The
  Cornell
    Journal
      of
        Architecture
20
Black Whisky



Dexter Sinister is the compound name of David Reinfurt and Stuart Bailey. David graduated from the University of North Carolina in 1993, Yale University in 1999, and went on to form O-R-G, a design studio in New York City. Stuart graduated from the University of Reading in 1994, the Werkplaats Typogra e in 2000, and cofounded the arts journal Dot Dot Dot the same year. Together with writer and artist Angie Keefer, in 2011 they set up the reversible archiving-publishing platform The Serving Library (see www.servinglibrary.org).
Right to Burn

This piece is assembled from fragments of the story, so far, of a long-term project on its way to becoming a product. Namely, a 12-year Black Whisky.1 It grew out of a couple of meetings and a published interview with the German publisher-turned- distiller Christoph Keller. Christoph had founded the art book imprint Revolver in 1998 and released some 470 volumes over the next six years, but along the way became increasingly disillusioned with the state of both contemporary art and publishing ― and particularly the conflation of the two. Amid this malaise, Revolver had expanded to the extent that burgeoning professionalism had begun to supersede the amateur reasons for publishing in the first place (“Amateur”: one who loves 2 ). To resist this inertia, Christoph sold the company in 2004.

The snatches of conversation below took place one evening on Christoph’s farm, Stählemühle, remotely located in the triangle between Stuttgart, Zurich, and Lake Constance in Southeast Germany.3 We met Christoph just as he had sold the company (which subsequently went bankrupt within two years) and was in the process of moving his family from Frankfurt to the countryside. He rst came across the phrase “Right to Burn” at the foot of an advertisement for the farm, and had initially assumed it meant the new owner would inherit the right to raze the building in order to rebuild on the land. Later he learned it was actually local slang for the license to distill, bound up with the terms of the property. In Germany, the verb “to distill” is Brennen, as derived from “to burn,” because the distillation process involves burning produce.

This permit is hard to get and therefore highly coveted, not least because farmers are permitted to pay off a considerable proportion of their taxes by supplying alcohol to the state. The government then (reportedly) disperses it among the military and medical industries, which implies an absurdly circular ecology. The process is also ferociously regulated: each distillery, however “amateur,” is closely monitored, obliged to surrender 60 percent of their net output, and required to produce at least once every three years.




As it had been two years since the previous owner of Stählemühle had operated the still, on buying the property Christoph was immediately forced to decide whether to attempt to continue using the still in order to keep the license. However, rather than work to yield the cheapest, fastest, low-grade tax-relief product like most of the neighboring farms (moonshine, basically; not necessarily intended to be drunk at all), he resolved to attempt the opposite: to produce a high-end alcohol using traditional, laborious methods to process locally grown organic produce. In that region of Germany, wheat-based spirits are typically distilled with the sugars of various fruits, and, according to tradition, all aspects of the process ought to be present in the nal taste. So for example, the drinker of a Williams Pear schnapps — Stählemühle’s rst output — should be able to taste the fruit’s journey from tree to ground to still to spirit, with nothing lost in translation as the sugars magically transform into alcohol.


Sarah
The process of publishing seems to parallel that of distilling. Do you think of these bottles in the same way as the books?

Christoph
The big difference for me is that for all these years we were making books, inevitably giving them away to people, and the reaction is always, oh yeah, yeah, nice, good, thanks ... and that’s it. With a bottle of schnapps, on the other hand, people will literally tear it away from me — it’s amazing! How can I get some! I’ll buy a whole box! It’s an immediate, genuine reaction, which is hugely rewarding.

Stuart
But is that “high level” consonant with publishing with Revolver? I mean, in relation to what you were saying about creating a context that doesn’t exist already: a space, aura, position, community, or however you want to describe it.

