Eraserhood Forever at PhilaMOCA

Photo by Arin Sang-urai, courtesy of PhilaMOCA.

“I had my first thrilling thought in Philadelphia,” once proclaimed surrealist filmmaker David Lynch, who used to reside in the gritty industrial area of the city now passed off by realtors as the “Loft District,” but known to many Philadelphians as the “Eraserhood,” a proud nod to the neighborhood’s presence in Lynch’s film Eraserhead. Appropriately nearby at the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art (PhilaMOCA), a group of artists pay homage to the eclectic man with Eraserhood Forever, an 11-day exhibition curated by Chip Schwartz, consisting of all things David Lynch and meant to instill viewers with their own thrilling thoughts.

To fit all the more with Lynch’s dark cinematic oeuvre, the show opened on Friday the 13th with a grand, yet utterly bizarre reception held in typical PhilaMOCA fashion. To accompany the art and celebrate the completion of the building’s new Eraserhead mural created by Evan Cairo, the evening included live Lynch-themed sketch comedy acts, musical performances, and even a burlesque show featuring NYC’s Francine “The Lucid Dream.” Some memorable comedic acts included a commercial for “Pabst Blue Velvet,” as well as a humorous rendition of the eerie phone call scene from Lost Highway, where “The Mystery Man” politely asked if he could pour himself a bowl of cereal at the house he mysteriously intruded into.

Across the walls span a medley of Lynch-inspired artworks, ranging in style, medium, and subject matter. Some, like Helen Summers’ whimsically sewn portrait “Log Lady” and Ashley Anderson’s gel transfer print “Black Lodge,” a digital collage created to resemble a screen shot of an old-school video game, specifically reference Lynch’s Twin Peaks series. Others dealt with themes from films, predominantly Eraserhead, of which several artists chose to depict the peculiar puffy-cheeked “Lady in the Radiator.” A particularly strong piece was Karl Weimer’s “Stompin’ the Bug,” a black and white mixed-media painting of a close-up scene where this lady’s leg mercilessly crushes some sperm on the ground. They pop out at the viewer, creating an interesting textural juxtaposition with the drips of white paint splattered onto the canvas like a Jackson Pollock.

Yet, a good portion of the works are more subtle in that they do not directly quote anything, but instead portray dark subjects that have a Lynchian air about them, as if they could plausibly germinate from the man’s own deranged mind. Many of the freestanding works have this effect, like Todd Fry’s sculptures, which possess a monstrous and unapproachable quality to them, complete with metal pins and needles that are perhaps symbolic of our failed attempts to probe Lynch’s mind. Anamarie Rios’ “Feeling Feverish” also flirts with themes of monsters and demons, as a headless mannequin dressed in a pale blue evening gown still appears composed and chillingly beautiful despite the shards of glass piercing her dress and the two bloody horns that emerge from her pelvic region. I can’t help but think of it as a metaphor for how Lynch himself described Philadelphia as “decaying but fantastically beautiful, filled with violence, hate and filth.”

Among such macabre works, it was refreshing to see some panorama photos by Bob Bruhin of the surrounding “Eraserhood,” nostalgically capturing obsolete buildings like the Divine Lorraine Hotel, dilapidated and covered in grime, yet still hauntingly majestic. More than a tip of the hat to Mr. Lynch, these works, along with the mural, also function to campaign against increasing the neighborhood’s gentrification, so that the same eerie character that inspired Lynch may continue to inspire others. As Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks would say, “it was a damn fine show.”

On view until July 24, 2012.

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