Since the publication of Anarch, I’ve started a new body of work that you can follow on Instagram
I had an enriching exchange of ideas with Snappy and Graham, the hosts of the podcast Searching for Dragons, about the politics and poetics of my sorcerous art.
They present our collaboration with these words: “We previously discussed Gast Bouschet’s book Anarch on the fifth episode of our podcast, Searching for Dragons. After this discussion we began a friendly dialogue with Gast talking about sorcery and philosophy, and sharing perspectives. This was a fruitful and beautiful discussion and we felt it would make for an incredible interview. Due to personal health issues, Gast was unable to do a live discussion so instead Graham and I wrote several deep questions for Gast to answer in text. You will find the full text of our interview below.” — Snappy of Drawing Down the Stars
Here is the link to the YouTube episode “Searching for Dragons”, in which Graham and Snappy discuss the interview on 16 December at 8pm EST : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqlpe9HAHlM
You can watch the episode of Searching for Dragons where they discuss my book Anarch at the bottom of this page.
Drawing Down the Stars is a magical and sorcerous collective focused on creating discussion and videos about Magic, Mythology, Occultism and Witchcraft.
Here’s the full interview:
How did you become engaged in Occultism and what drew you initially to alchemical practice? And what separates your work from classical alchemy?
Well, there was something like an initiation experience. When I was 9 years old and my grandfather, who had died the day before, was laid out in the neighbouring bedroom, I had a nightmare from which I woke up brutally when a black stone lying on my chest suddenly began to pulsate with flashes of light and then fell into me, pulling me into an inner black hole. That night drenched in dread, and the strict Catholic mourning rituals my family went through for a year took their toll on me, and I almost didn’t grow for the next three years. A decade later, I realised that I had dreamt of what is called the Black Sun in alchemy. The first image of it is probably printed in the treatise Philosophia Reformata, which I also had tattooed on my body so that I would carry it with me as a living sigil until my death. When I was in my early twenties, I went on many LSD trips, which brought back what I had experienced as a child and sometimes dragged me even deeper into this abyss. Horror and ecstatic joy are very close to each other with this drug and sometimes even merge at high doses. In smaller doses, LSD enabled me to experience my physical access to the world in a completely new way. At the time, I saw Castaneda’s first three books as a guide to the life of a sorcerous warrior who always has death an arm’s length behind them and who must pass tests by going beyond what is generally considered possible. Having previously been involved in sports at a fairly high level for ten years, including being a national champion in judo in my age group, doing high jump and long jump, and playing handball in the junior national team, I was in good shape in my twenties and had mastered tasks on LSD, such as quickly crossing a stream by jumping from wet stone to wet stone at great speed. Or I would go hiking in the forest at night, sometimes in difficult weather conditions and in complete darkness, to face the blackness and encounter the demons living there. With or without drugs, I put myself in a state of mind that, with a little good will, could be compared to that of a sorcerous warrior. Such a view of course romanticises what I was doing and what I was capable of, and I was very lucky not to break my neck, but it was incredibly empowering at the time to physically do things that I then saw as necessary steps on the path of sorcery. After those wild youthful years, I became more cautious, but the physical approach remained throughout my life until I had an accident in 2017 that put an end to it, or at least redefined my physical connection to the world. I had often shot my videos in harsh conditions, working in toxic fumes on volcanoes, climbing into caves or crawling under glacier tongues where sometimes heavy chunks of ice would break out next to me and could have killed me. Danger and seeking out demonic forces in the wilderness have always been an essential part of my work, and I have done my best to convey this in the images themselves. Without it, I don’t think it would be possible to make sorcerous art, which always has to pose a threat to be labelled as such.
Classical alchemy is a vague term, as alchemy was practised on different continents at different times and there is no standardised definition for it. There are practices that are summarised under this term, but they can only be compared with each other to a limited extent. Be that as it may, I am trying to update alchemical thinking and practice for our century, which is characterised by an unprecedented relationship with nature, a nature that we have changed so much that it has little in common with what can be called natural. But nature is a problematic concept in itself, because it is characterised by our view of the planet, which actually says more about the people who look at the world than about the world itself, and which really only refers to the fungal infestation that covers the planet’s crust, as Schopenhauer once put it. In any case, what we can call fungal infestation has been significantly altered by us in a kind of black magic that poisons our living conditions and those of the other beings with whom we share the planet. I associate this planetary poisoning with the personal suffering that manifests itself in the chronic pain and disability that plagues my body. So there is a kind of inner and outer alchemy at work in my art. But actually, the toxic black alchemy I am talking about here is only one aspect of what I understand by the dark sacred. At the centre of my work is the primordial blackness that is the womb and tomb and chaotic seed of all possibilities. And it is important for me to emphasise that this blackness is everpresent and was not only there in the beginning. Blackness is the living substance of the universe, which is active in both the infinitely large and the quantum small. My art is about nourishing this blackness and channelling its creative potential into my artworks. Only when I succeed in this can I speak of my art as black alchemy or alchemical sorcery.
You mention in your book the works of Georges Bataille, what are your thoughts on his concept of immanence and humanity’s inability to return to a past of continuity, one free of disconnection?
From a sorcerous point of view, it is important that we penetrate the deeper layers of being through visionary work, which also means a regression in time, to the primal human and beyond into the animal and even bacterial and microbial, to finally end up in the black primordial matter. Bataille’s satanic conception of base matter, which opposes the betrayal of nature committed by the Christian religion in which I grew up, is important to me. I see in his base materialism the continuity you mention, Nietzsche’s “Ur-Eine” or primordial oneness, which I locate in the chaotic depths of the chthonic universe. The encounter with base matter is like falling into an abyss.
In the context of black alchemy, Bataille’s idea that matter is an active principle, especially in its decomposition, also seems important to me: “At the moment of metabolic meltdown all the daemonic, cosmogenetic force contained in the flesh is discharged in a dialectical expenditure that reworlds the world.” The idea of reworlding the world has made a lasting impression on me.