Christoph
With the alcohol it’s a bit different, because the traditions are already in place. Unless I made a completely new schnapps, which is virtually impossible, the only thing I can do is give it a new context, with regard to how we make it, then how we present it — to indicate signs of a science or craft, of an alchemist tradition and the sheer effort involved. We use old techniques and believe in associated ideas of purity, anyway, so this way of working ts with the recent general interest in organic production. The only thing I can try to do with the schnapps itself, outside of its presentation, is produce objective quality.

That’s the big difference to the book, because if you want to read one of the art books I’ve published you have to have studied art history. If I gave any of these books to my farming neighbors they’d immediately ask, how the hell do you make a living out of this? They wouldn’t understand it because they don’t know about art.

Sarah
And you don’t have to have an education in alcohol to get the schnapps.

Christoph
Exactly. You simply don’t have to be an expert. It’s about this immediacy of you being able to say, yes, I like this one, or no, I don’t like that one so much. Both responses are ne, but it’s the visibility and immediacy of the reaction that matters.



Black art, transparent art

Around the same time, we’d commissioned an essay by the German critic Jan Verwoert called “Exhaustion & Exuberance: Ways to Defy the Pressure to Perform.”4 He wrote:

How can we address the current changes in our societies and lives? Some say that we have come to inhabit the post-industrial condition—but what does that mean? One thing seems certain: after the disappearance of manual labor from the lives of most people in the Western world, we have entered into a culture where we no longer just work, we perform ... But what would it mean to put up resistance against a social order in which high performance has become a growing demand, if not a norm? What would it mean to resist the need to perform? Is ‘resistance’ even a useful concept to evoke in this context? 4


We’d been looking for an excuse to channel the implications of Verwoert’s essay through a concrete project for some time, when the idea of coproducing a liquor with Christoph came up. This would offer an opportunity to consider the similarities and differences between publishing and distilling. With Stählemühle responsible for the drink, and Dexter Sinister overseeing its parallel “publication,” the idea evolved into our setting up a cooperative investment scheme. We busied ourselves advertising and selling shares in a long-term production.


Christoph
Perhaps that’s the law of dilettantism: as soon as you start getting interested in something by reading or researching, it automatically gets more interesting, a self-generating energy. Obviously there are a lot of connections between producing alcohol and art, because it’s the same form of experimentation, it’s a research- based activity, it involves knowing a lot, doing a lot, and acquiring experience because you can always improve. It’s also very time-consuming ... but in the end it’s fundamentally a beautiful process of alchemy that turns this pile of rotten fruit into this pure white — no, transparent — liquid that smells and tastes fantastic.

My fascination with distilling is that it’s such an old technique: 4,000 years old, maybe even 10,000. If you think about the fact that a bunch of people had this idea to heat something up and separate the different evaporation points simply to see what they get from it ... such a simple technique and in the end it produces this form of magic.

Stuart
And it’s more satisfying working with a bunch of apricots than, say, Jonathan Meese?5

Christoph
Yes. Well, no, actually ... It was also great to work with Jonathan Meese, I have to say. Funnily enough, we actually just made a Jonathan Meese wheat schnapps for a bar he’s making in the house where Marx was born. But, yes, it is a lot more satisfying and interesting working with fruit farmers than all the various parties usually involved in subsidized publishing, that’s for sure.

Stuart
This implies that some or all of the dissatisfactions of working in publishing we’ve been talking are solved ―or resolved―by working in alcohol. Is this because the distribution of labor hasn’t changed in the same way? Given the ubiquity of desktop publishing software, the print industry could be thought of as having changed from a secretive “Black Art” to an openly “transparent” one. That sounds like a positive thing, but it implies the dissolution of the professional trade, with all its attendant checks, standards, and quality controls. Curiously, you just referred to alcohol’s transparency as a positive aspect: as purity. Anyway, my question [laughs] is: Are you out to reclaim something you eventually found lacking in art publishing? An industry as traditional, conservative, and controlled as the alcohol industry seems perhaps impervious to the sort of dissolution that characterizes contemporary publishing. And this is surely emphasized by your relatively minor scale, isolation, interest in the alchemy, and so on. It all seems much more ... human-sized.

