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Friday, 25 November 2016

75 Psychics and they're all Wrong!

Out of the Blue by Virginie Rebetez is the latest book that focusses on a crime scene (the massively influential Red Headed Peckerwood, Watabe Yutichi's visually brilliant A Criminal Investigation and Jack Latham's excellent Sugar Paper Theories are three more. There are some really bad ones as well).

The book tells the story of Suzanne Lyall, who disappeared (Out of the Blue) in New York in 1998. It consists of a series of images from police and personal archives, mixed in with contemporary portraits of the area. There are personal recollections, psychic reports and police sketches to add to the mix (and you can read an interview from the artist's perspective here).

Out of the Blue opens with helicopter surveillance images of the highway where the initial police search began. It sets the scene of a narrative that never quites settles, in keeping perhaps with the lack of ease which we feel with the still-disappeared nature of Suzanne Lyall.

That lack of ease is compounded by the writing we see on the back of a photograph of Suzanne. 'Well, this is me! What do you think ugly or what?' it begins. We don't get to see the front of the photograph. We never get to see the front of the photograph, or any other image of Suzanne, not in full. She is partial, she's been partial ever since she went missing on March 2nd 1998.

The present kicks in after that through pictures of Upstate New York and then snippets from the Lyall family album. Here we see the empty frames of a set of passport pictures, the face of Suzanne snipped out, we see a page from a family album, the face of what we think to be Suzanne half covered by a scrap of paper (provided by the photographer I'm sure. So it's an interventionist obscuring).

There's her bedroom, her belongings (shrink-wrapped), a corsage made for her sister's Sandy's wedding (post-missing I am guessing) and more images where Suzanne appears, not quite fully there in some way.

A photocopy of her hand adds to the spectral half-presence, which is really a full presence but one reflected through the hard anchorage of the present day portraits of her mother, her house, the handmade t-shirts that have been framed in a memory that is as much in the present as it is in the past.

There's a clue about one of the hearts of the story, the psychic element as a fragment of a report in full capitalled Courier tells of an elderly female's dream about the 'missing'.

More landscapes appear, more sketches of psychic dreaming, more pictures of Suzanne's parents, Mary and Doug. But now the landscapes are less benign. The waters have a malign potential behind them, the pick up trucks and the diners exude a certain menace. And all the while there's a tension between these pieces of the past and the calm exteriors of Mary and Doug and their attempts to preserve their daughter's life through the collected ephemera of what was her everyday life.

And then we're into the 'Correspondence, since 1998' section. This consists of

'Reprints from the Lyall's family archive. Over the years the family was contacted by over 75 psychics. The 48 pink pages are a selection of documents from the correspondence between psychics, the Lyall family and Police investigators. These documents include fax, letters, emails, maps, drawings and reports.'

It's heartbreaking to read these psychic, spiritual and astrological meditations on Suzanne's fate, the brutal descriptiveness of them adding the idea that they are rooted in a very physical reality, a reality that involves violence, rape, strangling, murder. They read like they are real, they are written in such a way as to be believed. And yet they are all completely and utterly fabricated. It's a cruel trick to play on parents clinging to hope - a cruel trick that was played by over 75 people, all of whom (if they gave their report) had completely different endings. And each of those endings would have been played and replayed in the minds of Mary and Doug Lyall, with every variation

That might not be what was intended I don't know. But that's what happens with the reader far above and beyond the mysteries of siting and place and abstract ideas of multiple narratives. The reality of reading the book is the grounding of those multiple realities in the fate of Suzanne and her family.

There's a poster of  a retouched photograph of Suzanne enclosed in the book so we get to see who she is, sort of (it's one of 3 images that Rebetez commissioned a forensic artist to make that shows how old Suzanne would look at different ages). Everything is sort of. The whole tone of the book is wrapped in this miasma of a half-person who is neither here nor there, neither dead nor alive, who is kept alive through her parents' anguish and the slim chance that she is alive (which would probably lead to even more anguish), all topped off with this parasitic community of cruel psychics who feed off people's grief. And they are cruel.

The mix of materials, the partial picture, the unresolved grief, the parental view are all reminiscent of Laia Abril's brilliant The Epilogue. And like The Epilogue, Out of the Blue is not the easiest book to get into. Its text heavy, the images are fragmented, the story is not clean and simple, and in some ways the design reflects that. At the same time, it is entirely accessible and the fragmentation serves a purpose; it's not clinical, it's not cold. It's moving, a truly sad book that lays its tragedy down on the page, there for the reader to pick up. It's a really good book I think. Really good.

Buy Out of the Blue here. 

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