Bataille also explored the art of transmuting fear and pain into joy, at least temporarily, which has always appealed to me because of my experiences as a young man and which has taken on a much greater significance since my accident after having to live with chronic pain. It’s not about being lulled into false hope – hope can be a terrible enemy when you can’t permanently change a condition for the better – but about going into the depths of pain and fear and standing in what he calls a solitary darkness , in an attitude without the gesture of a supplicant. This « attitude without the gesture of a supplicant » is that of the sorcerous warrior that I have been striving for since my youth.
If you will allow me, I would like to conclude the question on Bataille with a quotation from him: “I myself stand on various peaks that I have climbed sadly; my various nights of terror collide – they multiply, they intertwine and these peaks, these nights . . unspeakable joy… I pause. I am? a cry-thrown back, I collapse.”
Your work is titled Anarch, and there are references to Milton’s Paradise Lost. Can you talk about your thoughts on philosophical Anarchism and the concept of the Anarch and its relation to Saturn?
Milton is perhaps the closest to my sorcerous idea of chaos in that on the one hand he addresses the anonymity and multiplicity of embryon atoms that are constantly fighting for survival within the eternal anarchy of chaos, and on the other embodies this chaos in the paradoxical figure of Anarch old, which is helpful when working magically to give a face, so to speak, to the power we are dealing with. I don’t know if I would describe myself as an anarchist in the historical sense. I am cautious when it comes to collective struggle for common goals. I think that basically only individual existences are real, communities of whatever kind are illusions that are also mostly ideological. But perhaps this is the true anarchism. Bakunin pointed out that political anarchism rises out of our animal essence. In any case, my thinking can be described as anarchistic, in the sense that I believe that the universe itself is chaotic or anarchistic, and I reject any form of hierarchy in the exercise of power, as far as this is possible in relation to all living beings, but of course this is doomed to failure. I fight viruses and bacteria with drugs like everyone else when they make me sick and threaten my life, and I feed on animals and plants. We live in a predatory universe in which survival can only be guaranteed if beings kill other beings. We have to live with this existential guilt that we humans are part of the collective murder without lying to ourselves by reassuring each other that we are on the right side of the divide between good and evil. The virus is not evil, it fights for survival, although the status of viruses is not clearly defined and they are thought to exist somewhere between death and life, an intriguing idea that would be worth exploring further, but never mind. Viruses try to survive in some ways, just as we do, but I’m not telling you anything new here.
The leap from Anarch to Saturn is a bold one, but let me try. I think that behind the figure of the mythological Saturn is chaos. However, I’m not sure I would go so far as to call Saturn himself an embodiment of this chaos as we do with Anarch. Saturn is often referred to as the guardian of the threshold between the known and the unknown universe, which is probably due to the fact that the planet whose name it bears is the last one we could see with our eyes before the telescope was used to observe the night sky. But the figure of Saturn appears in many mythologies, European, Arabic, Jewish, Indian and probably some more, and I don’t want to reduce it to one meaning. To a certain extent, I also find the vision of the planet Saturn from the point of view of the Fraternitas Saturni exciting because, as with the black sun, it involves the alchemical marriage between light and blackness. They see Lucifer who embodies the light as the higher octave of the planet Saturn and Satan, who embodies darkness, as its lower octave.
Throughout your work there is a rejection of western “spirituality” and there’s a professed hard materialism. Can you discuss your perspective on spirituality and materialism?
To put it in a nutshell. I think that matter is everything that exists, but that it is so mysterious that it has little in common with what we generally understand it to be. The spiritual takes us away from what we call nature and brings into play the transcendental, which is somewhere beyond earth, usually in heaven. I can’t relate to the concept of the spiritual, it’s too airy and not earthy enough for me. I’m too much of a Nietzschean who whispered to me that I should stay true to the earth.
I think we in the West gave up something essential when we elevated ourselves from the animistic substratum to the transcendent. It is unfortunately very ambiguous to speak of animism today because the term is tainted by the colonial thinking that still characterises us today, but I cannot think of a better term at the moment that would more accurately describe what I mean, so I use it with the caution I emphasise here. In the case of my practice, I should also call this animism sinister animism, because as I have already mentioned, we are dealing with a world in which the natural of nature has been destroyed, though probably not yet to the point where the earth can no longer exist. The question that arises is the one that you, Snappy, raised in one of our earlier conversations. Namely, whether humanity will survive this great change. I will leave that question open.
Can you discuss your connection to African traditions? Your perspective on Vodun and animism in general?
These connections are based on personal experience. I need to expand a little to shed some light on the context. I have worked intensively with African artists and curators since the late eighties of the last century. At that time I met Fernando Alvim, an Angolan artist who had founded a centre for contemporary African art in Brussels, where I was living, and who was very keen at the time to create a road between the two continents on which, as he pointed out, you could travel in both directions. This centre, which existed in various forms in Brussels until 2005 and was later relocated to Luanda, was an international meeting place for artists from Africa and the African diaspora. I spent nights talking to many of these artists and intellectuals about topics as diverse as neo-colonial politics and the influence of the Nkisi spirits. Some inspiring relationships developed, for example with Simon Njami, who now plays an important role in contemporary art and is currently involved in the selection of the curator for the next Documenta and who wrote a brilliant article about my work in which he even went so far as to claim that my work in South Africa had made me an African, whatever that means. I exhibited my work half a dozen times at Camouflage, as the centre was called in its late phase, and travelled to some African countries back then, to Egypt, which is all too easy to forget is an African country and plays an important role if you have an alchemical practice, because the roots, at least of one of the best known forms of alchemy, are in Africa. One should also make more connections between Vodun practices and alchemy. Suzanne Preston Blier does this in her book “African Vodun” but otherwise little reference is made to it. I have worked in Ghana too, where I explored the influence of religious imperialism in The Trustfiles. This work led to my participation in the first Luanda Biennale in Angola. South Africa has been a major influence, which I visited several times and where I completed a residency that led to an exhibition in Johannesburg and later to the publication of a book dedicated to this work. However, the work on my video installation Collision Zone, with which I represented Luxembourg at the 2009 Venice Biennale and in which I juxtaposed African immigration movements with the shifting of tectonic plates, seems to me to be the most significant. It revolved around the political and geological tensions in the Mediterranean that are literally turning this region into a collision zone. I experienced some of these tensions first hand when I was arrested in Ceuta on the Moroccan border for illegally filming there and could literally feel the paranoia that Fortress Europe has to militarily secure its borders.
