Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics RoomLog 14 - Life and Death
Log 14 - Life and Death

Excerpts from the Countess transcripts



Clyde Derrick was our first medium, an LA-based psychic who does both regular clairvoyance and also mediumship. We found him in his office in the corner of the basement of a metaphysical bookstore in a strip mall in Pasadena, California. Not exactly the Victorian house with red velvet everything that we'd imagined; but Clyde came highly recommended. As it turns out, Clyde is a very talented medium; he was able to contact the Countess almost immediately, in a very matter of fact way.

CD: And what do you want to know about her?
Anne Walsh: Anything she wants to say.
Chris Kubick: Why did she take so many pictures?
CD: She's very angry that she's forgotten. She's still in this guise. I don't believe that she's come back as someone else, and she is around. I think that there are five or six people around, they're hovering around you like a mobile. She says she has a lot of naughty things to tell you. Did she have a deformity in one of her feet? There's something about her left foot - she may have had a sixth toe - she's going like this [CD gestures], she's very embarrassed. There was some deformity in her left foot that was corrected by the shoes she wore. She was ashamed of it from an early age, she became self-conscious of it around the age of six and she says you're free to use that. That was what made her create this kind of architecture of who she was. She's also saying to me that she considers herself really, from where she's sitting now and looking back at her life, a consummate fraud, but she was a really good one, and she doesn't think there's anything wrong with that, and frauds and artists basically run in the same packs and they're very often the same people. She wasn't an easy woman to take. She promoted herself quite a bit and I think some people were offended by it.
CK: That's why she took so many photographs?
CD: She wanted a memorial. She was the work of art, she wanted a record of it, that's what she's saying. She was a walking, breathing, moving work of art.

We haven't been able to verify whether she did actually have a sixth toe. Certainly the pictures of her feet don't show it, but according to Clyde, she learned at an early age to tuck it under her pinky toe. The Countess was with us in this first séance for about an hour. At times, Clyde would comment on her and her work, and at other times, the Countess spoke directly through Clyde.

[CD speaking in the first-person voice of the Countess]: "Why do women want to be skinny today? What a terrible waste. We should all fill up our bodies so we can luxuriate in them, loll in them. That was my splendor, my folds, my crevices, and it was always sweet, it always smelled like honey. I bathed in warm water, and I would put a little vinegar and honey in my bath.

Of all the mediums, Clyde was perhaps most adept at bringing forth the "grande dame" aspects of the Countess's personality. Through him, the Countess often waxed Proustian, bringing forth the memories of old smells like the whiskey and tobacco of her photographer - who Clyde maintained was also her lover. "She showed him her sixth toe and he kissed it. He was the only one who did that." We talked about her work, her influences, and the circumstances of her life. Finally, at the end, we talked about contemporary photography.

AW: Does she have anything to say about photography now?
CD: Splendor and squalor. The thing that upsets her is the capacities that we have and how it isn't really used. But there are numerous people that she admires. She says that a lot of the people that she admired really were in the 40s and 50s because she felt that they were breaking new ground. She thinks that there's a lot of redundancy now, and it's gloss, it's kind of like - she say's it's flatulence actually, it's flatulence on paper. I guess she really does not care for Annie Liebowitz. I know you were going to ask her a question but she just has to throw that out. She thinks she's very self-important, and it's flatulence in color, and she's outgrown her purpose, she's very angry. She says she's done some nice original things but she just keeps repeating herself, she says there's no invention, there's no growth. She says "I utterly dismiss it."


Our next medium, Susan Feinbloom, had a very different approach. The most earthy of all the psychics we've encountered, she calls herself a healer, and uses the psychic energy of plants as well as spirits to address the health and emotional concerns of the people who consult her. Sitting with her in her office in a small city an hour and a half north of San Francisco, she guided us through a long process of "grounding" ourselves, and "opening our spirits and bodies" to the Countess. She had us imagine a flow of energy that came from the earth, through our spines, circulating in our bodies, and then down through our feet and back into the earth. We meditated together for about half an hour before the Countess came into the room. As the interview went on, Susan was inclined to see the Countess as an integral part of our past lives, and, more specifically, as a major figure in Anne's psychic world, a teacher from whom she could learn.

SF: She's standing right in the very corner of the room, kind of diagonally behind you, Chris, as a bright blue light. Something like a cobalt blue. Feel her presence, her energy here is getting a little more solid; she keeps bringing just a little more. Feel her presence and say hello to her. And she's starting to communicate. The first words that I hear her say are "I have loved my body." She has a lot of contentment about being alone as well. She just has so much independence, such a mind that gives her great pleasure in itself, and can interact with anyone else.

We were both kind of spooked by this interview. Anne several times felt a somewhat unwelcome tightening in her chest, a sense of being suffocated, which Susan described as the Countess actually entering her body. Susan patiently guided us, keeping the Countess at a comfortable distance and making sure that her energy stayed focused in the room. According to most mediums, it's a great deal of work for the spirit to come through. Several times during our séance with Susan, she noticed our energy wane and asked us to refocus our attention. (It's actually very hard work conducting a séance - we're usually completely exhausted at the end of one.)

AW: Sometimes I wonder whether she liked being a woman, even though you say that she loved her body.
SF: Let's send a hello to her, again, just how each of you see her. [.] There was indeed a lot of attention on her and a lot of pressure on her aura to be more conforming. It's a little bit of trickster, but in a good way, she just puts something out and you can take it any way you want, but really it has some deep comments on the culture. She's a very big metaphor person in the sense that she does something that makes all these different kinds of statements, and she doesn't honor authority. She sees through, she has clear vision, she's a clairvoyant, so she has a great ability to see right through things, and many times in her culture she might not have commented, but then that would come through in her work. The level of independence that she had and how playfully she could communicate that and shock with it really stood out.

