The Blue Raccoon

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Jeremy Blake (Oct. 4, 1971 -- July 17, 2007 )
Theresa L. Duncan (Oct. 26, 1966 - July 10, 2007)

Theresa Duncan, from a Nov. 21, 2006
post on her blog, The Wit of the Staircase.

Jeremy Blake pictured at the Vanity Fair opening party for the 8th Annual Art Auction Benefit, "Portraits & Polaroids" held April 23, 2007, at New York City's Milk Gallery. The piece behind him is his Dope & Guns Party. For more on his innovative new media work, see Kinz,Tillou + Feigen.

"American Ruins" segment from Blake's digital video piece Winchester, April 16, 2006.

From Blake's Reading Ossie Clark, in the Daily Serving, August 27, 2007.

Duncan and Blake, pictured Sept. 17, 2007, on the "St. James Version" of the World of Wonder, taken at an art opening in the fall of 2006.

Blake and Duncan in 1997, by Michael Levine/CPI, via New York Magazine web site post, August 20, 2007.

"She is gone, and he is gone, a play set up in the privacy of love, a stage set in the intimacy of public longing for details." —Jonathan Perez, July 26, 2007, “Ode To Jeremy Blake” at The Palm At The End Of The Mind.

"…Whatever interests they may have had, the suicides are not really all that astonishing. I talk to people who have tried it every single working day and the explanations are usually very mundane and sad.
As for the “paranoia”, please consider some alternative explanation. There are plenty and maybe they’ll show up in the toxicology report.” – CB, July 31, 2007, DreamsEnd (blog)

“I think we all want this to be more than it is for a myriad reasons. I think we’re all creative and smart and that means we read into things and enjoy it and our brains work on overdrive. We quickly pass over the obvious or the banal because we assume it has just GOT to be more than what it appears to be; this simply CAN’T be all there is.
We want to believe that, so whether we know it or not, we fuel and perpetuate that. I posted once before that I’m sure if I died suddenly or mysteriously, lots of things would come to light about me that people would be surprised of and never knew. We all have skeletons in the closet and things that happen to us on a daily basis that we keep to ourselves. Mystery loves company. Without us, there’d be no wonder, no romance, no crypticism. Right?” — GothamInsider, August 1, 2007, on DreamsEnd, (blog)

“Paired paranoia is particularly pernicious. * SIGH *”
--Scottynuke, Washington Post, August 1, 2007, “Achenblog,”

"But like the best bloggers, she created an illusion of intimacy with her readers. Most blogs are simply unedited confessions for the blogger or for close friends, posted where they might be found by strangers (as, I imagine, the diarist dreads but also desires). And still other bloggers hope for anonymity, only to deliberately push its bounds by revealing too much — when readers know all but one secret, they’ll search for it, and find it." —Swati Pandey, August 1, 2007, Los Angeles Times Opinion Daily.

“Beauty. Brains. Bonkers. The question now is, what the hell was going on in Jeremy Blake's head?” -- August 2, 2007, SoMA: Society of Mutual Autopsy (blog), “Theresa Duncan Upsate.”

"There exists in the heart of a NYTimes-reading humanities graduate a capacity for nose-upturned covetousness which people don't talk about. It's a horniness for the blessings of another man's life. Not for his health, not for his wife, or for his Ferrari... And not even for the career, exactly, just for the odor of his resume... For his reputation of fulfillment."-- Crid, August 4, 2007, commenting in Amy Alkon’s Advice Goddess blog, to "Making It Up As She Went Along."

“She was bright and polished apple with a rotten core.”
--#15.”Guest” commenting August 4, 2007, Laist, “Staircase to Nowhere.”

“The lilly-livered, packaged conclusions that have been drawn about this woman, attempting to do the impossible (explain human complexity in about nine sentences), are falling short of doing anything but making me want to hit someone.”
--Alison Tuck, August 7, 2007, Women and Children First, “Dead Artist, Beautiful and Brilliant, Cops Further Beatings” (blog)

"The saddest part of the story is the implication that she may have finally realized that she wasn't special, that she was talented but normal, and rather than see the collapse of her house of lies as an opportunity to finally grow up, she chose to die. What a waste of her creativity and passion."--- from comment by "wf," August 6, 2007, on SLOG, the blog of Seattle, Wash.'s The Stranger alt-weekly, "The Latest on Theresa Duncan"

"Since their suicides last month, the sadly foreshortened life stories of Jeremy Blake and Theresa Duncan have passed beyond their control and are currently passing through the distorted mirrors of projection, grief, anger and a sort of perverse, bicoastal peer review by New Yorkers and Los Angelenos who are stumped as to why a talented and beautiful young artist couple who had been together for 12 years took their own lives, despite seeming to have the grail of professional and personal success firmly in hand."-- August 7, 2007, New York Observer,“Art World Shivers After Lovers’ Double Suicide.”