As you can see, there are many connections to Africa. It’s also important to mention the proximity of my sculptural work to Vodun. It’s a troublesome thing with such influences because most people nowadays immediately assume cultural appropriation when you mention them. But, as my Angolan friend said, the motorway goes both ways, and if you don’t mind Africans adopting European working methods, you shouldn’t mind Europeans doing the same with African ones. We have often talked about Oswald de Andrade’s “cannibalist manifesto”, the basic idea of which is that Brazil’s history of “cannibalising” other cultures is its greatest strength. We are all cultural cannibals, but I don’t think we can adopt the strategies of other cultures one-to-one in other contexts, we have to make them our own and make something personal out of them. However that may be, I have tried to find out as much as possible about the sculptures called Bocios, which play a central role in Vodun. They help me to get a view of art objects that is not exclusively characterised by their aesthetics, but by the materials that these objects are made of or that are added to them to give them a magical charge. In addition, the transience that comes into play in Bocios is a central element of my work, especially that which I develop here in the Ardennes Forest.
Can you elaborate on your process of image creation and the role divine images play in ritual? How does this lead to communication and perception of the “other”?
This process flows directly from what I mentioned in the previous answer at the end. Sorcerous art is a dialogue with the visible and invisible beings that populate the forest, in which power relations are negotiated. It is about entering the so-called “imaginary realm” through a shift in consciousness. There we can connect with the forces at work in the otherworld and give them the opportunity to express themselves in the world of images. They do this by guiding our hand, so to speak, in the realisation of the images.
However, to bring this potential to full fruition, we need to nourish the images through offerings and animate them through rites, which in some cases should be performed daily when we are dealing with beings that we have closely bound to us, and in other cases only seasonally. In some cases, we can also put the images into a deep sleep, in which they remain for years before we awaken them again and make them affective. In any case, only through constant communication do images come alive and affect us in such a way that they truly become a part of our lives. As always with sacred art (or divine images as you call it), but especially in our atomised western society where community rites have largely disappeared from social life, the question arises as to whether and how we can share living images. In many cases, it is probably best to live with them alone, in a society that has no understanding of such approaches, or at least has lost it. But ultimately the question of whether we should remain alone with the sacred images or share them is one that I am confronted with again and again when a new work is created.
Can you discuss your sacred goal? The creation of a work of art from the blackness itself? The drawing down of the eye into the material realm of the forest?
My ultimate goal is to connect with the sacred blackness of the universe through alchemical thinking and practice, so that when I die, I return to it and experience this return as a homecoming. For Socrates and Plato, philosophy is a preparation for death. I think this is all the more true when we deal with occult philosophy and black alchemy. The blackness inherent in this term and underlying my art is often interpreted as pessimistic or nihilistic, but this is a misunderstanding. The aim is to translate the human back to nature, or the chthonic universe or whatever we wanna call it.
By drawing the eye down into the material realm of the forest, you refer to the black sculptures that I have painted with bone charcoal and which I have installed and anchored here in the forest clearing. Depending on the light and weather conditions, they are sometimes so dark that they act like negative matter and draw the eye like a black hole into the depths of the forest, which I equate with the underworld. I spend a lot of time meditating on this blackness and connecting it to the darkness in my body. We carry the blackness of the universe within us, and my practice is largely about nurturing and celebrating it. And indeed, the ultimate goal is to create a work of art from this blackness, but I will fail.
Can you discuss the politics of your work? The radical inclusiveness and the rejection of traditionalism? And your thoughts on the current occult landscape in terms of politics?
I always see sorcerous art as political art that aims to undermine control mechanisms. I think that everyone should be active in their own field, and in my case that was the art world for decades. Today, my work is more likely to be located in so-called occulture, but I still oppose the defusing of art by institutional politics, which prevents us from challenging the system that makes cultural institutions possible in the first place. In everyday dealings with contemporary museums, the problem usually manifests itself in the fact that, if the institutions have their way, art must always be there for everyone and must not offend the supposed sensitivities of the public. The aim is to make art appear suitable for families. This demand prevents us from working radically. But I should say what I understand by political art. Even though my heart beats more to the left than to the right, if such distinctions still make sense today, I think that political art should not be expressed as propaganda for one side of the political spectrum or the other, but result from the question of whether we act independently or rely on the help of institutions to achieve something. And political art manifests itself in the materials we work with, in the way we proceed and in the goals we pursue, which should never be based on ideological thinking.
Sorcerous art is a revolt against those who are in power and can therefore define what is real. As an example of my working method, I would like to mention a large video installation such as Metamorphic Earth, which I recently renamed Satanic Earth. In it, I put a curse on the financial world in the City of London. I worked with volcanic ash and dust, which I collected after a volcanic eruption in Iceland and then smeared on the camera lens, along with rainwater and once even dirty snow when it snowed heavily in London and all air and rail links were disrupted. The work took several years to accomplish and involved engaging with meteorological forces and the chthonic forces of the earth that gave the curse its potency in the form of black volcanic dust. Such actions turn my work into sorcerous and political art. Sometimes I cast a spell on the art world with large, expansive installations when I take part in biennials and museum exhibitions, and sometimes I resort to largely unnoticed guerrilla tactics.
To give another example. I often disguise occult attacks as art, such as when, together with noise musicians Yannick Franck and Xavier Dubois, I bombarded the façade of a prestigious museum, which was filled that evening with bankers and other members of high society, with demonic light and sound vibrations. Our goal was to trigger seismic molecular events in the architectural concrete and glass and bring the damn thing down. We didn’t succeed, of course, but our sorcerous attack disturbed quite a few people that night. The technicians we were working with at the time were baffled as to why we were pointing the wall of loudspeakers at the museum and not at the small audience who were brave enough to join us in the cold rain to watch the performance while high art was being celebrated in the swanky museum.