Like all of the mediums, Susan went back and forth between speaking as an observer and speaking in the first person:

SUSAN: [SF here speaks in the first-person voice of the Countess]: "We're not here to change the world, we're here to change ourselves, and as each lie turns to truth the planet changes, the density, it goes back to light. There is a music that comes from the heavens that's the source. As we turn to light we embody that in our own way. There is a music that's a wave through your whole body. Our lies shut it out, isolate us. Our art is amused. Playfully it takes away the lies, uncovers them." Do you feel that wave she's talking about? It's in the whole room.

Susan's take on the Countess was in some ways more benevolent and wise than Clyde's, stressing her rebellious character, but also delighting in the Countess's love for music and dancing, and wearing "an elegant gown and bare feet". For Susan, the Countess was a sort of lone wolf in life and death, who embodied the idea of the strong, single woman. Afterwards, she said that Anne had become a channel for the Countess, that she would be near us, and would guide us in our work. She told us that through our conversations with the Countess, we were helping her to prepare for the process that would take her into her next phase of existence.


Danielle McGee, like Clyde Derrick, keeps part-time hours at a metaphysical bookstore. Before we began, Danielle stressed the need to be careful with the spirits; she said that she'd had some unpleasant experiences, though she didn't go into the specifics. (Fortunately, in all of our dealings with her, the Countess was polite and courteous .in the manner of a nineteenth-century noblewoman.) Danielle burned some sage to cleanse the room of any remaining spirits, lit a candle, turned out the lights, and took both our hands as we sat around a small table.

AW: We're mostly interested in what her motivations were for having herself photographed.
DM: Okay, I'm getting this "Because I'm pretty, you fool" but I don't think that's exactly how she wants to phrase it. It was more of a thing that she got caught up in, rather than anything else. I mean, it was because she was beautiful, she was considered very beautiful for her time, but I think it was more because it was a thing she got caught up in. But she does have an attitude.

Danielle talked at length about the Countess's eccentricities, about how people treated her in her time ("there were all kinds of nasty, nasty rumours going around about her"), her many lovers ("I didn't die a virgin!"), about her dog ("a little yappy thing"), her various fields of study (philosophy and the natural sciences), and about her relationship to her body, then and now.

CK: Why did she make the photographs? Did she see in them a way to stall aging?
DM: She didn't really think of them as a way to stall aging. She thought of them as a picture through time. She didn't think of them as a picture of herself aging, or a picture of herself as a young person, she kind of almost didn't even think of them as a picture of herself. She thought of it as a picture of someone else at that time, or at least that's how she's thinking about them now. and sometimes she doesn't understand why people don't hear her.

She also talked about the Countess as a "mischief maker", who sometimes plays tricks on and "scared the whahooey" out of some contemporary photographers. About the Countess's relationship with her photographer Pierson, Danielle said: "they were clashing heads. but it was quite fun for her. it was part of her entertainment to clash heads with him." At the end of the interview, the "mischief maker" snuck into Danielle's body and gave her a little surprise electric shock after Danielle said that some of her jokes were kind of stupid.


Bronwyn Falcona was the first medium that we encountered who uses a "spirit guide" to contact spirits: an old spirit named Jason, who has just a touch of a South Asian Indian accent. During her readings, he comes into her body and Bronwyn goes away. Of all the mediums, Bronwyn/Jason was the one that inspired the least faith on our part, maybe because of Jason, who lost his accent as the séance went on. On the other hand, Bronwyn/Jason presented a very similar sense of the Countess as we had seen in other interviews:

AW: Can you see her physically, do you have a feeling for her body, her relationship to her body?
BF: "A lot of work to be a woman," is what she would say. Probably if she could have a preference, androgyny would have been the preference. But as long as she was woman and she was an artist, she was going to be creative with the form. In terms of her own relationship to her body, with lovers, yes, she took pleasure, but it was also very difficult and painful to have this identity as a woman where for many people, that's all they saw. There was nothing in terms of her character or her essence that came into play, and that she found very limiting.

At other times, Bronwyn/Jason commented on specific things, like her son:

BF: The image that I get from her is that there was this period of being pulled apart, after being very devoted to each other. But the sense about him is of this world that his mother created for him in terms of devotion, and sweetness. and then a feeling of betrayal. I feel a dilemma that he always had, between this sensitive side to his nature and then a feeling of needing to be a man, to put himself out in the world. And I think that their relationship was frowned upon because it was too close.

Indeed, the Countess did fashion her son somewhat in her own likeness, photographing him with flowers in his hair and romantic poses. They parted on difficult terms, but his early death was very hard on her. Bronwyn talked about the Countess' "creative warrior energy" and saw her as a woman who lived with a kind of "containment field" around her. She said that she didn't suffer fools gladly, and made photographs out of a need to experiment with the process. At the end of our the interview, we asked the Countess how she felt about being interviewed.

CK: How does she feel about commenting on her work, and dealing with all these psychics that we're talking to?
BF: I just get that sense of her shaking her head, baffled that you would be that interested in her. She lived her life in a very hand-crafted way, not in open rebellion, don't misunderstand me, not to cause harm or disruption, but she really carved out a path of her own, and I think also as she was growing up. There's something very sweet and warm and loving about her, but also, she heard a different language, one that other people didn't speak.

see also Art After DeathGwynneth Porter interviews Anne Walsh and Chris Kubick (LA), aka Archive, about their Art After Death project whereby they interview artists from beyond the grave.



Log Illustrated - a publication from the Physics Room