I Hear Dead People

Berkeley's art team Archive brings recorded séances to AMOA

I Hear Dead People

Many artists are reluctant enough to talk about their work when they're alive, but what about when they're not? That's what the Berkeley, Calif., collaborative ARCHIVE is trying to learn. In their ongoing series "Art After Death," video installation artist Anne Walsh and sound designer Chris Kubick have undertaken the rather novel mission of "interviewing" artists who have passed on, communicating with them through professional spirit mediums who are in the presence of work by the artists and who serve as translators or channels for them. Because they employ multiple mediums to reach each artist, the conversations take varied forms, with the spirit at times speaking directly through the medium in complete sentences and at times communicating through sounds, images, sensations. As befits the art team's name, ARCHIVE documents these séances through audio CDs. To date, they have produced three recordings: Conversations With the Countess of Castiglione, Yves Klein Speaks!, and Visits With Joseph Cornell.

The Austin Museum of Art is bringing ARCHIVE to town just in time for Halloween and Dia de los Muertos to discuss their work, in particular their most recent CD, involving Cornell (1903-1972), New York-based creator of shadow boxes, collages, and films. The one-night appearance is connected to the spooky exhibition currently on view at AMOA, "Ghost Stories: The Disembodied Spirit." (For a review, see this issue's Arts listings, p.88.)

If the hairs on the back of your neck get all prickly at the prospect of someone speaking with those who have departed this plane, then this would seem to be a can't-miss program. But even if you hold no belief in the afterlife or the possibility that we can literally converse with the dead, ARCHIVE's work has much to intrigue you. These séances raise all kinds of questions about the ways we communicate and the purposes, about the ongoing fascination that we, the living, have with that "undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveler returns." What does it mean that we seek to speak with the dead? What does it say about us, about our belief or our skepticism? What do we desire from this contact, and what do we take away from the attempt? How is communication affected by an intermediary – in this case, a medium? How does the fact that the source is unseen and communication relies on our trust and faith affect our interpretation?

You may find some answers if you go see – and more to the point, hear – ARCHIVE. Or you may simply find you have questions you'd like to ask the spirits yourself. end story


ARCHIVE will present a performance/talk Thursday, Oct. 28, 7pm, at AMOA – Downtown, 823 Congress. For more information, visit www.amoa.org or www.doublearchive.com.

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