"Duncan was a pioneering digital artist/entrepreneur who did not have any mentors (if any) to be her guide in the digital arts world. Her work was distinctive, wonderful and she will be missed."-- Katherine K., commenting, August 8, 2007, on the New York Observer article, “Art World Shivers After Lovers’ Double Suicide.

Theresa Duncan, image from
The Wit of the Staircase entry, January 3, 2006,
"Horror Vacui in Venice," about the fear of empty spaces.

"There exists in the heart of a NYTimes-reading humanities graduate a capacity for nose-upturned covetousness which people don't talk about. It's a horniness for the blessings of another man's life. Not for his health, not for his wife, or for his Ferrari... And not even for the career, exactly, just for the odor of his resume... For his reputation of fulfillment.
-- Crid, August 4, 2007, commenting in Amy Alkon’s Advice Goddess blog, to "Making It Up As She Went Along."

Duncan portrayed herself as a Freudian and a fashionista, an intellectual and a stoner, a political radical with a perfume fetish, and a groupie in a 12-year monogamous relationship. Because of the pliancy of her mind, these seeming contradictions could coexist. She was hungry for knowledge, for answers, for beauty, and she created an online space that was essentially a map of her discovery process -- a "web log" in the truest sense."--
– Steffie Nelson, August 12, 2007, the Los Angeles Times,

Just like every other piece on the duo so far, this is about "why" they killed themselves. Not unexpectedly, no one as yet has an "answer." I do! You know why they killed themselves? Because they were fucked in the head. Just like everyone else who's ever killed himelf. Probably not their fault, either—surely the fault of natural chemicals or other chemicals that they put in themselves. Because you know what else is weird?
All these profiles talk about how erratic the twosome became—they were paranoid,convincedthat the CIA and the Scientologists were out to get them, erratic with friends.... You know whatthat sounds like? Hi, crystal meth. They sound like everyone who's ever done a lot of stimulants; tinfoil on the windows, water glass to the door, looking for secret cameras. Lots of those folks do themselves in too."-- Choire, August 20, 2007,, suicide is painless "Why Did Theresa Duncan and Jeremy Blake Commit Suicide?"

"Mental illness is a politically-convenient myth that transposes the cause of destructive behavior away from social constructs and onto the individual. In truth, suicide is not a randomly-occuring chemical imbalance with no external cause (no more so than a malignant tumor metastasizes without prior exposure to carcinogens) but rather the lawful consequence of intelligent organisms struggling to survive in a modern capitalist democracy.
The depressed choose to kill themselves because analysis of the data available suggests that to die solves otherwise insoluble problems. If the mental health industry were honest, it would admit that the consequences of freedom are aimlessness and anomie, and that a consequence of the market economy is a lifetime of consumerism culminating in death without meaning. If this life is a hell for some, the world we have inherited is why...
Of course, if the mental health industry were honest, nobody would buy their happy drugs anymore; and everybodies [sic.] gotta make a living - right?" -- Manna, on, August 20, 2007.

"IT IS AMAZING to see the human condition being so proactive as to end's his/her life. The real reason why did they one will know. Perhaps it was the drugs, frustration combined with a vivid and gifted imagination. I think the obsession that people (like myself) and others will always have with this event is that it's not common. We often look at people's life's [sic.] and wonder what was the motives for their action. A pretty talented girl, a handsome talented man....what could have been so bad? There is no moral to the story for this one...maybe it just happened because it did." By Jorgito on Dec. 23, 2007, responding to New York Magazine's "Conspiracy of Two."

[Image above -- The Hot and The Cool: June, 2003, from the LA Times, Patrick]

"The blogosphere is composed of two and unequal parts: The Facts, which resemble an objective reality, and Factufication, which is the conflation with, and distillation of, purported facts coupled to abundant speculation.

