Christian Cummings and Michael Decker, spectral psychography session, Human Resources, Chinatown, August 20, 2010
Like Fox Mulder, I want to believe, I really do. Since 2004, artists Christian Cummings and Michael Decker have engaged in the unique practice of using a Ouija board to find artistic collaborators from the other side. In a session held last Friday night at Human Resources, the two laid hands together on the magical board to communicate with spirits who wished make drawings with them. They would first establish contact with a willing spirit, asking for name and other basic information. Next, they would put aside the traditional Ouija board and pull out a sheet of drawing paper and a homemade Ouija drawing device. With blindfolds on and both of their hands on the device, the two would then quickly channel a drawing.
I watched them produce two drawings. The first appeared to be a huge abstract mess, but turned out to be a pretty deft rendering of a pair of faces. The second one, dictated by a spirit claiming to be Sigmar Polke, was a very clear rendition of a person standing outside of a house. Cummings said that they sometimes got “fakers,” so he tested the spirit by asking him what day he died. The spirit’s answer of “12” was incorrect (Polke died on June 10 of this year). When asked who that was standing outside of the house, the spirit answered “me.” (Check out “Sigmar’s” signature at the bottom of his finished work, after the jump.)
I watched both of the artists’ hands closely throughout the process. There were times when I could swear that Decker was pushing the drawing device around; it just moved so readily, and without much prompting or waiting. Although the drawings were fairly exact, it’s conceivable that the two artists could have manipulated them blindfolded, with tons of practice and an agreed-upon image ahead of time. But do I really want to be that cynical? No, I want to believe. If not some supernatural force, maybe the artists were at least channeling their own subconscious impulses or unrealized drawings, or something like that.
In a brief chat with Cummings during a break, I found out that the artist is actually skeptical of paranormal phenomena and isn’t quite sure what to make of these channeled drawings. He started doing them as a means to combat artist’s block, and while the project is primarily a collaboration between him and Decker, both have also done them with other partners. Different partners have produced different results (and yes, there have been times when nothing has happened), but Cummings’ sessions with Decker consistently produce vivid artworks and spirits claiming to be famous artists (and not always dead ones). The most memorable session was with the purported spirit of David Smith, who correctly answered test questions and dictated an artwork that can be found in books, but that no longer exists on this plane.
Perhaps most interestingly, Cummings mused that when he participates in these drawings, all intentionality is confounded for him—who is or is not doing these drawings, really? Who is “faking it” and who is not? Does it matter in the end?
I first encountered examples of these channeled artworks at Cummings’ USC MFA thesis show in 2009. The walls of that gallery were covered with ghostly images, some of them quite disturbing, as they seemed to depict the circumstances of the spirit’s death. On the floor were several sculptural renditions of some of the scenarios, bringing those otherworldly messages into this dimension and giving them the funky weight of materiality.