Christoph
Yes, absolutely, but also, as a book designer and editor, you’re not the author―you’re more or less a service, and therefore only more or less involved. In producing agriculture, though, you’re the author.

Sarah
The apricot is stronger than you!

Christoph
Kind of, yeah. I don’t think of these things in terms of a big unchanging omnipresent creation, because these things can actually be modi ed, but still, I’m essentially working with material I haven’t invented, that’s the difference. And I have to nd the people who make those things with the same love, because for sure 99 percent of the quality of this schnapps is the fruit, and only 1 percent is the art of the distiller.

It might seem to be an isolated process, working out here on the farm, but it’s not at all; it involves a community and a network, and this is why I include these small texts on the bottles in addition to the obvious name labels, which go into some detail about the varieties of the spirits, and often include which farmer I got the fruit from, just to point out that you need these speci c people to make this specific drink, and all are equally essential.



Eventually we decided our collaborative production would be a whisky, for a few reasons. Mainly, personal preference; next, because although Keller’s repertoire had extended considerably (gin, various herb liquors, absinthe), he hadn’t yet attempted a whisky; third, being the spirit with the most imposing connoisseur-base, making a plausible whisky seemed like the biggest challenge; and nally because, in the attendant context of economic meltdown, the whisky industry was apparently one of the few that continued to thrive (a pattern supposedly historically consistent in times of depression for more or less obvious reasons). More specifically, we resolved to make a quality Scotch, traditionally made from malt; and more accurately, given the fact that to be legally designated “Scotch,” the process must occur within Scotland itself, we’d actually be making something reasonably equivalent. There are other rules that govern quali cation as Scotch (and so Scotch-like), too. Its strength by volume must be between 40 and 94.8 percent; and it must be aged in an oak barrel for a minimum of three years, with superior varieties usually aged for 10, 12, 15, or 18 years. We settled on 12, which seemed an adequately awkward span for a product conceived as at once “practical” and “gestural.” Twelve years is not forever, yet long enough to ush from temporary memory, which is somehow insidiously and attractively disturbing. A good test of its efficacy is to watch how potential investors balk when we first mention the waiting period involved.

So we were producing a high-end single malt Scotch-type whisky — a “German Scotch,” so to speak. Finally, we decided the whisky ought to be black. Christoph had recently distilled a couple of liqueurs that were naturally colored by the pigment of their base herbs, at least one of which was in the vicinity of black. With this in mind, we initially presumed we might similarly blacken the whisky with a avorless pigment, but discovered this was highly inadvisable, not to mention somewhat “illegal,” inasmuch as adding such extraneous ingredients further disquali es the drink as properly “Scotch,” which must also retain the color, aroma, and taste of the raw materials used in its production and maturation, and contain no added substances.

As it turned out, the “black” ended up referring to something else altogether. Decent whisky is made with soft water (which contains a minimal amount of minerals), hence the vast majority of high-end whisky produced in northern islands of Scotland, Ireland, and Japan, where water is relatively pure in a workable climate. From the outset, Christoph had been concerned that water sourced locally in Germany would be too hard (i.e., mineral-rich), likely forcing us to have to import softer water from a foreign source which would in ate costs, possibly render the entire project unworkable, and be anyway kind of against the local point. Then, out of the blue, he inadvertently found out about a possibly adequate soft source within a couple of hours’ drive of the farm. He went there to take some samples, performed some routine tests, and con rmed that the tip-off was correct. And the sufficiently pure spring was auspiciously located in the heart of the Black Forest.


Stuart
We’re a self-made community borne out of mutual sympathies — and this can apply equally to the magazine or Revolver, as it can to the farm, or any of its various microcosms of animals, plants, fruit, or schnapps. These are groups and relations formed for their own sake, not toward any explicit end or result, except their own continued existence — and here I mean rather than existing toward, say, an explicit political or social end.

