CRAFTED IN BALANCE: Ron Regé, Jr. on an alchemical ale

CRAFTED IN BALANCE: Ron Regé, Jr. on an alchemical ale
by Justin Farrar

Traditionally, only hardcore collector nerds—the type of basement dwellers who belong to beer-of-the-month clubs—would dare call a beer bottle a piece of art. But with the gradual emergence of craft and artisanal beers in America over the last four decades, this has changed somewhat. Indeed, some truly boss work is getting produced these days. A heavyweight in the craft-beer industry, Delaware’s Dogfish Head Brewery recently released Bitches Brew, commemorating the fortieth anniversary of the release of Miles’ fusion classic. Though I’m more of an Agharta/Pangaea kind of guy in all honesty, the bottle is stunning. The label sports a rendering of Mati Klarwein’s Afro-surrealist cover art that as deliciously intoxicating as the experimental imperial stout it’s wrapped around. At the other end of the commercial spectrum sits the Burnt Hickory Brewery, a thoroughly underground affair based in northern Georgia. Over the last year, brewer Scott Hedeen—whose beers aren’t even for sale—has produced a handful dedicated to iconic American punk and post-hardcore groups, most of them (Die Kreuzen, the Didjits, The Jesus Lizard, Killdozer) associated with Touch and Go imprint. The label art is fantastic and totally captures the vintage punk aesthetic: all scratchy, collage-like and Xeroxed-looking.

But my fave these days has to be Alchemic Ale, which Arthur first covered last June. The Houston venture, founded by Tim Leanse and Sam Rowell (who are also known for their eardrum-crushing noise-rock duo Eloe Omoe), aims to “transform beer drinking into a full-on aesthetic experience” via the merger of its twin loves for underground art and artisanal brews from Belgium. Alchemic Ale isn’t a brewery in the traditional sense of the term; Leanse and Rowell don’t brew. Rather, they curate a line of beers—each one sporting a screen-printed label designed by one of the pair’s favorite artists—that is manufactured by the Belgium-based Brouwerij Sterkens.

Alchemic Ale has released two brews to date: Yeast Hoist 15: Kept in Balance by renowned comics creator Ron Regé, Jr. and Monsters designed by comics artist and musician Mat Brinkman. The former is Sterkens’ St. Sebastiaan Golden Ale, while the latter its Bokrijks Belgian Ale. That said, the beer—which is excellent—is almost beside the point. With their shapely earthenware bottles tattooed by some of the underground’s premiere artists, Alchemic Ale utterly redefines the modern beer bottle as cultural artifact. It’s now a piece of finely crafted art.

Yeast Hoist 15: Kept in Balance in particular is a thing to behold. In addition to the label, an exquisite pattern of classic alchemical imagery aligning the Los Angeles artist’s love of esoterica with the brewing process’ ancient roots in the mystical, Regé also created a comic/zine that hangs from the bottle’s neck. One could argue that the bottle comes with the zine, not the other way around.

As you can tell, I am absolutely smitten with these bottles. Wanting to learn more about how one passes from concept to product, I recently corresponded by email with Ron Regé, Jr. who was kind enough to explain the magickal process, as well as talk about a host of other beer-related issues and topics.

Q: Technically speaking, the bottle is a part of your Yeast Hoist series of comics. Can you talk a little about that evocative title and how the bottle fits into the series’ overall aesthetic? [Check out past installments of Yeast Hoist over at the excellent What Things Do site.]

Ron Regé, Jr: “Yeast Hoist” is a name that I’ve been using for small comics I’ve been making since 1995. Each “issue” looks completely different, so this concept of having it attached to a bottle of beer fits the aesthetic perfectly. I originally got the name from a sign on a tiny door at the Bushmills distillery that I noticed while on a tour there in 1994.

Is an earthenware beer bottle the weirdest form Yeast Hoist has yet to take? What are some of the others?

Yes. The booklet itself—which is available with the bottle only—is very much like the first ten, which were xeroxed mini-comics of various shapes and sizes. A couple appeared in anthologies, with instructions to cut them out to create the booklet. The three most recent ones have been 64 page books.

Were the comics and illustrations that comprise “Yeast Hoist 15” created with the bottle concept specifically in mind?

Yes, they were. I’ve been doing a lot of work recently that makes reference to various aspects of hermetic alchemy and the “Wisdom Traditions.” I wanted to present the basic concepts of alchemy in terms as clear and simple as possible, as I knew this product would be reaching a wide and varied audience that might be unfamiliar with these concepts—and my work.

Can explain the impetus behind wanting to expose a larger audience to concepts that are traditionally considered esoteric?

