« What dreams! Those forests! »
Unaware of the presence of a tick attached to my abdomen, I went to bed one night in late spring and experienced exceptionally intense hypnagogic visions while falling asleep. Something happened to me on that night. What should have been a vague memory to shake off in the morning became a central liminal experience. I could not help asking questions that are impossible to answer. Was the creature dreaming inside me? Did our existences melt into each other? Were we temporarily sharing a single body and mind?
The visionary states between wakefulness and dreams are too wild to be faithfully translated into written words and I can’t completely recall the cascade of visual hallucinations that engulfed me. What I do remember is a sensation of being pulled out of my body and falling through trees that possessed and emanated energies that were both alien and powerful. I did no longer feel as an individual with a single awareness but as a profusion of beings and selves who expanded out into the depths of forest. The experience triggered a series of observations but let me put my ideas into context.
We moved earlier this year to the Belgian Ardennes. The Ardennes is one of the least populated regions in Europe and conveys more often than not a true sense of darkness and seclusion. Our decision to live in a cabin set amidst dense forests was partly the result of a spinal injury that left me unable to work and travel the world in the same way as before. It was equally motivated by the will to disrupt the routines of my professional life and gain a new perspective on art.
My primary motivations to go into the woods were, and still are, to gain a root understanding of the world and to observe and study nonhuman, anonymous sorcery. I want to learn and understand the system through which the sorcerous power flows. Besides, I need to find out what artistic activity means and reveals if it takes place outside the circle of a specific group or community. Art, like sorcery I believe, is a creative practice that acts on the planet as a whole and not just in a cultural framework.
Drawing from the forest’s underworld in the earth and the palpable but mostly hidden forces of nature, I started to make art that is essentially experiential and often invisible to the human eye. Over the past months, I buried decomposable work to absorb and disseminate power beneath, in the soil. I carefully blackened dead trees, wood decaying fungi and trunk wounds. I excavated roots, carved them and put them back into the ground. I shaped tree limbs that have known the ravaging force of wildfire into dark antlered figures. I exposed leaves on which I had drawn cosmic lines and intersections to the erosive agents of rivers, wind and weather. There must not always be a human spectator for art to exist.
Thus far, the wheel of the year has not turned full circle but I work daily with the forces at work in the forest and watch it perform its living play and drama. I observed birth, growth and decay on the forest floor, the hunting habits of various predators, northern Europe’s hottest and driest summer, the longest blood moon eclipse in decades, lightning that should not exist, electrical storms, changing weather and passing seasons. In addition to ticks, I got attacked by an army of flies, red ants and a caterpillar, whose poisonous hair brushed against the back of my neck and caused an astonishing number of stings.
Insects and arachnids are the only creatures big enough to see with the naked eye that predate on humans but there are countless others. The woods are populated by beings who assault and affect all that comes within their reach. Everything here is sprawling and invasive. The forest itself is in a permanent state of transgression. We are connected to a web of power relations in which everything interacts. If we wish to enter into dialogue with the nonhuman world and experience art as a symbiotic practice, the forest is a perfect place to dwell.
As an alternative to a human-centric approach, I want to suggest the possibility of shifting our perspective to align ourselves with the sorcerous current, the universal force of change that acts upon all substances and affects all things. This is the sorcerer’s grail, the ultimate goal – to incorporate the current and play an active part in the cosmic circuit of matter and consciousness. We act in the game of survival as one among many creatures. Death is our central challenge but death is not our enemy. The interaction between life and death is the necessary cause of the creative process.
The visceral realities of a predatory world don’t fit well with our contemporary worldviews. They reveal a human connectedness with nature that is difficult for the modern mind to appreciate. We usually shy away from the fact that our lives are nourished through the death of other beings but we cannot get something from nothing. We consume living things and will someday be consumed by other living things. Life does not belong to particular beings, it is based on principles of transition, conversion and transformation.
If we want to study interweaving life forms and think with and not against death, the forest is the right place to examine. In the woods, predatory interactions between different species and embodiments are constantly taking place. The visionary power of the forest results from the assimilation and confusion of all that constitutes it. It’s nearly impossible to distinguish animate from inanimate and finite from infinite in an environment in which elements are continuously destroyed and created anew. The forest does not separate predator from prey or life from death, it spins its dark web around all.
Maybe our most substantial dreams give us a glimpse into a substratum underlying all planetary existence. What if we deepen and evolve our visionary skills? What if we actively embrace the absorption into the outside that we experience during hypnagogia as a form of ecstasy, a state of being outside of ourselves? What if we convert our fears into creative desires? Our sorcerous task consists in transferring the power of transformation from our visions to our working practices. By overcoming the human condition in our dreams, we anticipate our future in the elemental sphere. At the core, we all have a radical alien essence. Sooner or later, it will shift us from flesh to a multiplicity at-one with existence.