I will not be able to do justice to the complexity of the issues surrounding so-called traditionalism, but as I am sure you can see from my explanations, I am very critical of them. My work is directed against the hierarchical and right-wing thinking that makes up a large part of the Western esoteric tradition and still feeds and underpins authoritarian social systems today. The idea of a spiritual renewal towards transcendence is fundamentally at odds with what I consider desirable, and the whole philosophical and religious system that imagines a celestial hierarchy from the Godhead down to the lower animals is suspect to me. My thinking is not pyramidal, but horizontal.
To express the main problem I have with the Traditionalists, I dug out a quote from Hakim Bey. You can’t say it more accurately: “Of course, as we know, the problem with the Traditionalists is that they were never traditional enough. They looked back at a lost civilization as their “goal” (religion, mysticism, monarchism, arts-&-crafts, etc.) whereas they should have realized that the real tradition is the “primordial anarchy” of the Stone Age, tribalism, hunting/gathering, animism—what I call the Neanderthal Liberation Front.”
Can you discuss your thoughts on the sharing and perception of sacred images? The process that you went through in presenting works of the forest and of black alchemy for general reception?
I don’t share the works I make here in the Ardennes Forest with the public. I’ve been living in seclusion since 2018 and have had very few visitors during this time, so no one really sees the works I’ve installed in the small piece of forest I bought and where I live with my wife Nadine. I’m a bit embarrassed to say that part of the forest belongs to me, because it belongs more to the animals and plants that live in it and make up its actual nature than to me, who somehow only ever visits it. But be that as it may, there is no public that sees my work in the forest. What I do here can largely be described as necromancy, but in everyday life this kind of work is less morbid than it initially sounds. It’s about giving my family, none of whom are still alive, and my close friends who have died, a place where they can remain present and where I can include them in my work. The art that is created is certainly part of my mourning, but it is not limited to that.
What I do publish are photos of my work in the forest, which among other things form the source material for my book Anarch. I like to compare these photos to the skin that snakes shed or the exoskeleton that spiders shed during their moult. They are part of these animals, and through magical practices one can use them to connect with the one who has detached from this matter, but without such magical practices this matter can be seen as lifeless. In this state, I think sacred images can be shown.
Can you discuss your perspective on solitary sorcerous practice? Why it is necessary to separate oneself from greater society in order to create transformative living works of Art?
The conditions under which I work today are the result of a combination of several factors. My accident was the final element in a series of events and considerations that led to the way things are now. Let me start by saying that sorcerers have always been outsiders in society. The methods they use are not suited to being illuminated in the glare of the midday sun. They are at home in the twilight, and sometimes they cloak themselves in the darkest night to perform their art. Solitude is important to achieve the necessary focus without which no powerful art can be created. I am convinced that the jet-set life that many successful artists lead today will sooner or later cause their art to suffer. This is one of the reasons why so much anesthetic and mediocre art dominates exhibitions today. Artists are selected according to how well they fit into the curatorial mould set by the powerful museums, who are always beholden to the patrons behind them, whether they are corporate or state-owned. If it were a question of the work itself, most successful artists would have to cower in shame. The art world has lost the sense of tragedy and depth without which great art cannot exist. Most people sense this intuitively and simply don’t feel addressed by contemporary art, which really only appeals to those who somehow belong.
What artists and pieces of art have you found truly impactful? Are there any works or artists that you can point that are engaged in a similar process of black alchemy that your work is presenting?
The door to art was opened to me by alchemical illustrations and artists like Munch, whose images of illness and death made a deep impression on me. The influence of other artists takes place mainly in youth, and there were key moments, such as punk’s attack on polite society in the 70s and the DIY ethic it cultivated, reading Hakim Bey’s manifesto T.A.Z. and his concept of poetic terrorism in the 80s, or discovering the photographic work of Sigmar Polke and recognising the violence he inflicted on the material he worked with. But perhaps the most important role was played by Joseph Beuys, who gave me the impetus to take the role of the materials with which art is made seriously. His art used to be very controversial and he was denigrated as a “Schmutzmagier” – dirt magician, on various occasions. I don’t know how he took it, but I always saw it as a compliment. Which inevitably brings me to black alchemy, which draws its material from the poison and filth of this ecologically ruined world to hex those who use glossy brochures to distract from the evil strategies they are pursuing. So I owe a lot to Beuys, but my sorcerous art is darker and lonelier than Beuys’ art was.
In response to your question as to whether there are artists who practise a similar process of black alchemy, I have to admit that I find it somewhat difficult to come up with many names. Most who engage in such things do so on a theoretical level. Few have a practice in which they live what they read or write in books. And even fewer use their dark arts as a force of insurgency. There were times in my life when I felt I had allies in this regard, and there are still some today, but their ranks are thinning. I greatly value the long and varied collaboration with Alkistis Dimech and Peter Grey that led to the publication of my book Anarch, among others, and what I’ve been working on this year with Harper Feist and Frater Acher has great sorcerous potential, but we’ll have to see where it takes us in terms of the politics and poetics of the Other. Most of the troublemakers I’ve shared the road with have now made themselves comfortable in the art world, and some of them have even become celebrities there. Others have given up out of frustration and quite a few have burnt out from drugs or died. We are a generation born after the Second World War and I don’t know why that is, but many of us have waged a war against our own bodies. I got my shit together just in time, but with a little less luck I wouldn’t be here today to answer your questions. In any case, I keep my eyes open to find those who create corrosive sorcerous art. Due to my disability, I can no longer physically meet with people, but I’ve recently shed my aversion to social media and now show my work on Instagram and share ideas there too. It’s not the worst platform to express yourself outside of the control of art institutions.
Oh, and since you ask what I found really impressive, I have to emphasise the collaboration with musicians like Steve Kaspar, Yannick Franck and Stephen O’Malley and the power of music in general. I’ve seen a lot of concerts and some of them, like a Sunn O))) concert, shake you to the core. I’ve been lucky enough to work with Stephen, who along with Greg Anderson forms the core of this band, many times and we’ve performed together in places like Taiwan and Norway in the Arctic Circle, which has certainly caused a rift in the universe. By the way, there were Northern Lights that night that we stared into together after the live performance.