These ideas have been the main inspiration for the work I have been producing over the last few years. The project is called “The Cartoon Utopia”. I have had several gallery exhibits under this name, and have produced a large amount of comic stories related to this theme. I’ve begun to see similarities between so many schools of thought: spiritual, scientific, philosophical. My work involves trying to relate some of these themes, and to help people notice these similarities. In the comic I refer to the idea of a “Unified Theory” that governs all things, and make reference to the fact that all material in the universe erupted from one initial point during The Big Bang. This idea could be referring to science or theology. At a time in history when we are constantly bombarded with polarized opinions regarding such matters, I hope that people who come across the comic might see these connections.

The comics medium seems tailor made for tackling questions of science and mysticism. All three value text and imagery equally.

Letters are basically highly stylized cartoon characters. Written language is comics. Any sequence of marks is essentially comics. Did the invention of markmaking change human culture from a matriarchy to patriarchy? Perhaps—which is why I intend to use its power to unite our opposing aspects. I try to remain conscious of markmaking’s vital role in human evolution, in both the scientific and occult sense. Writing, as opposed to language, does seem to separate us from all other life on earth. It is our curse, as well as our salvation.

Alchemical imagery and themes have long played a strong role in your artwork. Do you harbor any high-falutin’ ideas about how fine brewing can be considered a kind of alchemy?

The traditions of the alchemists helped form the basis of all of the physical sciences, so I’m sure a lot of ancient brewing practices share those same traditions.

Apparently, the brewing process does follow alchemy back to ancient Egypt. Osiris is said to have taught Egyptians how to brew and ferment.

The idea of plant matter altering human consciousness through the process of fermentation is in line with the concepts of putrefaction and rebirth that are vital to the alchemical process.

Switching to the actual consumption of beer: in terms of pairing, what would be the perfect album to listen to while cracking open Yeast Hoist?

For some reason this feels hard to answer, but I’m going with Capt. Beefheart’s Ice Cream for Crow.

Have you ever done any home-brewing?

No, although I love that book Wild Fermentation and have always wanted to. I have quite a few friends who have tried it. Am I just lazy or maybe preoccupied with other things? I started making my own kombucha this month. Does that count?

Kombucha counts. But now you can brew beer in the name of good health as well. Did you see that recent article in Wired Science about how scientists believe ancient Nubians not only produced and consumed antibiotics, but consumed them via beer. Mind blowing.

It makes sense that the history of medicine is intertwined with the traditions of brewing alcohol. They share the same roots.

HOW TO HEX A CORPORATION

Above: A CTM-designed sticker, easily adaptable for re-use by you.

APPLIED MAGIC(K): Hex Files
by the Center for Tactical Magic

Originally published in Arthur No. 30 (July 2008)

The Center for Tactical Magic is no stranger to controversy. Even when we’re not actively setting out to conjure a bit of mischief, the imps often make the effort to conjure us. Since our projects frequently trespass into different cultural territories, it’s not uncommon to encounter an occasional cold reception or heated debate. Typically, these center around what the Center is or isn’t. Activists? Occultists? Conjurers? Tricksters? Contemporary artists? Martial artists? Con artists? Most of the time we feel that these debates are more productive for everyone when we stay out of them and let folks figure things out on their own. However, we recently received some paradoxical antagonisms via email regarding one of our distribution projects and thought it might be helpful to clarify a few misunderstandings.

To begin, the project in question is a curse. It is a curse in the form of a sticker that is specifically designed to target corporations, institutions, agencies, and the like. And the ire that we raised from two different people couldn’t be more divergent. The first, a self-proclaimed “activist” wrote:

I like a lot of what you guys do, but some of it doesn’t seem very productive. I mean, curses? I just read your article in Arthur about the difference between “magical thinking” and “wishful thinking” and then you suggest “cursing” people in power? This seems hypocritical and/or delusional. I’m open to different people’s spiritual viewpoints, and I don’t mean any offense, but I don’t really see how a curse can be as effective as a protest or a petition.

The second critic, a self-proclaimed “Wiccan High Priestess” wrote:

I have long-admired the Center for Tactical Magic for your innovative interpretations of ancient magickal wisdom. However, I am deeply disturbed and taken aback by your “Diagrammatic Hex.” This curse clearly defies the Wiccan rede: “That ye hurt none, do what thou wilt.” Further, it beckons doom. “That which ye sendeth out, shall returneth three-fold!” This hex you have devised is of the darkest magick, and can only reap darkness in return. It is not only dangerous for you, but irresponsible towards those who would follow you down the Left-hand path to their own demise.

Before we directly address either of the aforementioned concerns, we should set the stage with a short history lesson. The origin of curses is ill-defined; yet, it’s certain that we find hexes, whammies, jinxes, the “evil eye” and all sorts of maleficia in cultures spanning time and geography. More often than not, curses have been cast over personal disputes, vindictive rages, and petty jealousies. However, there have also been instances where curses have been deployed in collective struggles.