Gast Bouschet, 31st of October 2018.
Dear friends and allies,
do you know what the dark art is to me?
Poisonous beauty hovering in suspense, over the abyss. The voice of the non-human that creeps up on us. The awakening of a deeper identity. A longing to become other. A complex relational field of both terror and redemption. A roar of raw cosmic energy and ecstasy. The light of darkness itself.
Allow me to begin at the beginning. First there was something dark and muddy and then there was an unclean signal and glyph, a sign of future becomings. The origin of our art lies deeply hidden within Palaeolithic caves. Secret underground spaces host some of the most powerful pieces of art ever created. People entered zones of total darkness to gain insight and visions into an alternate reality that they projected onto cave walls and ceilings like motion pictures. Their experiences were either related to the mysteries of the underworld or to the starry realms of the night sky. The area of invisibility at the end of subterranean passages served as an entrance to the otherworld and a gateway to transformation. The ecstatic visions of ancient sorcerers had a profound influence on human culture. Summoning the mysteries of the universe into the phenomenal world has been a driving force behind art for millennia. The dark light that shines at the core of nature puts us in touch with our primordial roots and the reality of the all-consuming fire of time.
But few are those nowadays who seem to have a yearning for an art that aims for a participation in cosmic becoming. Most people consider art to be an end in itself. Contemporary culture seems to have forgotten about the cosmic dimension of art. Our will to connect with the universe and its unknown forces seems weirdly displaced today. Let us not eschew the obvious; an art that is made for other purposes than being shown and collected is hardly welcomed by a system that has become part of capitalized mass culture. Galleries can’t sell the black light that our spells are conjuring and museums have little use for artists who aim to invoke those dark creative forces within their white cube spaces. The dark art of transforming matter and experiences primarily thrives outside the contemporary art scene. Driven by the illusion of neutral space and timelessness, art galleries and museums have built an entire worldview on light and all that it represents.
Nothing is more needed in times of excessive light and overexposure than the depths of darkness. In order to connect with our inner being, as well as the universe at large, we have to awake to the dark. In the dark, we feel the universe within ourselves. In the dark and away from the light, we expand into the universe. Art, in its most profound expression aims at the infinite, it opens a gate to the eternal realms beyond our daily lives and makes us participate in the cosmic dance of death and renewal. To recover the primary experience of art, we need to unearth our profound personal desires and motivations. Our art is not driven by the search for popularity. It is not about how high we are ranked on some list or how well we are connected to global networks. One works and acts with others but what affects us at our deepest level is the intense, physical experience of life itself. The dark art expresses a philosophy of alterity, a politics of heresy and a metaphysics of revolt that aims to transform our personal and collective existence. There must always be a vision to strive for.
Dear friends and allies, let me ask you: how can we affect capitalist reality through our art? How to withstand cultural hegemony? How to develop secret modes of intervention in a community in which all information is known? What does light and darkness mean in a society of surveillance and publicity? What is the secret of secrecy? What is at stake here is the building of a force outside our ubiquitous circuits of visibility. Our art involves tactics of resistance and insurrection but its greatest strength lies in its hiddenness. Sorcery defies rationality and comprehension so those in power cannot easily recognize and control it. Visibility is always correlated to the sovereign but the ruling class never runs the show entirely. Our methods and ways should be neither predictable nor controllable. Let’s evade urban zones of surveillance and return to the source of our art and magic, at least for a spell. Let’s descend into the dark places of the earth which are not entirely owned by capitalism. The dark revolution starts here, in the world of shadows and margins. If our creations resonate with our deep dreams, they will eventually become a contagious drive toward a new bringing into being.
The dark art situates itself at the edge where existing things end and new things begin. Evolution is intensely mysterious and open-ended. By willingly exposing ourselves to the outside, we allow new possibilities of participation and symbiosis to arise. Previously unimaginable opportunities sometimes rise out of new contacts between human and nonhuman agents. Let us expand the horizon and focus on what is emerging. Our existence depends on the successful integration of foreignness and otherness. It is only by assimilating the alienating forces of the other that we can evolve. Our association with the nonhuman is not far fetched. What we usually define as the outside is already present within. We participate in complex networks in which our human parts intersect with the dark streams of the nonhuman and the geological. We are living beings that consist of geological materials such as calcium, iron and phosphorus. Our skeleton is mineral. Our immune system relies upon parasitic worms to work correctly and there are more bacteria in our bodies than human components. It seems that the flora of our intestinal system alone is composed of 100 trillion microorganisms. Whose body is it anyway?