In this way, the shrillest bogs resemble early 20th century yellow journalism, wherein no story was too absurd to be printed, in the main because this sold newspapers. Bloggists, though, in most cases don’t sell anything, other than their points of view and aren’t journalists – except when they are. The bloggist just wants to be heard, in most cases to a group of friends and colleagues, though at other times, to a wider world—which is difficult when there are 50 millions of blogs, and counting.

In the case that concerns this essay, bloggists tried to understand why another bloggist killed herself and whether despondency compelled her companion to walk into the ocean. The susurration of rumor built into a rambunctious clamor as one seeker e-mailed or linked to the next. The romanticizing, demolition and deconstruction of Duncan and Blake was immediate, simultaneous and intertwined.

The Internet fulfilled its use as a public and virtual wailing wall. Testimonies of sorrow were poetic, clunky or rambling, as the writers struggled in plain view of readers to put into words what they felt as they were thinking and typing, with little editing during or following. For any future historian of whatever calamity—even the recent Minneapolis bridge collapse -- these kinds of displays will be invaluable if somehow they are archived, preserved, and accessible.

Their deaths were disseminated through a variety of small self-informing communities, from art and literary circles, to marketing and game design groups and into the realm where conspiracy is an acknowledged part of consensus reality. Reaction ranged from almost incoherent grief to gleeful hectoring.

For the chronicler of earlier generations, coming across letters and journals was the best way of seeing through the eyes of those who experienced events as they happened. The words on yellowed pages gave the historian a seat by the elbow of the record keeper. Today, e-mail and blogs, even archived answering machine messages, present unique and multiple perspectives. These are real-time event records that are as close as one can get to the frantic phone calls and the conversational hubbub at coffee shops and art gallery gatherings.

(What will happen if at some point the technology fails or the power goes out for good is another matter. Where will the scribes come from to protect knowledge should Wikipedia ever go dark?)

If the human species survives, and a People’s History of the Blogosphere is one day written, there may well be a slender chapter titled "The Duncan-Blake Effect." This could offer a case study of how a tragic incident that concerned a rarefied group of people—participants and chroniclers of culture and society comprising a sliver in the greater arts world of Los Angeles and New York City—promulgated wider interest among those who were neither artists nor lived in either of those cities. That clamoring for actual sourced, jot and tittle news was delivered first not by the dead tree fiber media (DTFM), but online sources. The DTFM scrambled, spluttered, and proved itself unable to supply what was demanded in a time that would satisfy an audience grown accustomed to immediacy. In this case, what went sub rosa on the Internet drove what appeared in print and in the other electronic media." -- The Blue Raccoon, August 5, 2007, "Seven Kinds of Denial Just To Get Out Of Bed Part IV."

"For all the damage to reputations the Internet can cause, perhaps the greater anxiety from online communication is the weightlessness of it all. The whole World Wide Web can seem like a hall of mirrors — nothing tangible, no binding, no watermarks, no notary public seals. Where, exactly, is it? How do we know any of it is true?" -- Noam Cohen, July 7, 2008, "Poof! You're Umpublished." in the New York Times.

Image: The Wit of the Staircase, October 27, 2005;
“Letting The Freak Flag Fly.”

Drinking skeleton from Blake's Sodium Fox, Via Kinz,Tillou + Feigen.

Below the final image used by Duncan on The Wit of the Staircase. She made regular appropriations from fashion magazines and other sources. This created some controversy, while she lived, and unleashed a torrent of posthumous criticism accusing her of plagiarism and worse. Her defenders insisted that she, like Blake, was a collage artist working in a hypertext, cut-and-paste digital New Reality.

The picture came from a dramatic feature spread in the September 1997 Italian Vogue. The series of photographs was uploaded to a livejournal group called foto_decadent on July 9, 2007 -- the day before Duncan's death.

After rampant speculation about the image's origin, the "Picture of July 10" was identified by Leigh, on Tuesday, August 14, 2007, in a comment appended to the [by summer's end, defunct, Seaword] site.

The photographer was Ellen von Unwerth who may have received inspiration from the imagery in Jacque Rivette's 1974 antic and surreal epic Celine and Julie Go Boating. The film was mentioned in passing by Duncan in an April 3, 2006 post.

One of the film's characters is a librarian, and the other a cabaret magician, and both aspects appealed to Duncan's Wit of the Staircase sensibilities.

In numerous posts Duncan made references to magic and witchcraft. The mystery of the Staircase indeed, cast a powerful spell among a group of people who've proved quite susceptible to such bewitchments.