Christoph
It’s also crucially based in the present rather than the future or on some idea of an end result, an attitude concerned with the here and now, with effort and commitment. It comes back to the various art systems we’re involved in, which — particularly at the moment — revolve around this idea of only doing things because someone else invites you to, or will pay you to, or because you’ll gain some perceived outcome ... money, respect, prestige, fame, immortality, further invitations, whatever. The idea of getting together or making something without those preconditions is becoming increasingly rare, and that’s a shift for the worse.

For me the reasons for spending time growing these things is also just a simple reaction to not being able to nd value or satisfaction in other things. Today I can say I’ve never felt more satisfaction than when I spend an afternoon here in the stables, for example. Why should I spend so much time doing things like publishing when I could also spend it generating food and drink for myself and family and friends? That feeling only increases, then it becomes an obsession.

Again, it’s simple and obvious, you own something and suddenly it’s important to maintain it. Owning becomes interesting again. Take livestock, for instance, which involves the responsibility for their lives, a completely different relationship to the possessions we’re used to. Spending time with the animals becomes a complex thing, because it’s not solely — or visibly, or immediately — about money. It doesn’t work in the same way.



There was another, more straightforward reason for settling on making a whisky rather than any other alcohol: we were due to spend a few weeks working in Scotland, and could anticipate undertaking a certain amount of fundamental research there.

Letter from the source

July 2, 2007

Dear Christoph,

As promised, here’s a feature-length prose home movie from Scotland. There’s been a reassuring quantity of whisky drunk in the name of our project, so it may be a little out of focus.

In my mind, at least, the Edinburgh trip was going to involve a lot of reading, walking, and recuperation; I hadn’t anticipated it would be so social. This was partly happenstance, as I arrived at the same time as a swarm of people up from London to attend a number of events centred on an exhibition by Cerith Wyn Evans at Inverleith House. But it was also because the presence of anyone from outside passing through the art school apparently serves to galvanize the local scene. Unusually, this group comprised people from all parts of the school — that is, not only teachers and students, but sundry bureaucrats, directors, secretaries, and alumni, along with an eccentric crowd of local benefactors, collectors, curators, and gallerists. It felt refreshingly heterogeneous. Naturally, a good deal of the talk ended up at whisky — on a loop of drinking and thinking about drinking.

In the middle of all this it became clearer that, as you’re obviously in charge of the actual distillation of the Black Whisky, our job is simply (or complexly) to provide the frame through which the product’s perceived — meaning its container, the packaging. The premise is actually a wee bit more complicated than that, of course, because the raw material of our collaboration isn’t only the whisky itself, but just as much the structure that surrounds it — meaning its cooperative share system. It’s a twofold venture: a product and a gesture to be drunk and contemplated. It should both be a whisky ( a very good one, naturally) and to an unusual degree be about whisky, too.

Dr. Bronner’s legendary soaps are an instructive case in point here, as they ful l similarly twofold aims and claims. Used a vehicle to transmit an eccentric spritiual philosophy, his bottles and bars of soap at once spiritual agents and cleaning agents — and both product and packaging are duly weighted equally in order to embody the doc’s essential message: ALL-ONE.



Incidentally, “tincture” is synonymous with both “color” and “medicine,” and alcoholic extracts of plants were traditionally referred to as “tincture of ...” followed by the name of the base herb. Auspiciously enough, we’ve already made a bunch of work involving color tinctures in recent years, all rooted in the language of heraldry. In the middle ages, when heraldic devices (coats of arms) were depicted in monochrome printing, colors were graphically translated using a system of black-and-white cross-hatching, dots, and other speci c patterns, while graphic elements and their con guration — bars, divisions, shapes, animals, plants, weapons, etc.― are described using a precise vocabulary and native grammar originally derived from French aristocracy.