In the Middle Ages, the peasant class had no easy avenue of representation through which they could air grievances against their feudal lords. So somewhere between total subjugation and full-scale revolt, curses became a tactic of dissent. By discretely attaching hexes to the property of the feudal lord, the ruling authorities could be made aware of the growing social distemper. While the nobility might be quick to dismiss the hexes as mere foolishness, the laborers of the manor, who belonged to the “superstitious” peasant class, could be relied upon to take the hexes a bit more seriously (and perhaps melodramatically). And unless the feudal lord took steps to remove the curse, the manor and the fief would slip into a dysfunctional mess. Of course, the way to remove the curse would involve rectifying any prevailing injustices.

It’s not too difficult to imagine that similar dramas were no doubt enacted hundreds of years later on plantations across the colonized globe. A bit of well-placed Hoodoo or Voodoo could serve to amplify the collective concerns of house slaves and field slaves alike. Even if the plantation owner took little heed of the “mumbo-jumbo” the workers would certainly make a fuss until things were set right.

Based on these precedents, as well as on our contemporary context of corporate neo-feudalism and wage-slavery, it seemed only fitting that we should revive and update this bit of mojo. As such, we suggest that the modern sticker-hex might produce several positive results:

1) The creation of a diagrammatic hex in the form of an easily applied sticker links modern street practices (like graffiti) to much older forms of magical resistance (such as the placing of curses on the property of feudal lords).

2) This user-friendly spell/tactic introduces people to a model of action: First, think through your issue to find a root cause(s). Then, find a way to physically address the offending source. This model contrasts starkly with more alienated reactions against abstracted frustrations. As opposed to feeling like the problems are poverty, or starvation, or war, we can begin to focus on financial institutions, agribusiness, or Halliburton.

3) Most people are far more superstitious than they are willing to admit. Even if the magical construction of the curse falls short, the mystical appearance of the sticker can often achieve certain desired effects. (In one instance, a cursed check sent to a credit card company went un-cashed for nearly three months!).

4) Lastly, if you have any doubts as to whether or not the curse works, just ask the folks over at Bear Stearns. (We’re not saying we’re responsible; we’re just saying…)

Hopefully that appeases our activist friend a bit. As for the Wiccan high priest, we’ll save the full conversation regarding the Black/White magic debate for a later date. In the meantime, we should be clear about our position. We are not openly advocating the cursing of individual people. Despite the fact that the Supreme Court re-interpreted the 14th Amendment (originally enacted to protect the rights of freed slaves) to grant corporations “personhood,” the inhuman conduct of some institutions, agencies, and corporations makes them worthy of any maledictions they might receive. While the Center for Tactical Magic does not ascribe to a belief system polarized into Black and White magic, it is nevertheless important to note that religious and secular circles alike largely agree that actively combating physical and spiritual injustice is a virtuous act that liberates oneself and others from the abuses of power. Even Gerald Gardner (oft regarded as the “Founding Father of Wicca”) is reputed to have organized his coven to curse Hitler and the Nazis during World War II (and we all know how that one ended).

Hopefully, the path we’re on now seems a little less scary. If not, don’t worry; we change directions all the time and often step off the path altogether. So sit tight or start a petition until we come back to our senses. For the rest of you, you too can flaunt taboos by cutting out this diagrammatic hex and following these magic words:

To cast the spell:

1) Relax. Take a deep breath. Exhale. Repeat.

2) Take a moment to reflect on the nasty policies, social ills, and community woes that need to be challenged and corrected.

3) Choose an issue that you feel particularly drawn to, and ask yourself, “What is most responsible for this dire situation? What obstacles stand in the way of a solution to this problem?” (If you’re not sure, do a little research).

4) Most likely, you will conclude that a large corporation, government agency, social institution, or other organizational entity is at least partially responsible for perpetuating the problem you seek to address. Write that name inside the red circle. (Note: this will not work against individuals, which unfortunately includes bosses, landlords, politicians, cops, etc.).

5) Close your eyes and envision the entire design, complete with the name written in the circle. Watch the name fade to nothingness. Now envision the positive results that would occur if your target’s vile actions were to disappear.

6) Open your eyes, and then, go attach the hex to the property of the encircled establishment. (you’ll need a glue stick)

7) Relax. Breathe freely. Smile. You have just completed your first act of street-level Tactical Magic by taking that difficult first step in mentally, spiritually, and physically addressing social injustice! Keep it up & let us know how it goes for you by emailing us at goodluck@tacticalmagic.org

Good Luck!

