by Britt Leach
A person doesn't want to say anything or at least to write it down; there is reason to be fearful. A certain religion. Instead a collage is constructed. The idea is that it's merely suggestive or better, yes, ambiguous. No clarity. Numbers and lines maybe, lines connecting images. Let it go at that. No, forget any lines. Lines might imply conclusions. No numbers either, with a key, a legend in a corner.
But a beautiful young artist kills herself and before any information was revealed that might suggest a collage or a need for ambiguity there was this connection that a writer felt and not out of her beauty either. Out of: "The Wit of The Staircase," the name she had given her website and her writings there. "From the French phrase 'l'esprit d'escalier,' literally, it means 'the wit of the staircase', and usually refers to the perfect witty response you think up after the conversation or argument is ended." That's a quote from her website.
And a writer has used that phrase himself and understands its impulse, even how it can relate to a whole lifetime, so before anything else was suggested by her friends regarding what she had written about a certain religion that will remain unidentified here, the writer felt a connection with this young woman, this artist. Was greatly saddened by her death. And then her lover goes missing, another suicide possibly. Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake. Young artists. So very sad.
Still, it's not wise to say too much; a collage is a better choice. But a young artist kills herself, and in her writings on her website before her death she claimed that she was being harassed; she claimed that she was being followed, that members of a religion that will not be named here were after her, that her cat had been killed and ...
I had hoped that a collage would be sufficient. Members of a religion had followed her she claimed. I don't know what I can say about it; it's not wise. And I really don't know. So I just took some pictures—the religion's building in a certain well known city nearby—hoping to construct a collage, an implication, something vague.
In my old neighborhood; I used to live around the corner from a large building now used by this religion. But I don't know that I should say more. Still, a beautiful young artist and her mate die. It's thought that he took his own life after her death, walked into the ocean—her death out of some harassment, but that isn't known. I certainly do not know that. The members of a religion followed her, harassing her for some reason. It has been suggested, but I certainly don't know that.
A security guard came rolling up on his bicycle as I was taking pictures of one of the religion's buildings. I was on a city street and told him so; still he had questions, and I thought it best to be pleasant. "My memoirs," I said. "Photos for my memoirs. I used to live on an adjacent street." I gave the address even though I won't mention it here. "I'm writing my memoirs...used to live right down there before this big old building was converted to... what is it now? Was an actor, rode my bicycle from here to a theatre on..." And I gave an address in this well known city. "What is this? This building?" I said. "Is it...?" And I named the religion; I was being duplicitous out of my concern for my well being, as if I didn't know who owned the building. "The neighborhood sure has changed." I laughed; too loud. When I drove away he was looking at my car—standing behind a telephone pole, looking at my car. I might have reason to be concerned. License plate?
Yes, I've heard the phrase, "fair game" about this religion and its tactics. But it should be stated very clearly at this point that the writer, this writer, doesn't know anything about that. No, he doesn't. And he might never know anything about that. He has no plan to know anything about that.
But this young artist and her mate, these young artists, I keep thinking about them, and I wish that I could have talked to them about this religion and its connection to artists. I know something about that. I mean before any artist has offended this religion in some way and is followed and harassed in some way and an animal is killed in some way, allegedly, there is reason beyond all that to avoid this religion. I would say that; and I'm sure of it, that there are reasons for artists to avoid this religion.
The religion claims to facilitate art. They claim that artists do well with them, that great art is created under their auspices; but I disagree. What I believe to be true is that they do well with artists. It's advantageous for them to associate themselves with artists, have celebrities at their center.
But what is most important here is that I believe that what they do in the name of their religion can be harmful to artists—I mean, the tenets of their religion, their techniques, its programs, am I clear? Harmful to artists. I believe that artists do best when they simply live their art, just that, live their art, and nothing else, without any framework of "religious" technique. True artists simply live their art. Amorphous until formed. Ambiguous. The artist's clarity—the art's clarity— comes from the practice of the art. Am I clear? The artist is her art; the artist is his art. Sometimes it's messy— before it isn't. But that's the artist's life. Nothing else is required, no quasi-technical intercession from an unidentified religion, and to believe such can be damaging for the artist and the art.
I have been in the presence—full disclosure—I have been in the presence, when I was acting, of a teacher named Milton Katselas, a man I like, who was kind I thought to me, who had some association, it has been said, with this religion. Even though I never heard that from him. But there were so many believers from this religion around his acting classes that he didn't really have to say anything about his religion. It was in the ether there, in the school. Administrators, officers of the class, students.
And I must say that I believe that his involvement with this religion—and he doesn't deny that he is involved, "It helped me," he recently said in a New York Times article—his involvement I think has been harmful to him and his students. By that I mean, limiting.
How can one be in one's art if one is in this religion? A buzzing in the head, so many words, their jargon. An interference, a superimposition. And what if one wants one's art to be, oh, out of control as it is emerging, forming itself?... Am I clear? Maybe not; I'll have to risk not being clear.
This man, Milton Katselas, this acting teacher, is also a painter. I've seen his work, and I wonder how his painting would go if...I've just always sensed a...truncation in his work. And I want more for him, a good man. Yes, despite his association with an unnamed religion. I'd like to see him leave it, for his art.
I was just taking photos on the street, you know, a public street, yes, taking photos; I had a collage in mind, ambiguous. And twice, a security guard came rolling up. There's something constricted, constricting—there's so much control, in this religion. Out of what? I don't know; I'm not sure. Fear? Is that it? If so, is that good for art?
I mean can't one think of art as emerging from chaos, which is a kind of freedom, the ultimate freedom? Am I clear? And what if one doesn't want one's chaos despoiled (controlled)? One's inchoate art. What if one is confident that one can contain one's chaos and out of it make art? Just that? Make art freely? Without a buzzing in the head, the discordant jargon of what is called a religion.
"Theresa, Jeremy, do you know about this religion? Be so very careful—not fearful, just careful, around any of its believers. Yes, I would say avoid it; avoid them; you must. You are artists." That's what I would have said. "You are artists." Very sad.
I'm sorry, but I must go now. ###
As of 26 July 2007, Theresa Duncan's website was still active. "The Wit of the Staircase."
27 July 2007