It is also worth mentioning that I was involved in the so-called Black Metal Theory a good decade ago and published my photos in the three issues of Helvete that appeared at the time. There were brilliant minds in this scene and the subversive ideas on blackness and demonic noise we formulated back then still influence my practice today.
What advice would you give to sorcerers and artists who wish to engage similar practices to yourself?
Think deeply about the materials you are working with and allow yourself to be guided by their currents and forces. Be bold and spontaneous, but also patient and, above all, persistent. It takes a lifetime to create the magnum opus. And you must be able to separate what moves you forward from what holds you back. It sounds banal, but many artists fail to make this distinction.
I would advise young practitioners to inform themselves comprehensively and not to get too comfortable in the occult ghetto. Question occult ideas and measure them against scientific findings and philosophical considerations that deviate from what you are obviously interested in. And if you are into assault sorcery, put yourself in your opponent’s head and think their thoughts. Only then will you be able to find the strategies with which you can attack them. Become the art you create and let your art become who you are. Be ambitious but remain humble as a human being and empathetic towards all other living creatures in this world. And never forget that materiality is the master and you are only the channel through which it expresses itself.
Published by SCARLET IMPRINT
Anarch is issued in a strictly limited hardback edition of 800 copies.
4vo (195 × 300 mm)
100 colour images
Nemesis (First Among Perils)
The Mirrored Ladder of Strata
Letter to Sorcerers
(Here Too There Are Stars)
What Dreams! Those Forests!
Here’s the Prophecy
Soiled by Rebel Powers
Part 1: Toward a Dark Sacred
Part 2: Revolutionary Withdrawal
Some basic reflections on the images included in this book
Only Chaos Sings the Truth
Forest, Forest, Forest
(Until My Blood Contains All)
Anarch is a profound work of sinister animism and sorcerous practice, a unique account of the path taken towards the dark sacred in a lifetime of personal struggle and artistic creation.
Gast Bouschet is a singular artist, who has gone from desecrating the white cubes of the contemporary gallery space to a withdrawal into the crucible of forest from which issues his howls of vengeance, and potent spells against the excesses of civilisation.
Anarch collects a sequence of Bouschet’s excoriating elemental texts, which attest to his journey from the gallery shows of the international art circuit to a withdrawal into the primordial darkness of the forest and an encounter with power. Rejecting commodified art and the restrictions of a capitalist market he proposes an occult art, a counter-poison. Engaging with the non-human world of microbes, larvae, disease and predation, he shows how ‘the radical otherness of Radiant Darkness teaches us the demonic art of living beyond the edge of a fixed form.’
Bouschet discusses his techniques, practices and meditations; and shares diary extracts, revealing the signs and sacrifices he receives and undergoes. Here is the true black alchemy of the Sol Niger and the Saturnian current laid bare.
The texts lead us inexorably to the encounter with the works: 100 moments are exactingly reproduced in full colour, as they decay and are transformed by the forces of the forest. Fetishes, animal remains, paintings, spellbooks, moments of epiphanic revelation draw us into the tortured guts of the Ardennes which bask beneath the splendour of a black Sun. He writes,
‘They exist somewhere between the living and the dead: elementals, bacteria and fungi inhabit them, dragonflies land on them, birds shit on them, rats and mice feed on them, spiders weave their webs around them, insects lay their eggs inside them. Sorcery is a dangerous and messy affair as it brings together what is supposed to stay apart.’
Anarch transgresses the boundaries of the human experience and confronts us with the abyss. It is the epitome of what has been described as ‘black metal theory,’ is an example of Artaud’s theatre of cruelty, and Bataille’s base materialism. Defying even these categories, Anarch is ultimately a work of clandestine sorcery and ecological resistance, and an unrivalled record of contemporary magical artistic practice.
The book is prefaced by writer and philosopher Jason Mohaghegh and by Bouschet’s longterm collaborator Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))).
– Peter Grey and Alkistis Dimech https://scarletimprint.com/
Anarch reviewed by Peter Mark Adams.
What motivates us is the intense, physical experience of life itself. The dark arts are an expression of a philosophy of alterity, a politics of heresy and a metaphysics of revolt that aims to change our being in the world. (p. 2)
ANARCH documents an ongoing process of profound personal transformation mediated by a four year long retreat in a forested landscape. Captured in fine writing and immersive photography, I cannot sufficiently commend the profundity of conception and execution that characterises this work. Under different conditions, this content would have found its rightful place as an installation, a combination of text and image, in a major exhibition space, biennial or art gallery; instead, ANARCH is that major art installation in the format of a book specifically – and I may say, beautifully –designed to showcase it.
Its author/artist, Gast Bouschet, is probably better known to the reader from his and Nadine Hilbert’s BPS22 Metamorphic Earth project wherein Alkistis Dimech performed the buto sequence, The Figures and the Signs of Night. The book itself – as with all of Scarlet Imprint’s works – fuses compelling content with the highest standards of presentation to showcase this important work.
ANARCH documents a four year retreat undertaken in the Ardennes Forest to which end it employs a tripartite structure: ten confessional “letters” addressed to “friends and allies”; a short section of aphoristic utterances culled, as far as I can see, from the roughly worked pages of notebooks that also feature, all too briefly, in the third section of this project; some one hundred pages of colour photography that document the landscape and assemblages that resulted from this longstanding creative engagement with the land in the enactment of a sorcerous alchemy of inner transformation. These striking, impactful images (mere words cannot capture or substitute for their forceful presence nor do them justice) need to be experienced to be properly appreciated since they lay at the very heart of the entire project; and serve to draw the reader, ineluctably, into the sorcerer’s liminal realm.
The ten “letters” enjoin inclusivity, proffering an invitation to engage as correspondents rather than anonymous “readers”,
Dear friends and allies,
Do you know what the dark arts are to me?