The fashion spread features two women, as in the film, and references the movie's magic act sequence, hence "A Magic Story" the subliminal message between the film frames, as suggested by the graphics.

And for weeks following the deaths of Duncan and Blake, bloggists tweezered out every kakamamie explanation, since many who've clambered upon the Internet are superstitious like neolithic people, seeing signs and symbols everywhere, and making crazy connections, A Beautiful Mind-style.

Perhaps Duncan, in her view in her last hours, was indicating that the whole story would be learned by reading between the lines.

And there's been quite a bit of that, for certain.

Images: Still from A Beautiful Mind, in which it is revealed just what John Nash has been doing in his office all this time (muy bueno to; the eaves habitat of Duncan at the Rectory of St. Mark's-in-the -Bowery, posted April 18, 2007.

Much was made, too, about Duncan's last and not untypical posting, from the great Georgia-born writer, poet and essayist Reynolds Price. How much of the meaning she thought could be derived from the excerpt is unclear, but the Internet Event Coroners enjoyed picking apart each syllable for clues. In retrospect, the sentiment seems to carry greater import than it might have otherwise. Which may have been Duncan's whole point. Then again, Price's observation of the human need to tell and hear stories may also serve as one of the theme epigrams for blogging, message boards and the diversity of online "communities."

Duncan didn't source the quote, either, a habit both attacked and defended. Many bloggists cut-and-paste material (including this one), in part because they can - Google makes everybody sound as though they know something, whether they do or not. A considerable percentage of bloggers and bloggists are fain to conduct the due diligence of sourcing the material and won't deign to understand from whence they ripped the stuff. Who after all has time to do such a thing in our demanding schedules (which is further clogged by, um, blogging). Thus, ease and convenience conspire into rationalizations about creativity.

The Quote of July 9 comes from Price's 1978 book A Palpable God: With an Essay on the Origins and Life of Narrative, which is a re-telling through a translation from the Greek of stories from the Bible.

"A need to tell and hear stories is essential to the species Homo sapiens--second in necessity apparently after nourishment and before love and shelter. Millions survive without love or home, almost none in silence; the opposite of silence leads quickly to narrative, and the sound of story is the dominant sound of our lives, from the small accounts of our day's events to the vast incommunicable constructs of psychopaths." --Reynolds Price

"Death Defying Acts of Art and Conspiracy"

The following is a partial "encore presentation" of part of posting from Saturday, August 25, 2007, Seven Different Kinds of Denial Just To Get Out of Bed Part VI: Conclusion.

Given the theme of today's anniversary, I might also add, for those of the billion-eyed audience who are playing the home game version, the shameful demonstration of cowardice by most of the U.S. Congress in regards to the FISA legislation that allows the government warrantless wiretap of overseas communication, and protects telecoms from civil claims.

And Beck's new album? Three years in the making and released on July 8, it's called Modern Guilt and though relishing in 1960s and psychedelic music tropes, the lyrics are darker. Quoting Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune:

"His lyrical outlook will be familiar to fans who discovered him more than a decade ago with the hit single "Loser" and his Dust Brothers-assisted 1995 masterpiece, "Odelay": dystopian wordplay funneled through a surrealist lens. By that standard, "Modern Guilt" is at the darker end of Beck's wordplay meter. The narrator envisions the apocalypse on "Orphans"; "Gamma Ray" imagines an environmental disaster; "Chemtrails" traffics in conspiracy theories worthy of "The X-Files"; "Modern Guilt" breaks out in cold-sweat paranoia; and "Walls" casually remarks, "You've got warheads stacked in the kitchen." In other words, how to live when you're constantly looking over your shoulder?

These ideas play out in tracks that sound more like aural hallucinations, a hybrid of standard rock instrumentation and Danger Mouse's arsenal of noisemakers. Woozy, wordless vocal tracks drift across the horizon, and the arrangements spiral through a galaxy of sound effects."

You an read the whole thing here, or see/hear some of it here.

Finally, a commemoration of Blake and Duncan, from Blake Robin, writing as Baron von Luxxury on Disco Workout.

And now, back to our encore presentation.

And now we take a pause for art; and work with a a particular pointed meaning for the essay at this particular juncture. The piece above, via the University Art Museum of the State University of New York at Albany, is representative of Mark Lombardi (1951-2000) whose business card read, "Death Defying Acts of of Art and Conpsiracy."