DOUGLAS RUSHKOFF and GENESIS P-ORRIDGE conversation (2003)

As originally published in Arthur No. 2 (Jan 2003), with accompanying photography by Shawn Mortensen…

‘The whole planet is the museum!’
Author-theorist Douglas Rushkoff takes tea and talks shop with veteran mindboggler/conceptualist/artist/visionary Genesis P-Orridge, best known for his work as co-founder of seminal industrial outfit Throbbing Gristle and leader of neo-primitive-shamanic ravists Psychic TV

I met Genesis in the early ’90s in the Bay Area. He needed a lift to Timothy Leary’s house in Beverly Hills, and I needed an interview for a book I was writing about viral media. We spent about six hours in the car together, trying to impress one another with our strangest thoughts while Gen’s two daughters fought in the back seat.

We’ve been friends ever since.

I guess it’s about ten years later, now. I’ve gotten married, become an author and university professor, while Gen has been kicked out of the UK forever, gotten divorced and married again, replaced his teeth with gold ones, and done some other stuff to his body that I’d be scared to. Still, in spite of our outward differences, we’re on the same path, and often use one another for guidance along the way.

See, if you’re going to be an artist or writer or magician, you’ve got to navigate through some treacherous zones. If you’re not traversing new territory (or at least forgotten territory) then why write instead of just reading? And many of these regions and be culturally, intellectually, physically, and psychically challenging. Disorientation can’t be avoided—it is the rule. Panic is the thing you have to watch out for.

So, Gen and I have these long talks every month or so. Sometimes they’re data dumps, and sometimes they’re progress reports. This one is probably a little more the latter, coming as it does on the release of Gen’s new book, Painful but Fabulous: The Lives & Art of Genesis P-Orridge (Soft Skull Shortwave). —Douglas Rushkoff

Dougas Rushkoff (DR): Your new book has served for me as an occasion to look back on the history of cut-and-paste, as well as its tremendous influence on art and culture every since. Cut-and-paste can even be understood as a first, rebellious step towards the attainment of genuine co-authorship. From a broad, historical perspective, it seems to me that we move through three stages. We begin by passively absorbing the information that’s fed to us—the datastream. Then, maybe with the Protestant Reformation and the printing press, we gained the ability to interpret this information for ourselves, to some extent. Then, with cut and paste, we achieve the ability to take what’s been presented to us and move it around a little bit. We can create new meanings through transpositions of what’s there, but that’s limited, in a sense, to a kind of satire or self-conscious juxtaposition. And now, finally, with computing and the internet, with the ability to actually author what for lack of a better word would be ‘original’ material, now we move into artistry. But a truly interesting moment was that first cut-and-paste moment, that first moment of, “Okay this is being fed to us, BUT we can do this with it, or to it, and get something else.” I’d be interested in hearing from you what was it like to be part of that moment.

Genesis P-Orridge (G P-O): Well… The preamble would be this: in the early ‘60s, somewhat parallel to my becoming aware of the beatniks, I started to discover Dada and Surrealism. The first time I’d heard of cut n paste, I think was Brion Gysin giving Raoul Hausman and one or two of the Dadaists the credit as one of his inspirations. He said they would cut up words from one of their poems, putting them in a hat, and then they’d draw words out of the hat, and make a new poem. What had happened was that more emotionally based artists, the ones who were actually involved in feeling human as well as just glorifying creativity, had become very disconnected from the concept of linearity, the concept of Reason, all the material concepts of the world. They had just experienced the first world war, which had led to this Armageddon, this hell on earth, and this was their reaction against what they saw as that war’s cause: the misplaced celebration of Reason, the control over information and culture in society, the harmful repression of irrationality, which has backfired.

That’s really where the first step came, that disconnection from, and obsession with, a finished, perfect result that was ‘owned’ by the artist that made it. One of Brion Gysin’s greatest poems, which I didn’t understand until very recently, was ‘Poets don’t own words.” He would do a permutation: “Poets don’t own words, words poets don’t own, own words poets don’t” and it was only recently that I actually experienced it in a visceral way, that that’s been the big change. This is what you’re talking about: that we are blessed, or gifted, or pushed, by various events to deal with the information that’s coming at us, and that society and culture are, if you like, a solidity that’s based on the inertia and linearity. This solidity is oppressive, and in order to even begin to be anything one might label ‘free’ or ‘liberated, you have to, as Burroughs used to put it, ‘First you have to short-circuit control.’ Because control is ultimately an oppressor. Control really does contain all the feedback loops of consumer culture that you’ve talked about so astutely.

I’m know I’m going in a weird loop here, but basically the point is that during the middle of the last century, the idea of having to be an Artist who owned each thing fell apart. Continue reading