Here’s an image of one of the artist and teacher Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s well-known series of Telephone Paintings from 1923, a small set of modernist abstractions that Moholy supposedly ordered from a paint factory by referring to a shared diagram worked out on graph paper over the phone. The rm then manufactured the same abstraction in various sizes according to the same instructions. And sext to it is a detail of a heraldic tincture-based translation of the painting we made a year or so ago:



We were simply curious to see Moholy’s abstraction — which was originally manufactured in primary red, blue, yellow, and black enamels — re-rendered in the cross-hatched tinctures of heraldry (above is a detail of the upper cross). All this is essentially another story.6 For now, I only really want to point to the hatching in the horizontal bar: this is the abstraction of “sable,” the heraldic term for black. More on this in a minute.

During our last week here we’d managed to get ourselves invited to one of the two local members-only whisky societies. This one was in Leith, the industrial waterfront district that merges with Edinburgh proper. The interior of this place seemed like the blueprint of an idea that’s been brewing for some time now: to establish what we’ve come to think of as a “Serving Library,” which would be part drinking club, part reading room. It was while drinking in here in Leith we realized that our task — parallel to your research into the distillation process — was to re ne and articulate the various ideas informing the project via a graphic form designed that should serve three distinct purposes, at once (1) an advert to announce the project (2) a share certi cate for investors, and (3) a label for the eventual bottle. Depending on the context in which this multitasking form would appear, one aspect would necessarily dominate while usefully alluding to the other two — and so register that we’re as interested in the community that assembles to fund the product as we were are in working outside the default mechanisms of pro t and surplus, as we are in the drink itself. Not greater than, but equal to.

Finally, we decided to work this composition out “live” in metal type in the print room at Edinburgh College of Art. In this way, our writing, along with any extra- textual aspects, would then be productively governed by letterpress technology’s severely limited means of articulation (a restricted number of available fonts; the strict bounds of the printing frame). In short, we would embrace the circumstances in order to make an emphatically in-progress piece of work, in which the graphic and linguistic semantics are clearly “all one.”Here’s what we ended up with:







And here’s a stab at unraveling how this tripartite ad-bond-label came to look and read the way it does, so far as I can recall:

First, the overall shape and fundamental left/right division of the design is based on the classic optical illusion of an inverted book page, with its spread of “pages” alternately projecting inward and outward. We’re intending to adopt this as an emblem for that aforementioned Serving Library. Then, the relative scale of the composition’s various elements and relations between them were directly determined by the limited availability of metal type in the workshop.

Parallel to this point, the two columns of text are conceived as interchangeable paragraphs on distilling and publishing, expediently based on the same textual template. This meant we could rst print the left-hand side, quickly switch out certain words and clauses, then shift the frame across and print the right-hand one. And nally, a few other bits of auxiliary information, including some auspiciously allusive words like “proof” and the aformentioned “tincture” are placed as logically as possible in the surrounding space.

However, when our assembled metal type was nally arranged in the frame and ready to print after a couple of days’ tinkering, we were unable to get an even impression of ink. In turned out that the type had become too degraded and irregular to produce a relief even enough to yield a reasonably legible print. After wasting another day or so trying to improve the situation, it dawned on us to just roll with the failure and instead print it “blind,” meaning without ink; to emboss the paper rather than mark it, and so literally leave the ghost of an impression.



For want of a more watertight term, we’ve been calling the form a “blind proof,” and as you’ve seen we’ve since made a more regularly legible black-on-white version so it can be rendered in printed or pixels (it wouldn’t be much of an advert otherwise!) It’s already scheduled to appear in a few books and magazines in the next couple of months to hopefully serve is rst purpose — to announce the availibility of shares in our modest co-op.

Let’s see.

Salut!
DS




Stuart
And the new value is a certain intensity of feeling?

Christoph
It sounds very kitsch, but it’s true.

Stuart
The idea of an “intensity of feeling” is clear to me in terms of both publishing and distilling, but less obvious in the more general terms of ownership we’ve been discussing. It’s interesting to consider the idea of “owning things” as fundamental to both capitalism and your farming existence, even though I suppose we’re implying they’re opposites. Perhaps it’s the difference between the hollowness of grati cation and richness of responsibility ... that you’re distilling the good parts of the idea of ownership. That’s pushing it a bit, but you understand what I mean.