Lombardi used his own rigorous intuition and extensive research to create astonishing portraits of the unseen world of conspiracies that he charted with painstaking effort using 12,000 hand written note cards. Here is the "Truth Revealed" in graphic form, without blaring headlines and massive capital letters and exclamation marks, the very kinds of things that Theresa Duncan scrawled upon the virtual walls of the landings of her staircase.

"I am pillaging the corporate vocabulary of diagrams and charts…rearranging information in a visual format that's interesting to me and mapping the political and social terrain in which I live," he explained. In other words, Lombardi was doing Power Point presentations about the diabolic diaspora that runs things-- or-- as he viewed runs things.

Wburg. com's Frances Richard writes, "Lombardi referred to these pieces as "narrative structures," a phrase that emphasizes not only the dramatic chronologies embodied within the drawings, but the sequential or accreting process by which they were constructed."

The University of Albany explanatory text says it best, "From Whitewater to the Vatican Bank, Lombardi uses dotted lines and broken arrows to chart the paths of illicit deals and laundered money...By scrutinizing the mutable boundaries that separate artistic practice from daily life, Lombardi wrings visual poetry out of dirty secrets--the results are a chillingly beautiful guide to the facts of life."

The facts of life. What a depressing and hopeless phrase that is -- and Lombardi in the end must've thought so, too; the very weight of their import crushed all seven of his different kinds of denial needed to function in the world. He hung himself in his Williamsburg, New York City studio apartment.

For most of his adult life, Lombardi had been an archivist and librarian who created abstracts on the side. Then, in 1994, while doodling on a napkin during a phone conversation he had that flash of insight moment: charts, diagrams, connecting boxes. The second phase of his career began, getting successful shows, and moving him from Houston, Texas, to New York City, where he was well received.

Wikipedia has at least these two paragraphs of facts right:

t has been suggested that the strain of recreating one of his masterpieces (the BCCI-ICIC & FAB, 1972-91, which was destroyed by the sprinkler system in Lombardi's apartment), and of living in New York City, and of the destruction of his car by a taxi, as well as the stress of imminent success, all contributed to what the media portrays to have been a manic-depressive condition and eventually to his suicide.

A number of friends like Andy Feehan were mystified by Mark's death: "When the news of Mark's death arrived, all of us thought that he was murdered. We assumed that he had made one too many accusations, and that someone made a phone call. We still don't know what happened. We'd read that the medical examiner ruled Mark's death a suicide, but we're unable to understand or accept the idea that Mark would kill himself right when he was at the top of his game.

Lombardi was at times manic and he spoke of deep depressions. He'd retreat from the world to work though he spoke with his mother just about every day.

Feehan concluded that Lombardi was a mess, but not suicidal. "He would engage in furious work sessions and go without sleep [H'um-- sounds some creatives-- and more than a few bloggers-- out there...] but these qualities made him an artist, not predisposed to self-extinction."

For more information on Lombardi, look here, here and, rather lengthy but quite interesting, here.

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At 7:42 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's interesting about your selection of quotations is that none of those quoted actually knew her. Or indeed, ever met her.

At 11:01 AM, Blogger HEK said...

Thanks for dropping by, Anonymous, to this backwater of the Inner Net.

Yes, it is true, I do believe the assorted assembled chorus is from those who never met her, though with a few--in these anonyous-riven blogs--it's tough to know who knew how and when and for how long.

I do link to Blake Robin, who definitely knew her and has pictures to show and the grief to bear. But he's not exactly quoted.

But one aspect of the tremendous amount of time--for reasons that still confuse even me--that I spent obsessing about this event was that I became intrigued by the reaction and processing of information by the blogisceti. The event around the event was fascinating. I look back on it now and say: What possessed me?

I ended up getting this expressionistic perspective of the blogosphere as each individual gave her opinion, or his unspooled conspiracies.

But I think it's interesting:: far fewer commemorated her passing in this "public" way than who with such enthusiasm followed every tic and twitch on the Internet. What seemed so vital and important in the white heat of the moment, just isn't to plenty of people.

I do wonder,with the intimation of a shift in the dominant political culture, how she would've reacted.

The one quote I come back to, though, is the one from Manna, Aug. 20, on Gawker, about the causes of suicide, that "consequences of freedom are aimlessness and anomie, and that a consequence of the market economy is a lifetime of consumerism culminating in death without meaning. If this life is a hell for some, the world we have inherited is why..."

That about sums it up.

Thanks again.--HEK


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