R.A.W. Assmilk Soap

Aliass nursing newborn Passenger (Photo by Karin Bolender).

RAW Assmilk Soap has evolved from a fascination with the way milk (as a “dairy product” of the mammalian femalebody) is linked to ecological place; for instance, livestock breeders know that one should never move a pregnant animal from her pasture right before she gives birth, because her thick first milk—known as colostrum— contains antibodies to the specific pathogens where she has been gestating. So the milk, in that sense, is made of the place, of everything that the motherbody eats and breathes as she feeds the growing fetus and eventually the newborn.

Prettiest Little Shotgun Wedding You Never Saw. Paris, Tennessee, 2002. Photo by Sebastian Black.

A little history: in the summer of 2002, I made a seven-week journey across the American South—Mississippi to Virginia— in the sole company of an American Spotted Ass named Aliass. As it happens, I contemplated the colostrum~place connection a lot during that crossing, since Aliass was pregnant all the way. I pondered how her blood and glands constantly brewed antibodies in relation to every place we passed through. All across the wickedly hot, haunted, weedy, and bastard-beautiful South, Aliass was percolating a super-charged fetal-ass healing brew; I thought about how this milk she made held residues—both physical and metaphorical—of all the asphalt miles we traveled, the lonesome, thistle-grown hayfields, the tracks of long-gone mules and ghosts. Aliass made milk in the heat and in the shade, from every blade of grass, blackberry, and drink of water on the road to Nameless, Tennessee and beyond. This milk she made would hold all the border-crossings, churchyards, borrowed pastures, and dark nights in strangers’ woods—hold it all like memory is supposed to. And eventually Passenger was born and suckled on this brew, grew up her own bones and spotted fur on it.

Passenger in Fincastle, Virginia. (Photo by Karin Bolender).

In the spring of 2005, I received a box from a friend who was in France and had discovered a farm where they made savon au lait d’anesse: assmilk soap.

With this soap, all the burning questions of my long-ass journeys were suddenly saponified into a simple, perfect object. Since then, I’ve explored the promise of an actual and metaphorical soap-making process that illuminates a matrix, whereby milk links us, through the maternal body, to the land. This is one way of knowing the land/scape through the body: quite literally, milk as native grass, weeds, and muzzle memory, filtered through tissues, blood, and glands.

The transformative chemical processes of saponification alter both the milk and lye, an essential and caustic ingredient of soap. Lye alone will burn the skin fiercely, but when mixed with assmilk and base oils, it becomes the solvent agent that makes soap the ultimate cleansing substance.

We all live in landscapes that hold and mostly hide traces of human and ecological atrocities: I thought of this often as I wandered through the South with Aliass. I liked to imagine that somehow the elements of weeds she ate on the byway in Tennessee that parallels the Trail of Tears, or the stream-water she drank in Oak Ridge (where they manufactured materials for the atomic bomb that destroyed Hiroshima), were transformedas they passed through her blood and glands, to become something more hopeful and wholesome: the assmilk that would feed Passenger, while also feeding imaginations that seek metaphors to heal wounds to both our environments and our psyches.

RAW Assmilk Soap at the Multispecies Salon at the Ironworks in New Orleans in 2010. Photo by Sean Hart.

R.A.W. Assmilk Soap seeks to bring caustic lyes of the land to light and neutralize them with the soothing properties of local assmilk, to cleanse buried ailments in our bodies and our homelands.

The R.A.W. invites participation in the R.A.W. Assmilk Soap project through various means. Please get in touch if you would like more information. R.A.W. Assmilk Soap has appeared as an installation in venues across the US and internationally, including the  Multispecies Salon  in New Orleans and New York City, Intra-Action: Multispecies Becomings in the Anthropocene in Sydney, Australia, and Dome of Visions in Copenhagen, Denmark, among others.

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