Human domination over the planet is taken for granted today but the earth was not ours to begin with and will never entirely become so. We must let go of the illusion of total control and expose ourselves to the multiple outsides of which we take part. The signs of planetary change are all around us but we do not know whether we are witnessing the end of the world as we know it or the beginning of a new world. Fundamental change is always accompanied by the fear of the unknown. The metamorphosis that we are going through is an identity-shattering process but our enlightened civilization does not teach us how to handle extreme transformative crisis. In a culture obsessed with light and clarity, we have forgotten how to cope with forces too obscure to be quickly explained away. The dark art helps us to go over into foreign territory and participate it its otherness.
Contemporary sorcery is about absorbing the strange and unfamiliar. We need to look out for simultaneously archaic and highly advanced forms of relating to foreignness. The way we see the world has drastically changed over time but there actually exists a continuum between our ancient myths and our latest theories on evolution. What underlies both our most abysmal sorceries and our most recent philosophies of becoming is the terrifying, yet ultimately freeing interaction of human and nonhuman agents. The way in which theories of posthumanism describe contemporary flows of mutation often resonates strongly with the sorcerer’s merging with the demonic other. Both systems of thought aspire to shift our perspective and make us take part in complex feedback processes. Our future will depend on how successful we will mediate power relations between all kinds of planetary agents, including ourselves.
Wherever we look these days, we see cynicism and hopelessness. The biggest threat that humanity faces today is to see the future as nothing but a curse. Neurologists inform us that the worst aspect of depression is that it narrows our field of vision so that we can see no options to escape our present condition. If we can free our eyes for a moment from the media focus on civilizational disintegration, we will maybe see that sorcerous possibilities rise out of the ashes of Empire. The task that awaits us is to find our equivalents for the sorcerous practices that helped our ancestors to confront the massive threats at the close of the paleolithic ice age. We need to recover the original wisdom born from the dark womb of the cave but in order to survive the violence of our times, we must live our visions right here, in the present. The dark art is not something from the past, it is the timeless technique of renewing the world through visionary experience. What is required is a new form of perception that makes us experience reality differently and see the world through the eyes of the other. Sorcery allows us to shed our human skin and expand into the unknown.
We must concentrate our efforts on the long-term effects of our work. Let’s reject the ephemeral, capitalist notion of ‘project’ that rules contemporary culture and set our lifetime goals. Some objectives take decades, even centuries to be achieved and cannot be accomplished by a single generation. Our art will continue, growing, evolving, spreading into the universe. Let us dive into the elemental and align our art to the currents of the flickering abyss. Its black light opens a gate to the immensity from which we all emerge and to which we will return. Our sorcerous task is to reach out into the open and become something else, something beyond the human, to transform into the flow of change itself. We need to push the boundaries of possibility and act between life and death. Our current physical and mental structure does not condition our alien future. Ultimately, the radical otherness of Radiant Darkness teaches us the demonic art of living on beyond the edge of a fixed form. The sublime paradox of Radiant Darkness erases the distinction between being and non-being and leads us into the void from which all existence springs. Let the unborn arise in us, invisible.
Gast Bouschet 017
Everything calls for new beginnings. We need a new politics of art that is capable of creating unexpected alliances and contact zones between self and other, human and non-human, the terrestrial and the cosmic. What is necessary is a shift in perspective that allows us to initiate a general process of reanimation. The way we perceive the world conditions, the way we act in and through it.
Art does not come out of nothing. Our creations are collaborations with matter and anonymous flows that move through us and in which we take part. Artworks are conceived and produced in complicity with planetary and universal forces. They associate us to a much larger set of relations than our human-centered ideological persuasions make us believe. Art essentially connects us to a cosmic dimension. The metamorphic qualities of dance, sound and moving images in particular are capable of installing the state of fluidity that is necessary to produce visionary experiences and explore the potential to enact change. The flow of metamorphosis is permanently active in the natural world and runs through all things. From quantum scale events to galactic collisions, the predatory forces of the universe leave no boundary untouched and no thing unharmed. Over time, all singular beings and existences are melted down into the milky ocean of infinity. Everything participates in a universal process of transformation and only temporary individual forms and bodies exist.
The conversion of matter into energy lies at the heart of our endeavour. Our task is to install sorcery as a new form of political art. Sorcery’s revolutionary current draws its strength from the will of the deep. It operates at the source of phenomenal existence, where not-fully-formed, unstable matters circulate and pass into one another. Where active fluids take the place of structure and boundaries between the singular and the universal are transgressed and overthrown. We need to act and think like the earth, “with the earth” as Nietzsche wrote, and plug into the deep pulse of cosmos. The universe is in a state of permanent revolution. We can as well look up to the stars as down into black earth, we see the same forces of destructive regeneration at work and we constantly witness the creation of new worlds. There is no final annihilation but only elemental transformation. What is called for today is a vision of cosmological scope. The solution to overcome the distress of our time lies within the planet itself and our relation toward it. Earth is alive with dynamic freedom and revives itself continually. It is never static and never completed.
