training under a Yaqui Indian shaman, the young anthropologist Castaneda is urged by his teacher to take control of his dreams. The key to this process is that the dreamer wilfully looks at their hands during the hallucination.
James Lynch’s intensely hand-made paintings and digital animations clearly have a similar focus. Based on scenarios from other people’s dreams in which he features, Lynch’s role is that of a producer, restaging the location of the story as accurately as possible while the originating ‘dreamer’ - friend, colleague or girlfriend - directs the action from memory. Stills taken from the digital footage are then isolated, and the figures rendered in a simplistic but laborious, Disney-esque technique of coloured pencil on tracing paper, before being superimposed back on the original scenes. A hesitant, half-speed animation is the result, the juxtaposition of of the clumsily drawn images on the filmic background awkwardly comic. I found myself wondering what a Samuel Beckett script for South Park might have looked like.
Accompanied by accordion music that recalls a Charlie Chaplin movie, the action seems both stupidly funny and incredibly banal. Sharon’s Dream of Me (2003), a continuous DVD loop displayed on a wall-mounted monitor, shows the two protagonists working against the clock on a grant proposal in Sharon’s studio. A typical artist’s anxiety dream, a search for scissors (accompanied by a cheering accordion flourish) is as exciting as it gets.
Lynch acknowledges a love of early cinema, with its simple narratives and painterly black and white tones as a major influence. This also explains his appropriation of the silent-movie device of text acting as the narrative voice: here carried by the cartoon animation of a hand writing in biro on a Spirapad. Yet, with Castaneda in mind, exactly whose hand we are looking at seems significant, but uncertain.
Film is inherently more seductive than theatre; even the most accomplished actors are, on stage, unable to deny the fictions of props, scenery and lighting, which unavoidably speak of their material actuality. Film, on the other hand, reads as a more transparent medium: the suspension of disbelief occurring just once, as the titles come up, before we are transported into a seamless verisimilitude of reality. In Lynch’s work the break between the photographic reality of the background and the drawn image of the figure reverses this. The actors become the props: schematically drawn and minimally detailed, with flat-ish saturated colour, they look like the work of a scene painter or jobbing illustrator.
Again as with film, figure and ground are closely integrated in paintings such as We Were In The Jungle (2003), where Lynch and the dreamer seem to find themselves in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World (1896), staring off-camera into a soft-focus, candy-coloured rainforest. We in turn are invited to view the canvas from a picnic table in the middle of the gallery. A caricature of outdoor furniture, it designates a public space for the consumption of nature; Lynch implies that we too are in the Great Outdoors, looking at a shared, socially constructed fantasy.
Lynch acknowledges that belonging to the Melbourne-based artists’ collective DAMP is the other major influence on his work. Working together for a number of years, the group has developed a social and imaginative network in which distinctions such as self/other, performer/director are blurred. Lynch sees himself in terms of what others expect of him; and in turn internalizes the other performers in the group. He aims to track this network of interaction, in which, as with all such systems, ‘we sustain and fulfil each other’s fantasy’.
Identification with the cinema screen is also communal: we identify with the same object, and consequently in a sense we actually are each other’s fantasy. Lynch’s picnic table, like a cinema auditorium, is big enough for many. If, as Freud suggests, dream is psychosis, then Lynch creates a mass hallucination in which his subject is the social fabric on which the film/dream is played. This uncertainty as to where the fiction begins and ends ultimately draws us deeper into the bizarrely ordinary narrative, until someone’s hand dims the lights and we find ourselves slipping into the dreamer’s bed.