The Chasterus Foundation seeks to maintain and expand the vision of the late Charles Stephen Russell in Slab City, California.
Together, the inhabitants of East Jesus and offsite members provide a refuge for artists, musicians, survivalists, writers, scientists, laymen and other wandering geniuses.
We are dedicated to providing a working model of an improbable improvised community at the edge of the world.
We are most interested in low-tech solutions, unresolved theories, non-linear advancement, and creative reuse.
We strive to document the results of these endeavors, sometimes simply by their existence. Our documents are sometimes nails, concrete, and sweat.
We are partially an exhibition space for those problematic projects taking up your warehouse space, partially a build space for those problematic projects taking up the desert.
One of our guiding philosophies is “do as thou wilt”; another is “do no harm”.
For hundreds of thousands of years the greatest and most unknown of our gods was mutation — the faceless shape-changer who carved civilization out of the wilderness and split cells like atoms, who gave wings to the crows and made them dream of flight. The cave paintings and totemic idols of early man depict mutation as a deity without concrete form or gender: a bipedal hunter with the head of a bison, a serpent devouring its own tail, a bundle of bleached bones in a box. Similarly without consensus was its dominion; mutation was earth mother and the father sun, oblivion and rebirth, female fertility and male virility, a chthonic manifestation of hunger who weighed our souls at the entrance to eternity and devoured whole those it found wanting.
But in truth mutation is as indifferent to us as the blind eyes of the universe, and its awareness of our filial existence has not created in it any sense of obligatory love. Bearing more in common with the trickster archetypes than the creator gods, mutation favors man and the fragile vicissitudes of life no more than it does cancer or the carbon hearts of diamonds, cold and inert.
Mutation demands change of the living. Of this at least we are sure. Adapt or die. Evolution or extinction. The sedentary stagnated and withered away, while those who mutated produced giants for children, taller and stronger than any creature on earth, and thrived.
The late Charles Russell’s East Jesus is an excarnation of mutation, of our dead gods, of our earliest dreams of escaping the sea. Blooming around a re-purposed shipping container in the middle of the desert like a Kubrickian vision of the dawn of man, it is at once an anachronism and the only real representation of our depraved modernity; an artifact of ye olde future, an apocryphal codex of post-apocalyptica, a reverse-engineered Garden of Eden. Experimental, extensible, and completely habitable, East Jesus is constructed entirely of salvaged refuse and recycled materials — the discarded afterbirth of the Industrial Age and the sacrifices of its priests — and powered solely by the sun. Charlie’s infectious, polymathic mania was a persistent one, far outliving the frailties of his flesh; though he is gone, the echoes of his life still send out signals to the cold corners of the noosphere, calling out to the like-minded and bidding them come see what could have been. As a result East Jesus is now populated by an ever-rotating cast of artists, builders, writers, musicians, freethinkers, merry pranksters, wandering messiahs, the dispossessed, the damned.
And hummingbirds, of course.
Situated in the harshest, most remote part of Slab City, California — itself a radioactive dumping ground for the pariahs and lepers of the First World — and suffering from extreme temperatures year round, that East Jesus still survives is a testament to the tenability of mutation and the stubborn hearts of those who call it home. It sits tameless among the bones of things left behind and worlds that never were or are yet to come, and flays life of the temporary and the superficial to reveal what we in our surrender and hopeful naïveté have deemed what matters, what mutates, what lasts: love, art, the will of the individual, the strength of the collective, the desolate and tenebrous beauty of destruction, the toxic acid-burn of creativity. It is a legacy of madmen and dissidents made to survive until the next age of the world, when our ruins will tell the archaeologists of the future and the visitors from other worlds that we, too, were here.
To exist in a place never meant for man, to dig roots in the hardpack sand and stand day after day against the relentless sun, to breed the bastard brainchildren of our imaginations into something viable and real — this is mutation. And because the painting is the brush is the hand is the artist, Charlie Russell was the mutagen, an avatar of the anarchistic aether that spun galaxies from nothing and wove webs between stars. When the waters receded and the dove returned to Noah with the olive branch in its beak, it was the crow — not content with capture — that kept flying, seeking, searching for a place beyond the bloated horizon.
It had to land somewhere.
East Jesus is Charlie’s personal truth, and truth survives when the rest of us are all blown away.
Please, help it to do so.