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HAMTRAMCK, Mich. — In his 1996 essay on the premiere of David Lynch’s Lost Highway, David Foster Wallace offered the idea that “an academic definition of Lynchian might be that the term ‘refers to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter.’” This is one of those Wallace statements that is difficult to top, in terms of its succinct precision, and he further clarifies the term as being “ultimately definable only ostensively — i.e., we know it when we see it.”
It’s been a while since artist Graem Whyte presented a solo show, largely due to the maintenance and expansion of Popps Packing & Emporium, a gallery and international artist residency program which Whyte owns and orchestrates with his wife, artist Faina Lerman. In naming his solo show at Public Pool The Yellow Lodge, Whyte inescapably invokes the idea of the Lynchian. If you’re someone who found the recent Twin Peaks reboot to be somewhat desultory, you know that living up to the promise of a Lynchian experience is a tall order, even for David Lynch himself.
But Whyte’s solo not only represents iconic, deeper-cut aspects of the Twin Peaks canon — owls, fake wood paneling, alternate realities, unsettling symmetry, and, in the words of the artist statement, “moments of sublime mystery” — it manages a turn of Wallacian meta-analysis regarding the idea of space itself. As an artist whose practice is deeply rooted in architecture, Whyte presents a room within a room. “The Yellow Lodge” (2018) is a refined synthesis of some of his perennial formal interests: artificiality, mirror architecture, and recreational facilities. Just as there is something uncanny in the simple Lynchian practice of recording dialogue in reverse and playing it back, there is a sense of dislocation to the absolute symmetry of Whyte’s floating, elongated hexagon.
This dimensional oddity might be considered merely Whyte-ian, but it crosses over to the Lynchian with the introduction of a few deeply unsettling, deeply quotidian materials. While Whyte has posted a Lynchian plastic owl (of the sort designed to scare pigeons) surveying the scene from a lofted platform, the true avian star of the show are the earthly remains of a turkey named Lola, backed by a flock of variously dismembered and crippled rubber chickens.
Upon entering the space, the viewer is immediately met with a “Candleholder,” a blackened-bronze casting of a rubber chicken, bearing a buboes-like extension that holds a candle. Along the wall, a print titled “Siamese” bears the show’s representative image: a mirror construction of two plastic chicken feet. A plaster cast of a chicken lies casually on the floor; another articulated fowl leg extends itself suggestively from a window frame, like a can-can girl or sultry inter-dimensional hitchhiker. From the fake wood paneling, to the artificial turf that lines the interior of “The Yellow Lodge,” to the fake owl perched in a fake canopy constructed of camouflage dropcloth, Whyte seems to dictate his own reality, bending materials to accommodate his vision.
However, Whyte’s world is not a solo endeavor, and this is emphasized in another focal work in the show, “It Takes a Village (To Raise a Turkey).”
“It’s [the show] about reality, a lot — what reality is — but then, at heart, it’s also about community,” said Whyte in a phone interview with Hyperallergic, while in line at the hardware store. “It’s about what brings community together.” While the narrative of Twin Peaks presents a town of odd folks united in tragedy and the loss of one of their marquee citizens, Whyte’s Yellow Lodge presents a narrative of unity about the collective care and eventual consumption of a turkey named Lola, raised over the course of last year by the loose collective of Popps neighbors and core contributors, including interdisciplinary artist Bridget Michael. Whyte and Michael have constructed a kind of clan emblem from a carved wood pole that holds aloft a fabric banner, stitched by Michael and bearing the insignia of a ping-pong paddle with a chicken foot, and bracketed by bronze castings of Lola’s foot and head — because, of course, the work wouldn’t be truly Lynchian without an element of the macabre.
“I took a cast of the foot,” said Whyte, “but I kept the head after we slaughtered Lola for New Year’s [dinner], and burned it out when I made the mold. There may still be some spinal fragments locked in there with the bronze.” A more Lynchian detail, one could not imagine.