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David Lynch’s Subterranean Paris Funland

3 January, 2013

David Lynch's Silencio Club

David Lynch was practically everywhere at the recent Paris Photo art fair. Or rather, the idea of him—the man himself was thin on the ground. It began with the advertising, which featured posters of Nadav Kander’s portrait of Lynch at bus stops and on the Métro. Then there was the <<vu par David Lynch>> promotion in the fair itself, on the grounds of the extravagant Victorian Grand Palais. As visitors walked around, they saw little black labels positioned below certain works, with shiny silver lettering to signal that Lynch had viewed  them. There was also a mobile phone app so that stalwarts could tour all 96 photographs anointed by the great goth/surrealist Hollywood director. It’s hard to know just how involved Lynch was in all this. Behind the scenes, individual galleries were only allowed to nominate a few of their pictures for Lynch’s consideration, which were sent in the form of jpegs to his office. Not all galleries bothered to enter. But for those who did, it’s anyone’s guess whether Lynch vetted the images himself, or instead entrusted the project to “his people.” Either way, the idea of Lynch strolling the fair, spying something especially juicy, and giving it his vote of confidence was purely an illusion. Somebody made the decisions on a screen somewhere without seeing the originals.

What was a little disappointing, and in retrospect one of the reasons why I wonder if Lynch really did the selecting himself, was how predictable most of the choices were. It was all rather dark and creepy. A Joel Peter Witkin photograph of a nude woman with a skeleton. An eerie Trent Parke picture of a bare Christmas tree with all its needles fallen to the ground. A Lise Sarfati retro-cool image of a woman wearing a stylized wig—it might have been a still from a Lynch movie itself. Philip-Lorca diCorcia’s picture of a society lunch at Windows on the World in 2000. And so on. If you were looking for rainbows and ponies in the choices (as I was), you were in for a letdown. All things considered, a little brightness here and there might have made the selection a little more provocative.

For me and a handful of others, the Lynchstravaganza continued with a visit to Lynch’s private club, Silencio, in the second arondissement. The place is self-consciously weird, which in a funny way, makes it kind of not—like the noirish photo choices, it’s more or less what you would expect from the Lynch brand. That didn’t stop me from being fascinated just the same. The club has something of the feeling of Mulholland Drive about it, with a dash of Blue Velvet for good measure (the name of the club comes straight out of Mulholland; “Club Silencio” was a key location in the film). I was there to see the debut of a documentary in Lynch’s private screening room.

At street level, the entrance was nondescript, although the two bouncers and the red velvet rope suggested something was afoot. My name checked out on the guest list, so I was invited to proceed down a seemingly endless spiral of stairs—six flights, it turned out. Each level was decorated with spot-lit Todd Hido photographs of houses at night. At the bottom of the stairs there was a coat check, and a series of gold filigree tunnels like the one in the picture above. The whole thing is gold and black and smoky mirrors with low ceilings, like a hip Fabergé coal mine, or King Tut’s depressive chill out space. There are a couple of bars, a lounge area with a stage, a smoking room, and several sitting areas. The idea is to inspire creativity, but it’s all so programed there’s not much room to exercise the imagination. There were only a few people there when I arrived. The environment is so alienating in fact, striking up a conversation was out of the question.

One dark corridor dead-ended in a door—that was the screening room. Eventually we were led in to sit on big marshmallowy benches with spongy arms velcroed to the seats. When the film started (a Duane Michals biopic) my attention wandered and I leaned on an arm. Big mistake—the arm detached and rolled to the floor, and I bucked and rolled to recover like a kid in a bouncy castle. But the film was good, and Duane was on hand to add a dose of levity. We had a little time to talk after the show. “What does it feel like to be famous?” I asked him. “Better ask David Lynch,” he replied.

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