Disequilibrium is necessary to the dynamic process of becoming. Biologist Elisabet Sahtouris describes how change operates in the natural world: “In metamorphosis, small cells known as imaginal discs begin to appear in the body of the caterpillar. Since they are not recognized by the caterpillar’s immune system, they are immediately wiped out. But as they grow in number and begin to link up, they ultimately overwhelm the caterpillar’s immune system. Its body then goes into meltdown and the imaginal discs build the butterfly from the spent materials of the caterpillar.” It would serve us well to study transformative processes in nature and examine critical thresholds and abrupt changes in nonlinear dynamic systems. Theories of chaos and complexity equally inform us that change is brought about by a growing number of anomalies that eventually add up to throw even the most resilient system into crisis. Small alterations and variations of intensity and stress can have big effects. There are forms of resonance and feedback that hugely amplify the effect of the initial impulse. The micro-politics of sorcery interact with one another and cascade in complex ways that allow them to perform the incredible.
Sorcery has always been present at times of profound ecological and civilisational change. Its tension arises from the ground of uncertainty that underlies both creation and destruction. Sorcery is the unstoppable force of renewal as such, the rule of nature put into effect. The revolutionary movement of sorcery affects and unsettles all that is thought to be pure or safely ordered and structured. Sorcerous phenomena thrive in uncertain forms and chthonic outflows of being. They materialize in volcanic gases and dust that rise from the depths of the earth, in bacteria released from melting glaciers or in strange crystals like viruses that exist somewhere between the living and the non-living. Sorcery actualizes in the lines of flux of the earth’s magnetic field or in extreme natural phenomena that affect the world and possibly shift its balances of power: from severe weather and climate events to the storms that stir up the waters of the sea. Systems contaminate each other and provoke new creative displacements and arrangements. Our ability to respond to fundamental changes of the physical and chemical conditions on Earth will define our future.
Evolution depends on impermanence and the manifold relationships between being and world. Nothing is on its own, everything’s intermixed and all that has been out there at some moment in time is still somehow around. Things do not vanish into nothing, they pull out into the unexposed or reshape into new substances. We share a complex and largely invisible universe with a multitude of other composite creatures and phenomena. Our existence is symbiotically linked to foreign and immigrant life forms that spread throughout time and space. There is no such thing as human race per se, we are made of all kinds of parts. We do not know what the future holds and what role we will play in it. Our chances of adaptation and survival in an uncertain world will have much to do with how we position ourselves toward it. It’s all about interaction, crossover and the space between. Sorcerous art reaches out into the intermediate domain that ties the human sphere to a larger creative process.
Sorcery is the formless power that insinuates itself between things and binds them together. It is the relational factor that connects us to everything else. All matter, human and nonhuman alike, is basically formed of the same atomic material that in turn is essentially made up of stardust. As John Gribbin writes in “Stardust – the cosmic recycling of stars, planets and people”: “Every atom of every element in your body except for hydrogen has been manufactured inside stars, scattered across the Universe in great stellar explosions, and recycled to become part of you.” There’s more, there always is: “You can be absolutely sure that all of the nitrogen in the air that you breathe and in the DNA in your cells, along with most of the carbon in your body, had a previous existence as part of one or more planetary nebulae, expelled from red giant stars.” We should make use of such integral connections and intentionally associate ourselves to the forces that permeate the universe. What is at disposal for a contemporary, sorcerous perspective on change and evolution is the measureless expanse of the universe and our profound connection to it. If we tap into and work with the flow of energies and materials that moves between all stuff, we become boundless.
The agitating forces of matter and the movement of metamorphosis ultimately point toward a dark communion with the infinite that lurks beneath all things. At the planetary level, boundaries and separations dissolve and singular beings withdraw into the depth of atoms, an internal black hole that makes no use of cosmic distances. Individual consciousness exiles itself into the universal fluid of elemental forces. The core of our very existence is indistinguishable from the pulsations and vibrations of all other things in the universe. Sooner or later, all configurations of matter are torn back into an undeveloped state where they subsist in a non-apparent manner, like latent images eventually to be re-formed into new patterns of being. Things dissolve so that other things may emerge. There is an affecting presence of power in all materiality and the deeper we go into it, the more we discover that all is dynamically linked. The world is made of energy transformation. We do not know what animates the subatomic micro-world. Nor what it feels like to be a molecular cloud or magnetized plasma that permeates the universe or if we can attribute inner experience to elementary particles but we take seriously the radical transformative potential of sorcery. We should not exclude the possibility of creatively encountering the unknown.
Gast Bouschet 016.