No Stars: A Twin Peaks Tribute Exhibition feels like a contemporary gallery version of those original fan subcultures that sprung up during the 1960s and ‘70s (think Star Trek conventions, bootleg Grateful Dead albums, Marvel fanzines). Josh Stebbins’ portraits of the creators and characters of the Twin Peaks series, integrated with iconic symbols, landscapes, and set pieces, are reminiscent of old mimeographed sci-fi zine covers. The archival objects procured by gallerist/curator Stephen Romano betray a fan-level obsession with unlocking the mysterious sources of the show’s visual aspect; and other new works—by artists such as Natan Alexander, Alexis Palmer Karl, Jen Bandini, Luciana Lupe Vasconcelos, Daniel Gonçalves, Matthew Dutton, Barry William Hale, Blake Morrow, and Jill Watson—suggest a fictional ecosystem that has not only the potential to expand, but has history as well.
Indeed, the more we touch things, and the more familiar we become with them, the more they take on a life of their own. In this way No Stars is almost like a primer on the creative process. A live performance by Rebekah Del Rio, whose song “No Stars” (composed by Peaks creator David Lynch) was featured in Episode 10 of Twin Peaks: The Return, gave the opening night of the exhibition a stamp of authenticity, and brought out a deeper emotional connection between the audience and the objects around the room.
In terms of new art created for the show, Alexis Palmer Karl’s painted human skull, encrusted with black and transparent crystals, had all the makings of a ritualistic relic. The artist, who is also a real-life practitioner of witchcraft, added the butterfly-frog creature of Twin Peaks: The Return’s iconic Episode 8, albeit with it exiting the mouth of the human figure rather than going into it. This suggests that what began inside the show’s fictional universe has now carried over to the real world. The connection between traditional occultism and liberties taken by modern television and cinema is also evident in this piece—a connection which embraces artistic license over academia (as well as the renewed interest in alternative spirituality).
Josh Stebbins, whose twenty pencil drawings with mixed media elements such as collaged letters and used match sticks, was really the star of the show. His depictions elevated each character from the series to the level of religious icon. A diptych of Laura and Leland Palmer—daughter/father, incest victim/perpetrator, symbolic good/evil figures—is the most expressionist of his works, boasting a terrified Laura backed by a circle halo and a sociopathic Leland peering at her through a small window, both surrounded by skeins of blood red paint.
Jen Bandini’s two emblem pictures directly reference 17th century German alchemical imagery—a genre whose open hands, all-seeing eyeballs, and floating geometric shapes influenced heavily the iconography of masonic artworks of the 19th century in America. According to co-creator Mark Frost’s two dossier-style Peaks tomes, fraternal lodges laid the groundwork for the series’ mysterious tone, as well. A spate of antiques from such secret societies are peppered throughout the exhibition—e.g. a Rebekah Lodge statue of the Venus De Milo set against a red velvet curtain backdrop and a series of Masonic postcards which seem to presage the Twin Peaks “Red Room.” These not only bind the show aesthetically but also lend credence to the notion that esoteric design provided the series (and No Stars) with its strange sense of intellectual freedom.
It is this kind of freedom in fact—from scientific positivism, secularism, consensus media, and bourgeois realism—that gave both the exhibition and the Twin Peaks universe in general its timely appeal. Red curtains, zig-zagged tiled floors, spooky owls, brotherhoods and lodges, doppelgangers, UFO abductions, violence, tragedy, a universe conspiring to bigger things than we can imagine from our limited vantage—in an era of growing uncertainly and mistrust towards established institutions, themes such as these are much more than titillating content to be consumed by mindless masses. They invite us to think outside the box; to imagine the possibility.
It can start with a simple drawing of your favorite TV character. Yet who can say where it will lead?
(Brian Chidester, 03/28/2020)
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