Poisonous beauty hovering in suspense, over the abyss. The awakening of a deeper identity. A complex relational field of both terror and redemption. A roar of raw elemental power. The light of blackness itself. (p. 3)
As these words suggest, each communique is exquisitely crafted to express the profound states of introspection that accompany the alchemical workings; penned months apart over the course of the four year retreat, each bears a date so that in registering the elapse of time the texts engage the reader in a developmental narrative charting the author’s evolving responses to his unfolding magnum opus.
The four years of this retreat were initially imposed by an accident that made the life of a professional artist no longer physically nor, in the face of the institutional demands of the corporate art world, ideologically or aesthetically, viable. The chosen arena, the Ardennes Forest – one of Europe’s “killing fields” and a site of intense industrial exploitation –bears both the psychic and physical scars of its history; and as such stands as both examplar and metaphor for the condition of the planet itself.
The blackness of the universe is the base matter out of which all things come and to which all things return. (p. 15)
It is this submission to the Saturnian current, the black sun, that provides the psycho-physical continuum – the alchemical alembic – for a sustained enactment of the “blackening” or “Nigredo” phase for,
Sol Niger is a symbol of interpenetration, continuous multiplicity, and eternal generation that does not point to a beginning or an end, but rather to a timeless substratum underlying biological and geological time. When we summon the Saturnian current into our innermost self, we make it participate in who we are. (p. 20)
It is this state that facilitates the transformations in the being of the artist that he fervently seeks as he engages with the intertwined realities of a shattered landscape and the enduring pain of physical disability,
Our sorcerous task is to become something else, something beyond the human, to transform into the flow of change itself. (p. 4)
As the illustrative material makes clear, working the fauna and flora, insect and animal life into organic assemblages of living and dead matter has less to do with the production of a recognisable art; and everything in common with the fetishes and jujus that manifest the sorcerous intent of dark alchemies wherein the very being of the alchemist is transformed through a creative absorption within the organically evolving processes; and in so doing, progressively dissolves the layers of the persona allowing the emergence of an other-than- human awareness,
What I would like to propose is an art and thought that does not aim to psychologically or spiritually overcome chthonic blackness, but to channel the transformative possibilities that grow out of it. Saturnian Alchemy is dirty and belongs to the earth, it does not avert impurity, but rather lures disruptive powers into physical things and bodies. The aim is not the purification of matter and consciousness but the transmutation into the multiplicity of nonhuman otherness. (p. 20)
So central is the inner alchemy of transformation to this project, and, indeed, so all- embracing is the polysemic metaphor of the transformative to this oeuvre; as the author seeks to identify with the hidden currents that drive both growth and decay, the meta-theme of becoming “other” runs through the work like a leitmotiv until,
I no longer felt myself as an individual with a single awareness, but as a profusion of beings and selves who expanded out into the depths of forest. (p. 5)
From the outset this work – with its masterful blend of fine photography, fine writing and fierce engagement – made me think of that other masterwork of sorcerous intent – Austin Osman Spare’s Book of Pleasure (London: Cooperative Printing Society Limited, 1913). Even though these two works are as aesthetically and literarily divergent as its possible to imagine; nevertheless, they are both imbued with and exude the distinctive frisson that the presence of “Promethean Fire” stamps upon, and serves as the hallmark of, all creative engagements with essentially otherworldly subject matter.
By virtue of its morphemes – “an‘” (“without”) and “arch” (“rule[r]”) – ANARCH is redolent of an intrinsic liminality that characterises the world of the shaman – a being who traverses the invisible boundaries between worlds; between the human and the other-than-human; between the living and the dead; but in doing so lights the path, illumines the way for those inspired to engage in equally precarious pursuits of self-reconstruction. And it is due to this fact that I finally gain that sense of completion emanating from the dark, difficult ways opened by these explorations; they demonstrate a particular case of that severe apothatic path of radical self-abnegation that is the hallmark of Saturnian metaphysics, a path that clears the way for the emergence of other trajectories and ways of being that we find captured in Deleuze’s concept, “becoming animal”; the experience of radical alterity that engenders a “line of flight” – a form of inner freedom – that is, and always was, an inherent part of our deepest nature,
Words can never fully describe the closeness with forest-dwelling powers that I experience in my night-time rituals, but if these lines help to advance a mythos that changes the way we perceive ourselves in relation to planetary others, my work here is done. (p. 18)
Anarch reviewed by Frater Acher.
A dream: I am wearing a mask frozen to my face. No one around me seems to notice. I am surprised by the stiffness of the chin piece and wonder if it will adapt to my natural movements or if it will remain as rigid as it is now. To avoid attracting attention, I act as if it were a human face, but it is not. (p. 36)
Gast Bouschet has given us a book about the place where death and life are interwoven in a Round Dance of day and night, interpenetrating and scratching at each other, deeply entangled. For Gast Bouschet, this place is a forest in the Ardennes. Or, rather, Gast has fallen from the physical locus of a forest in the Ardennes into this place of art and sorcery.
Now a forest can be entered from all kinds of directions. Unlike a house, it needs no gate or door to mark its thresholds of wood and thicket. The walls of a forest are also its passages; and so it lies at once open and closed to the approaching wanderer in all directions.
It is the same with Gast’s book, which is about, inspired by and born of a sorcerous forest and seems to have taken on many of its characteristics.
ANARCH can be read as a revolutionary manifest against the modern art world; a synthetic and yet brutal realm, suffocated by exploitative curation and capitalist investment strategies. Equally, ANARCH can be approached as an initiatory passage into the chthonic body of the underworld; a body that encounters eroticism, pain and delight just as much in decay and death as in germination and birth. Or ANARCH can be devoured as a satanic celebration of the black sun, the alchemical principle which does not offer light and warmth, but dissolution and decay, in order to break open objects – and this includes human bodyminds – for their flesh to be permeated by a lived understanding of the Other.
In all three of these ways, this book is a deeply personal testimony of an artist who became a sorcerer, and a sorcerer who turned into an undead. And it is in this notion of being undead that at least this reviewer found the charm, the sting, the depth and the delicious confusion of this book. Because it is precisely in the uncanniness of ANARCH that we also encounter its hope of a rediscovery to participate in this (under)world in a more authentically human way.
