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Diving ‘infinitely deep’ with David Lynch

Emily Scream 1, by David Lynch David Lynch

The new House of Photography in Olten has pulled off a coup in becoming the first museum in Europe to host the latest exhibition by cult American director and artist David Lynch.

This content was published on April 12, 2021 - 09:00

An elderly couple is knocking on the door of the former natural history museum in the historic town of Olten, northern Switzerland. It’s just before noon, and the House of Photography is closed. But the two culture lovers have travelled especially from Winterthur, some 90km away, and Remo Buess, the museum’s co-director, lets them in. He takes their admission fee, leads them inside, and gives them a cautious warning: the exhibitionExternal link is pretty difficult and demanding.

He isn’t wrong. The tour, which spans three floors and many rooms, is not unlike a ride on a ghost train. The title of the exhibition, Infinite Deep, reflects Lynch’s desire to draw us into the endless depths of our souls.

Those familiar with Lynch’s melancholic, dark and sometimes disturbing films The Elephant Man, Eraserhead or Blue Velvet can see for themselves in Olten how the director, now 75, approached and developed his cinematic images through photography.

David Lynch photographed by Josh Telles

Many of the images, when looked at closely, make the viewer shudder and experience an almost physical feeling of unease. Take the series Distorted Nudes (1999): the photographs hang as a compact group in a cabinet-like room. From a distance, the images look like staid erotic photographs from the late 19th century. Upon approaching, however, one recognises bodies mutilated by Photoshop and partially reassembled limbs in impossible positions.

Another series also presents itself as harmless and unthreatening at first glance: pictures of snowmen in the gardens of American suburbia. But the images are grey, and the magic of the white snow is gone; the smiling faces appear as grimaces, and the bodies, though round, are more like scarecrows. Everything seems frozen – only the grey, dirty snow slowly melts away.

Contacts and standards

The former schoolhouse served as the Olten natural history museum for 145 years. Last year the International Photo Festival Olten (IPFO), an association which held its first annual festival in 2019, was behind the project to refurbish it and turn it into the House of Photography.

Remo Buess and Christoph Zehnder share responsibility for overseeing the new museum. The artistic director is Marco Grob, a photographer with local roots who has made an international name for himself through his portraits and celebrity images. It is above all his contacts and his high standards that have left their mark on the IPFO.

Remo Buess and Christoph Zehnder doing some renovation IPFO

For the current exhibition Nathalie Herschdorfer was engaged as curator. The internationally well-connected specialist in photography is herself director of the Le Locle Art MuseumExternal link in northwestern Switzerland, where she recently put on an exhibition of the early photographic work of Stanley Kubrick – another American film director with cult status.

“After we got the OK from the city, everything happened very quickly,” Buess says in a lounge in the building’s cellar. “We don’t have to pay rent, but we put many hours of our free time into the renovation. The IPFO’s funds and, in addition, some private money have also gone into the museum. David Lynch’s pictures came to us through a curator in Copenhagen, so we were able to jump on board and be the first to show the exhibition in Europe.”

Despite having no museum experience – “we were always one step behind, and then the next issue would come up” – Buess says he is satisfied. “The result is something to be proud of.”

The exhibition Infinite Deep is set to run until June 27.
The International Photo Festival Olten is set to take place August 25-29.

David Lynch 

David Keith Lynch was born on January 20, 1946 in Missoula, Montana.

He is an American artist who works as a film director, film producer, screenwriter, actor, but also in the visual arts and with music.

Lynch is best known for his surrealist films, which can also be classified as film noir. The defining stylistic elements are nightmarish images and menacing sound design. Recurring themes in his cinematic works are nightmares, alien worlds, metamorphoses, voyeurism and the unconscious.

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