Sunday night generally involves a good amount of uncomfortable existential anxiety; you might find your mind wandering to the big questions, like what am I doing with my life? Why go to work? What's the point? But when you spend an hour on a Sunday contemplating life's purpose with industrial music legend, occultist, and "pandrogenous" artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, the process becomes a privilege.
That's what a packed crowd in the purple light-tinted dome at MoMa PS1 experienced last Sunday, February 26th. Seated beneath a projected screen of psychedelic images of their own making, P-Orridge delivered a reverie-inducing lecture. They discussed everything from their journey to androgyny to their take on war, evolution, God, politics, the for-profit art world, space exploration, and more. The talk was the third part of MoMa PS1's series Between 0 and 1: Remixing Gender, Technology and Music, which brought together music industry leaders and artists to deliver their views on the topic. As described by MoMa, P-Orridge's talk focused on "charting how their destruction of gender binaries evolved in tandem with their rise in experimental music."
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge is considered one of the inventors of industrial music in the 1970s, and is respected visual artist. They are also widely known for undergoing matching plastic surgery with their late partner, Lady Jaye, as part of the couple's "Pandrogeny Project." "Pandrogeny," P-orridge informed the the MoMa audience, is "Positive Androgyny," and became their ultimate expression of self. They view the existence of both genders in one body as humanity's original state of being.
Tall, with long bleach blonde hair, weathered skin, and ringed eyeliner, P-orridge inspired rapt attention throughout their hour-long lecture. P-orridge's path is extraordinary in both its ambition and originality; those of us lucky enough to hear them speak came away with pearls of wisdom and instructions on how to unearth our true selves.
"Do not be afraid," P-orridge repeated twice. "Do not be afraid" of uncovering who you really are. Here are the legendary artist's tips for reclaiming your true self.
Rebuff society's influence.
At the beginning of their gender exploration, P-Orridge joined a commune, in pursuit of "a rigorous way of de-programming the self." Like P-Orridge, you should seek to understand the external forces that shape you, and begin the process of "strip[ping] away habits and inherited conditioning."
Consider the way gender determines your relationship with the world.
The norm that inspired P-Orridge's art and transformation was their given gender: assessing patriarchal domination, war, and inequality, Genesis realized that "to be male was in some way to accept a connection with all the horrors of the world." Men's desire to exert power over bearing children "is where all the shit began."
For P-Orridge, gender is one of the primary ways we create division, an "either/or," as Genesis called it. Looking critically at the way gender roles divide people is just one of the ways to dissolve what P-Orridge sees as the illusion of the either/or. "'The either/or,'" the division of male from female, is the fall from grace, P-Orridge explained in their reading of the story of the Garden of Eden. Re-interpreting the biblical book of Genesis was in fact so formative for P-Orridge that they took the name "Genesis" from it. By looking critically at gender, we can see other false divisions, and reject them. "It's not about gender," said P-Orridge, explaining their identity as "Genesis," not a man or a woman. Instead, "it's about how far you want to go" in rejecting the "either/or."
Understand that "the body is malleable."
P-Orridge found unlikely inspiration in the celebrities and socialites of the 1990s who wore their plastic surgery as a badge of honor. When people began to publicly acknowledge the cosmetic procedures they were having, P-Orridge realized that "the body is malleable. We don't have to follow the program of our DNA anymore." This freed P-Orridge to act on their realizations about gender as an inherently divisive (and illusory) norm. Explaining their surgeries and physical transformation to androgyny, P-Orridge explained, "It's not genitals, it's the idea that we want to change the world."
Establish your own principles
"You choose your own behavior," said P-Orridge. "You should never accept somebody else's norms."
As P-Orridge began to strip away society's influence, question gender and binary thinking, and change their body, they began to establish their own way of thinking. "We were going to design our own life," they said.
But P-Orridge recognized that doing so is easier said than done. Their advice is to trust in yourself, since "only you will be present for every second of your life." Then "speak to the biggest part of yourself" as you design your life. Recognize that this is a difficult thing to do, to swim upstream. "How easy it is to be tempted to surrender your principles," they observed. But at the same time, P-Orridge repeated again and again, "do not be afraid."
Make art to wage war against the status quo.
"It's now the job of all of us to remember and reclaim our true self," P-Orridge said as the threads of their lecture came together, beseeching the audience to reject the "either/or." Processing everything from bathroom use politics to international relations, P-Orridge reflected that "a war is brewing between the status quo or the pressure for change." P-Orridge sees this in terms of gender and the rejection of male predominance, saying "trans people and drag queens are the storm troopers of the future." At the center of the brewing war is fear: "They're so scared that maleness is dwindling away in front of their eyes. And good riddance, too."
So how can we participate in this war against the status quo, the rejection of the either/or? Genesis's answer is consciousness, optimism, and art. "We have a certain amount of time, and then we're gone. What do we do with time?" she asked, while reminding us that "each day we get is truly good luck." With knowledge of both the finite nature and extraordinary fact of life on Earth, one must ask themselves about how to have an impact. "What do you really want to tell the world?" Genesis asked the audience. Our real power is the ability to make that message heard, and our primary weapon is agency and creativity. "So here you are suddenly in this world," said Genesis. "And you have no real power beyond imagination." But it turns out that the ability to imagine who we really are, and what we want to say, is the strongest weapon of them all.