When Bram Stoker coined the word “undead”, he was inviting us to rethink the polarity of life and death, to break it open, and to make room for transitions and in–between states that are no less significant in their ontological presence than the one–dimensional declarations of being either dead or alive.
As such, an undead is one who is as familiar with life as with death. Their culture is at once sepulchral and passionate, marked by pain and yet life-affirming, profoundly transient and yet insisting on participation. Gast’s works now transport this original thought of the undead into the black horizon that straddles the concepts of art and sorcery. A habitat, as the book goes to show in words and images, animated more by disturbing and unruly than by aesthetically flattering artefacts.
ANARCH reminds me of the image of a palimpsest made of one’s own skin and written in one’s own blood, illustrating various layers, crusts and scarring of one’s own life and death. No human being is just one thing, one identity or one body at a time. We tear apart and we stack up. We are always legion. And in our best, most painful, most intense moments, we are no longer a body sealed off by membranes of skin and thought, but we begin to spill, to bleed, to eviscerate, to mingle wounded and wide open with our environment… In this sense, when it comes to entering the forest that is ANARCH, it is not “the crack that lets the light in”, but the wound that lets us out and into the wilderness around us.
To read this book with the right attitude – or to gain the right attitude by reading it – Gast invites us to imagine an alchemy no longer bound to the one goal of creating gold. Not to force nature beyond itself, as Julius Evola once put it, is the concern of this black alchemy, but to decompose bodies, to open bodies so that new encounters from within and without can take place. One has to imagine such an alchemy as an anarchic process, as a radical intervention, without a beginning and without a goal and without lab assistants or human supervisors. Rather, imagine it as a landslide or a festering wound. As something that – whether in frenzied, blind violence or in slow inflammatory decomposition – goes its very own way, insists on it, irrevocably, and carries the human being with it, as it were, as hostage in the far periphery of its undertaking. Here humans are no longer co-creators, certainly not semi-divine gardeners or living pinnacles of creation themselves. Rather, we are a skin pocket filled with delicious provisions for which a horde of micro- and macro-predators is already eagerly waiting.
Such black alchemy, or alchemical sorcery as Gast calls it, has a good chance of ending with the death of the people involved in it. So, like reading this book, it is not a light undertaking, not a preparatory school, and certainly not a human-centred anthropomorphic art. Instead, it is existentialist art of a kind one could hardly imagine more drastic, more radical.
Gast’s images that bear witness to this speak volumes, and yet they are no more than glimpses through a keyhole into the wilderness beyond.
Several times Gast emphasises that he is not giving a detailed transcription or instruction of his own magical practice. At the same time, he implies that such a practice would touch on several taboos of Western cultures as well as be resonant in many ways with African Vodun cults and their understanding of corporeality. The reader who is well versed in the subject can imagine everything else, and enjoy the fact that Gast thus spares his book the fate of being read as a modern, possibly even black magic “grimoire”.
Nothing is further from this book than to present a grammar of either environmentalist white or satanically black nature. Rather, it thrusts the reader backwards into a pit, dug in a remote, abandoned patch of forest, where we come to lie among earth, roots, leaves and decaying animal bones – oh yes, and also next to our author himself. In this kind of sacrificial intimate communion, Gast then takes us into his chthonic underworld.
To get a glimpse of it, I recommend imagining meditating with a festering wound and feeling deep peace. I recommend imagining lying in a forest clearing at night with an open cut, feeling more “with yourself” than ever before. Or imagine lying on a mattress in a forest hut with chronic pain, and feeling a joy that is not born from the absence of pain but from an entirely different encounter.
Now we, as readers, will not have much joy with ANARCH if we are not prepared to engage with such paradoxical situations and sensations. The core of this book is to “shift” our point of view so that we can see that these apparent paradoxes are but simple illusions. Illusions born of the at least three-thousand-year-old fantasy that the world has to subordinate itself to man.
For many Western recipients, it was Joseph Beuys (1921–1986) who began to radically expand the concept of art in the 1960s. Not only did he design his own biography as a work of art, i.e. he pierced the membrane between himself as a human being and the art surrounding and created by man. But, he broke a hole in the thick walls of museums and brought art into the social space. Above all, however, it was thanks to Beuys that the concept of shamanism was introduced into the concept of art and that the natural and animal raw materials he used were once again understood as materia magica.
In this sense we definitely find animistic echoes of the spirit of Beuys in Gast’s works; however, in an uncompromisingness that is completely appropriate in the face of the collapse of the human habitat in which we have found ourselves since the 21st century at the latest.
Gast’s ANARCH, one might say, brings the spirit of Beuys down into chthonic depths; brings it to lie beside us, as it were, in the sacrificial pit mentioned above. From there, Gast’s book buries us alive, takes us on a satanic–alchemical journey to leave us injured, wounded, and fully given over to transience as undead revenants in the 21st century in new and diabolical forms. And it is in this undead form that we see a new understanding of humanity flash forth. That is, if we are willing to surrender to the spirit of this book in its radicality.
Beuys’ wax, felt and animal skins, which unsettled the white space of the museum and pierced it with their presence, have, with Gast turned into roots, blood, earth, ashes and a hive of living forest presences as his sorcerous artist collective. Only the museum itself has been left far behind in Gast’s current works. It is, after all, the notion of curation to which they declare partisan war; may such curation take place in museums, temples, or books. Gast’s work cannot be separated from the vivid black background from which it emerges. No longer is the art cut out from its living ecosphere and curated for display, but the viewer themselves is thrown into the role of the intruder. With our touching of the book and glancing at its wild and dark images, it is we who break into Gast’s art, stir it up and disturb its natural process of transformation.
Gast’s photos of his decaying artworks out in the forest are at once vulnerable and wounding, soft and poisonous, like the touch of a fungal spore whose landing on our skin is imperceptible, yet crossing the fragile threshold of our skin unhindered. Gast’s photographs are undead in the original sense of the word: like scar tissue or cornea, they still belong to a living body and yet already carry the seeds of death within them. They point us towards a black horizon that stretches out underneath their paper-and-ink skins, at once wide open and completely closed in on itself.
