Jemma Foster, Wild Alchemy Journal
Jemma Foster is the founder and creative director of Wild Alchemy Lab, a multi-sensory publishing platform and global collective of artists, academic researchers and occult practitioners.
The platform aims to push the boundaries of art and technology at the intersection of nature, science and esoterica to develop a new language and new ways of thinking. As well as film, radio and a podcast, the Lab produces the large-format Wild Alchemy Journal, a multi-sensory print editon of art, text and smell with added AR content.
We hear from Jemma as issue three of the Journal, themed Water, is published.
What are you up to this Monday morning?
I am sat at my desk researching the Sufi poem The Conference of the Birds and Cuban songbird competitions for a film project with a cup of Colombian coffee and a suero—a Mexican mix of sparkling water, lime juice and salt.
Wild Alchemy Lab was created during the first lockdown on my narrowboat, Xanadu (above), in east London, in part as a move away from the events-based life of botanical studio Mama Xanadu. This freed me up to take advantage of working remotely, so when the second lockdown came later that year, I escaped to the island of Kos, Greece, and from there produced the first two editions of the journal —Earth and Fire.The latest, Water, was formed here in Mexico, where I am based this year.
Describe your work space.
I am in the jungle overlooking the Pacific Coast of Oaxaca. I moved into this house nestled in the treetops at the weekend. My desk is made from parrota wood propped up by a parasitic vine called matapalo—which translates as ‘killing stick’.
Dogs, chickens, a distant church radio over the sound of waves crashing and a particularly vocal turkey provide the soundtrack to the day. There is a small freshwater pool by my feet that is visited daily by hummingbirds, parrots… and a somewhat endearing vulture (above).
Which magazine do you first remember?
Around the age of six/seven I had a subscription to a history magazine called Discovery and it came with maps, charts, documents and a cut-out 3D model to create—the solar system, a sundial, a mini Giza, the Armada… the tagline was ‘travel back in time and bring the past to life’. It was so much more than a magazine, it opened up a whole world.
Which magazine matters to you the most this morning?
These days the only subscription I have is to the New Scientist, but I recently picked up a copy of Francis Ford Coppola’s Zoetrope: All-Story magazine (above) which is here waiting to be digested.
Working remotely in a remote location does have its drawbacks—I’ve yet to see a physical copy of the latest edition of WAJ, but a friend is visiting with one this weekend so looking forward to that too.
Describe Wild Alchemy Journal in three words.
Nature, Science, Esoterica.
The magazine looks like no other; describe the aesthetic and its visual references.
The format and design, with a folded double-sided poster as a dust jacket, was inspired by an art pamphlet I found in a gallery in Bogotá, I loved the idea of offering a collectible piece of art alongside the journal.
The aesthetic grew from the black and gold signature of botanical studio Mama Xanadu, alongside esoteric and visionary art I admire such the work of Hilma af Klint and Olga Fröbe-Kapteyn. The artwork featured in the first edition was almost entirely through artists and makers that I had an existing personal or professional relationship with, and this continues to be the case, expanding through submissions, conversations with gallerists and hours of trawling through Instagram.
I usually have a good idea of a piece so that when I commission an artist, it is a collaborative, alchemical process of transformation and that’s the part that I take most pleasure and inspiration from. The real magic happens when designer Andreas Brooks lays out the pages, creating iconic typography, bold colours and illustrations that pull the content together into a coherent form.
You describe the Journal as ‘A multi-sensory print edition of art, text and smell…’ tell us more about its multi-sensory nature.
It’s about creating a fully immersive sensory experience—both in the physical and digital realms. First there is the unwrapping of the journal and the varying textures of the paper, then the richness of the ink—it takes two weeks for our vegetable inks to fully seep in and dry on the heavy recycled paper stock.
Next, the scent we spray onto the pages: such as Petrichor by Tasha Marks of AVM Curiosities or the olfactory odes to Mars or the Moon created by perfumer and astrobiologist Marina Barcenilla. Beyond the printed text and illustrations, artworks can be scanned on a mobile using augmented-reality application Artivive to play short films, animations, meditations and sound installations, adding another dimension and transforming the page into an audio-visual experience.
The magazine has been themed according to the classical elements (earth, fire, water etc)… what next?
Air will be our next offering, exploring our relationship to sound, smell, technology, imagination, thought, telepathy and so on. Elemental air is our intellectual, linguistic and expressive self that inhales and exhales our experience. We will continue to revisit all the elements as the publication evolves.
It’s an intriguing mix of the esoteric and commercial; explain WSJ’s role in the broader Wild Alchemy universe?
The relationship between nature, science and esoterica can be complex, fractured and polarising, with the latter often viewed as mutually exclusive. Occult practices are, by definition, concealed and shrouded in obscurity, designed to exclude and isolate the uninitiated.
Wild Alchemy Lab seeks to unify and demystify the mystery, giving access to old and new wisdom. Part of this exploration of looking into our past in order to inform our future is through talks, workshops and immersive events where this information can be integrated into practice. This is rooted in the precursor to Wild Alchemy Lab , Mama Xanadu, which communicated this knowledge primarily through the medium of food and drink. It has been a natural evolution with ingredients becoming words on a page, elixirs artworks and food transformed to film.
Please share one piece of advice for somebody wanting to launch their own publication.
Be clear in your vision and then get on with it. Even if it is a 10-page pamphlet at first.
I wanted to have my own publication for as long as I can remember, but it was something in the background, hidden behind all the reasons not to do it. The first edition was created in a six-week frenzy that felt completely aligned and didn’t allow for time to hide behind anything. It’s early days and there’s a long road ahead before we make a success of it, but it’s been a deeply fulfilling process so far and created a community that goes well beyond the page.
What are you most looking forward to this coming week?
I’ve been on the move since the start of this year, so I am mostly looking forward to being still and appreciating this new space. I am also excited to be initiating conversations with some old and new contributors to create our workshop and lecture series.