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?
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
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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.