Throughout ANARCH, the impenetrability of the subject for the unaffected outsider is beautifully balanced with the intimacy in which Gast presents his work. On the roughly 120 pages of written texts, however, it is Gast’s own voice that lends a timbre of familiarity and mutual proximity to the book that is a magnificent accomplishment in itself.
The texts develop from Gast’s arrival in the forest in the Ardennes to more advanced works in the following years. The fact that the author and publisher have preserved the authentic sequence of the texts’ creation and made it visible through inserted dates allows the reader to walk in perceived unison, slowly, with many pauses, together with Gast through the enchanted forest of his life and work.
Even in its most sharp and poignant moments, the text in this way always remains vulnerable and ephemeral, like Gast’s artworks themselves, which by now have been many times drenched by the seasons, soaked, frozen through, and are finally wearing their bones on their skin, or simply have been scattered by wild animals.
ANARCH is not about theoretical paradigm shifts, practical instructions on sorcery, or putting any specific thought or object of substance into the reader’s hands. Instead, this book wants to enchant us and it succeeds masterfully. Clearly, this is not the enchantment of romance but that of the ancient, archaic necromancy which turns the undead restless and might awaken some of them.
May this book walk through many hands, taking from them something of life and giving something of death. May we, with Gast Bouschet’s help, rediscover our own wounds as the places where we meet an unknown world, and from where art and sorcery break their untrodden way.
Anarch reviewed by Mark Nemglan.
What is the role of the artist? Answers to this question are often framed in terms of utility: the artist’s role is to provide service to the society in which they operate; to record and document, to communicate, to interpret, to impart meaning – all for the benefit of the community. But what happens when the artist rejects society; its norms, morals and its values? Or extracts themselves from it, becoming located in a place outside and beyond? What is the role of an artist no longer in the service of society? And what of the work they produce? Surely ‘art’ only exists within the culture that endows it with meaning and value; outside a society’s culture, art becomes something wholly different.
At the outset of this compelling, insightful and surprisingly readable book, Bouschet confirms his status as an artist, and situates himself in relation to society in general, and the contemporary art world in particular. He observes that art-as-product accrues value in direct proportion to its visibility, to its reflective sheen and refractive index. But Bouschet’s art is occulted; hidden, withdrawn, obscure, abstruse, other. It has little value by the current art market’s standards, but it is of immense value to those who, like him, have rejected society’s norms, morals and values, and become antinomian.
Bouschet proposes a theory of art-as-sorcery, where antinomianism is a prerequisite. Unlike the shaman, who traditionally performs a magicko-religious function within, and for the benefit of, a community, the sorcerer stands alone in the darkness, in congress with the invisible realms for their own sake, unburdened by any social obligations. They are no longer part of the human communitas. Thus, Bouschet extricates himself from society and withdraws to the Ardennes Forest where, over a four year period, he experiences an alchemical blackening and transmutation. It should be noted that the Ardennes Forest is larger than the entire English county of Suffolk. It is a wilderness on a scale many of us can barely comprehend.
In doing so, he ensures that art returns to its primordial function and becomes magickal practice. The first artists were glyph-makers; shapers of alternate realities writ on the walls and ceilings of caves. They made the internal external; they reified, created, manifested. They revealed the hidden and gave form to the numinous. They reached into other realms to which art has now lost all connection. The first artists were sorcerers.
Thus, Bouschet’s primordial sorcery-art is one of silence and solitude, of humility and dissolution, of ego-loss and permeability, and ultimately of ecstasis. It is a practice that is empathic, immanent; one that becomes united with the undifferentiated blackness of the forest and, in turn, hollows out its subject.
It is a process that yields an alchemical transmutation into the multiplicity of non-human otherness; an otherness that resides as much within as without; in the microbial communities, biomolecular networks and bacterial ecosystems of our interior. All have agency, all are us and not-us. If we are legion, who are we but organisms haunted and possessed by the in-dwelling presence of billions of independent yet interdependent lives? By developing a propinquity with these alteric entities, Bouschet connects to the stuff of the earth, the chthonic materia which in turn yields a kind of bio-gnosis. Heraclides Ponticus conceived of the soul as a physical organ; illumination was achieved by way of one’s bodily faculties. Similarly, for Bouschet the soul is the non-human otherness that dwells within the body, and magical power may be drawn from organic materials – a state of affairs enshrined in his fetish-like sculptures which radiate telesmatic potency.
Bouschet’s writings are a manifesto for a sorcerous art primordial in its obsessions but forward-looking rather than regressive; a dark and Promethean art that confronts the earth’s geopathy unflinchingly. It is an art that responds to a civilization limping into an epoch of permanent crisis and upheaval, and so it must work directly with the poisoned and crippled world upon which we all now stand. Bouschet’s own spinal trauma and chronic pain are employed as a vinculum to the toxic paroxysms of Nature. They serve as a microcosm of planetary trauma; through the practitioner and their symbiosis with the world, both art and sorcery have personal and planetary consequences.
Amongst this blackened, tangled and bloody sorcery there is revelation, but it is not through an ascent to the celestial realm. It lies instead in a descent to the organic galaxies that lie within, and to the darkest chthonic depths of our ecology.
The book itself is generous in dimensions: large-format landscape, with Bouschet’s writings occupying one third of its contents. The remainder presents a photographic record of his sorcerous interventions; arresting, violent, benighted, darkly vaulted and crooked assaults on the eye; a visual grammar / grimoire describing a new magick for a dying planet. Read it and weep.
Anarch reviewed by Magister Clavus
Sinister Animism – Disturbing art by Gast Bouschet
This book will not teach you about magic. It will make you feel it.
Check out the review here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=huHnUVX1lRk
Film interview with Gast Bouschet
Exploration of the metaphysics of matter that underlies Anarch and Bouschet’s art and sorcery in general.
Director: Yannick Franck
Videographer: Camille Filleux
Sound engineer: Antoine Vandendriessche
My heartfelt thanks to hosts Graham and Snappy, whose wonderful podcast Searching for Dragons introduces historical and contemporary artists and sheds light on life and artistic creation from a magical perspective. Their fifth episode is entirely dedicated to my book Anarch.