Christoph
Yes, again it’s to do with taking care of things. I’ve never really spoken about this with anyone before, but sometimes I need two hours in the evening to just walk around and look at everything. And though I’ve seen it many times, it’s nothing to do with pride, it’s simply about watching, looking properly ... what happens over here, what happens over there ... those plants are dying now, those plants are growing ... the tiles have come off the roof here ... just checking the status of things. It’s almost embarrassing to describe it, but that’s what happens; it’s a strange level.

Stuart
Any last thoughts before we start on the absinthe?

Christoph
Maybe I should just say that, in view of what you’re interested in here ― the change from publishing books
to publishing alcohol — I have to confess that my involvement has also changed my idea of what design and designing is, and that’s also precisely in terms of thinking about it less as a surface, and more toward the notion of changing material from one form to another. By the end of Revolver I could maybe understand the idea of designing being an act of transformation, of translation, of transposition, but now I understand it more clearly — more transparently — through observing the tangible changes from plants and fruit to other forms.


High (end) spirits

The costs were assembled and listed on the prospectus opposite, with the price of a single share calculated in line with the logic of a not-for-pro t cooperative production, i.e. each individual investor would receive a percentage of the total yield of the eventual product in direct proportion to the percentage of the overall budget they contributed. The system eschews any pro t margin in favour of a 1:1 equivalence of investment and return.

The “quantity of the eventual product” is necessarily ambiguous at the time of writing as it’s impossible to account for the exact output of any particular batch of whisky due to the phenomenon of the “angel’s share”— that lovely name for the unpredictable amount of liquid that evaporates or leaks as the whisky matures in the barrel. That said, it’s easy enough to guestimate the maximum loss, and cursory calculations suggest an approximate minimum of two 750 ml bottles per share.




Over the following year the blind proof and this accompanying prospectus circulated in various contexts as and when opportunities arose. Framed versions of the original embossed “print” were variously exhibited, while the black-on-white PDF version did the rounds as an advert in a number of publications. Word of mouth helped a lot too, of course. In the meantime, Christoph was busted for illegal overproduction and issued a six-month ban, but used the opportunity to rebuild the distillery from scratch. Distillation of the Black Whisky was postponed until the Spring of 2011, by which time all the shares had been sold, the run of embossed certi cates distributed, and a new state-of-the-art still installed on the farm.

The only outstanding aspect was the barrel. As brie y noted above, through some historic twist of circumstance Scotch whisky came to be distilled in used Bourbon barrels, which emanate exclusively from the U.S. Speci cally, it turns out that the barrel industry is monopolized by Brown-Forman, parent company of, among others, Jack Daniels, both of which are based in Kentucky. On discovering this, along with the fact that any other type of barrel (a brand new one, or one previously used to age wine) would compromise the quality we were after, we began an extremely protracted, labyrinthine process of trying to secure a single used Bourbon barrel while remaining within our projected (and already-collected) costs.

It quickly became apparent that we were unlikely to nd a single barrel for sale anywhere outside the U.S.7 Clearly, the only option was to try to acquire one from Brown-Forman by tapping some point in the channel of manufacture. We rst tried to do this in Scotland, guring that we could cut shipping costs to Germany by buying one already imported; only it seemed that all the barrels from Kentucky were also imported through a single agent, and here we hit a dead end — either blanket silence or point-blank refusal. And so were forced to approach the master company, but hit on the same problem: a policy refusal on private sales, and no interest in exceptions to the rule.

