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The Medium is the Message

Ghosts like making art just as much as the next person

Medium is message

Some of the artworks made in collaboration with the ghostly artists.
Jeffrey Vallance

FT269


In recent years, I have made my living as an artist. Experiencing some success in my vocation, I have come to trust, without quest­ion, the phenomenon known as inspir­ation. Merriam-Webster’s Online Dictionary describes inspiration as “a divine influence or action upon a person believed to qualify him or her to receive and communicate sacred revelation”. In Greek literature, inspiration is said to come from the Muses. These were goddess spirit-messengers of artistic influence from which we get words like amuse, music and museum. A few years ago, I made a pilgrimage to the Shrine of the Muses (Heroon of Mousaios) on the Hill of the Muses in Athens, Greece, to ponder the influential roles that the Muses have played in the arts. The word inspiration comes from the Latin inspirare, which means, “to breathe into”, a version of the verb spirare, from which we get the term “spirit”. “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7)

What is this mysterious force? Is inspir­ation the breath of the divine in man? Is the artist merely a conduit of the muses? (See 'Poetry and the Paranormal' for some possible answers.)

These questions were re-awakened when I witnessed the channelled spirit drawings of Christian Cummings and Michael Decker during one of their art/séance performances.

The room is quiet. Just dim enough to reveal a glow-in-the-dark finish on the Ouija board. The two artists begin with a question: “Is there anyone here who would like to help us make a drawing?” Moving itself, the planchette spells out T-I-M G-O-N-D-E-M-A-N.

Living artists will use such visual media as paint or clay to express their ideas. Ghosts will use psychic mediums such as clairvoyants or trans-channels to express theirs. Simply put, a medium is a means for conveying ideas and information. The medium is a negotiator between the messenger and his audience.

The word medium is also used as a designation given to partially cooked meat. Brown and dead on the outside while pink and bloody within, this use of the term evokes a sense of traversing both worlds simultan­eously, in one bite.

The ‘séance’ is being held in a dingy room at the Culver Hotel – one of the oldest hotels in the Los Angeles area, and said to be haunted by the munchkins from The Wizard of Oz, who lived there during the 1938 filming. Cummings tapes a piece of paper to the table while Decker attaches his Magic Marker to a planchette that has been reconfigured as an art tool. The markers and paintbrushes are bolted in place onto the planchette. Similarly, when making paintings, the artists use large syringes to inject ink and paint into the moving brush. Once ready, the two artists don blackout sleeping-masks. The purpose of this is to quell any suspicion of shenanigans, quackery and the like. Decker softly instructs their conjured spirit: “Tim, please begin your drawing.” Once again, the planchette begins to move, only this time a green line traces its course.

The markings on the Ouija board bring to mind the time I lived in Lapland, where I researched the Lapp shaman magic drum. To perform divinations, the shaman (noid) places a piece of bone on the drum skin and beats the drum, which causes the bone to dance across the skin from symbol to symbol – similar to the movement of a planch­ette on a Ouija board (see FT249:30–37, 254:74).

I am one of five audience members. Two others quietly rise and walk around the table. A curious young woman investigates the tools and clothing of the artists. She then crouches down to peek under the table. Cummings and Decker seem unaware, while the planchette deliberately traces what appears to be the portrait of a man in his 30s, with a cartoon voice-bubble that reads Welcome, as if we were visitors in his home.

In collaboration with ghosts, the artists have made drawings, paintings and sculpt­ures. The 3D works are designed by the ghosts, who issue them as drawings, with the appropriate sculpture materials described in detail; Cummings and Decker then build the sculpt­ures. Also, they have worked with the spirits of such well-known deceased artists as Barnett Newman, Walt Disney, Paul Klee, Norman Rockwell, Gertrude Stein, Tony Smith, David Smith, Anthony Caro and Keith Haring. Often the resulting artworks look like a cross between thrift-store paintings and overlapping bathroom graffiti.

Once the presumed self-portrait is finished, the two channellers return to the board and ask for a title and description of the post­mortem artwork, followed by personal quest­ions to the ghost, meant to be verified in the public record – birth and death date, city of residence and occupation at the time of death. We discover that Tim worked at a local Togo’s restaurant on Venice Boulevard, no more than a mile from where the séance took place. We pack up our things and head for Togo’s to catch a late lunch.

Cummings asks to speak to the manager. “Hi. Do you know Tim Gondeman?” Taken aback by his request, the manager responds, “Were you friends with Tim?” Michael replies, “We are both friends of his.” The manager delicately explains he used to work there two years prior but reveals nothing of his post-mortal status.

Hungry, I order a steak sandwich, medium rare.

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Medium is message - names

Channelled names of some of the post-mortem painters.
Jeffrey Vallance

 
Author Biography
Jeffrey Valance is an artist, writer, curator, explorer, Visiting Assistant Professor in new genres at UCLA and simulacrum hunter, and has contributed to FT since 1989.

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