Dead Artists Salon

I have never touched a Ouija board since this project in 2013. The Portland State University Art and Social Practice MFA program held an annual event called Shine A Light at the Portland Art Museum that entailed the MFA students creating socially-engaged works that were responsive to the art. A couple thousand people regularly attended this event. I think this year was the last year they undertook this event. The challenges of eager young artists attempting to execute engaging work within the confines of a regimented bureaucratic institution were unpleasant at best.

I picked a relatively simple concept to execute: I hired two professional psychics called Psychic Siamese Terror to conduct a seance at the museum. I reached out to the museum’s security guards and other staff, and they picked the three artists we attempted to contact: Eva Hesse, Mark Rothko, and Robert Cole Scott. I printed and framed photos of each of the artists, and the psychics painted a giant Ouija board specifically for this event.

Two hours before the event was about to start, one of my best friends, Maddie, called me, and let me know that Hoku had tragically died in Chicago, where he had just relocated. Hoku was a spirit unlike any I have ever encountered on this earth. He was a trickster, a clown, an artist, a pure and playful soul. He was a fundamental part of Santa Fe’s community who I met pretty immediately after moving there in 2005. I started bawling outside the museum. I got it together and sort of forgot about the tragedy for a while in the bustle of last minute activities to set up for a show.

The event began. The psychics led the initial group of participants in a meditation to protect us as we called upon the spirit realm. A lot of people were interested in participating and filtered in and out for the duration of the seance. The psychics called the artists by name and asked questions, as participants touched the planchette. Whatever we were talking to was non-responsive to the questions, and kept saying the same things over and over, including “NM, NM, NM, NM,” and “C,C” when asked where it was from.

I had heard there was a security guard who died and was buried in the museum, and I tried to ask staff more about it during the seance, but it was dead end. I walked back to the table, and the planchette was going back and forth saying “NM, NM, NM, NM, NM.” I began to feel dizzy and like the room was moving, as I started to realize that this could be Hoku talking to us. As soon as I had that realization, the fire alarms went off, and the entire building was evacuated. Thousands of people spilled out into the park blocks bewildered. Some of my colleagues’ projects were interrupted, and some felt like they were ruined.

When folks started to go back in, the psychics asked me if I wanted to keep going, and I politely told them, “no,” and gave them some context for what I had experienced.

I spent the rest of the evening drinking beer, puzzled at these happenings. Someone asked me if we burnt sage, and set the fire alarms off. We didn’t burn anything. I was told toward the end of the evening that a lightbulb had exploded in the gallery we were in, setting off the fire alarm. I have never touched a Ouija board since. Don’t fuck with the occult if you don’t know what you’re dealing with, and don’t respect the tools for what they are.

Years later, I was talking to two of Hoku’s best friends outside of a dance party over cigarettes. I told them this story. They laughed, and smiled, and said, “that was definitely Hoku.”

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