Obviously reluctant to concede what appeared to be our only possible means to carry this project forward, the last resort was to make the trip to Kentucky in order to speak to someone directly, possibly provoking some degree of personal interest that might override company protocol. And so we made a brief road trip in the south, stopping off rst at a distillery on the Kentucky Whisky Trail, a fairly useless tourist tour, then more promisingly at Brown-Forman’s barrel factory in Louisville. We were led along the production line by someone from their PR department — from a stockpile of raw timber to a room of hand- nished barrels, including a walled-off part of the factory that housed a clandestine process of burning and smoking. Finally we were ushered into a meeting room where we asked again the question that apparently couldn’t be answered by letter, phone, or email for six months: could we possibly order a single barrel and to ship it to Europe for distinctly non-commercial reasons?

“The problem you’re facing, sir,” said the Brown-Forman rep, “is that we retail a minimum batch of 220 barrels.”

“That’s 219 too many,” we said. And that seemed to be that: no exceptions and no alternatives.

But not quite. For some months we’d been trying to contact a curator of a gallery on the ground oor of a recently opened hotel in Kentucky. In fact, we’d heard that the hotel was set up mainly in order to get planning permission for the gallery that would house the owner’s collection of contemporary art. Anticipating an off-chance of interest in what we were up to, we were curious to talk to this curator, especially after we learned the owner had links to the Jack Daniels family. As it turned out, the collector’s wife was a third- or fourth-generation descendent, and the current heir to the whole company. Like everyone else in this barrel story, for some six months this curator had never responded, but an hour or two before heading to the airport we managed to arrange a quick meeting in the hotel bar and recounted the whole story up to and including our fresh disappointment at the barrel plant.

“You should have got in touch with me.”

“We tried.”

“Well, I’m pretty sure I can get [name of Jack Daniels’s heir-husband] to waive the rules for one barrel.”

“!?”

“Let me know what you need exactly and I’ll call you next week.”

“...”

Improbably, this did actually pan out. Another six months of haranguing later, a barrel reportedly showed up at the curator’s of ce. Then it was transferred to the hotel’s storage facility to sit for another season while we tried to organize the shipping from a distance. Suddenly, sometime over Christmas 2009, the barrel was put on a pallet, Fed-Exed, somehow cleared both U.S. and European customs without a hitch, and showed up at Christoph’s farm intact around mid-January. Four months later the whisky was in the barrel and three sample miniatures sent to New York as proof. It tasted tasted like nail polish — as it no doubt should when so young.

It had always been in the backs of our minds to document the whisky project on camera as we went along in view of eventually assembling some kind of industrial lm, but the idea was only half-formed when things got underway and we anyway worried over the contemporary relevance of such an anachronistic form. Why make an industrial lm in a postindustrial context? In time the idea faded, but now, some ve years later and almost halfway through the distillation period, it seems blindingly obvious that the information-age equivalent of an industrial lm consists precisely in all the immaterial interactions tracked here — the countless emails, phone calls, face-to-face negotiations, and even written accounts like this essay, which had to happen in order to get the stuff into the barrel. In which case, it seems entirely appropriate for a postindustrial lm to be in terminal preproduction.

Now, we wait.




Endnotes

1 The spelling of Whisky versus Whiskey follows the convention set last February by The New York Times to spell American and Irish products with an e, but to spell Scottish products without. As the Black Whisky here is in fact German, but Scottish in spirit, the absent e here denotes an approach or philosophy.

2 Norman Potter, What is a designer [1969], rev. 4th ed. (London: Hyphen, 2002), 24.

3 The full conversation is transcribed here: Stuart Bailey, Sarah Crowner, Christoph Keller, “Right to Burn: A Drink with Christoph Keller,” Dot Dot Dot 14 (2007).

4 Dot Dot Dot 15 (2008).

5 Christoph had recently made a one-off schnapps together with Meese, a German artist.

6 See Dexter Sinister, “Blazon 4 Moholy-Nagy,” Portable Document Format, Dexter Sinister (eds.)
(Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2009).

7 There are plenty of “cosmetic” used barrels available, typically sold and used as garden ornaments or waste bins, but they’re apparently likely to leak. In the regulated industry, each recycled barrel must pass through a series of checks and repairs before being sold on.



Go back to 10: Spirits