NEW YORK - 30 YEARS OF BEING CUT UP
The Tate Modern owns the archives of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge's work, but through October 18 Invisible-Exports is showing works of theirs no one's seen, unless you've been privileged enough to visit their home. I'm using plural pandrogynous pronouns here not because I have no grasp of grammar but for reasons you really should know by now. Genesis has been around for decades, pulling off acts of magick and art as everyday life in a couple little bands you've probably never heard of called Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, several visual art shows, and an experiment of love that began in the 90s with partner Lady Jaye in which the two collaborated on fusing into a single elective identity through a series of plastic surgeries, hormone therapy, and altered behavior. I could go on and on about it but you can just watch this episode of Soft Focus if you want to know more.Everything is sacred, nothing is sacred—least of all the body. Worship it and tear it apart and put it back together again, however you like, is how Genesis and Lady Jaye saw it (she passed two years ago). And it's how they made art together too. I went to the gallery just before the opening and got a tour of what's basically a temple full of documented rituals.
Vice: Hi Genesis. How was your day?
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Up until I was dealing with the IRS, it was great! I was in a happy mood! We were happy! Oh yes, we are still trying to remember to say "we." We still make mistakes after 50 years of being self-obsessed. The idea is that Jaye represents us both in the immaterial world, wherever that might be, whatever that might be, and we represent us both still here. So we're trying to learn to say "we" all the time because we're both still here.
Either way, we're speaking for both of us.
Do you still communicate with her?
A little bit. We've had some strange phenomena. What, you want to know?
Before she passed—or as she used to call it, "dropped her body"—we talked about how we would try to communicate, whichever one of us went first, if it was ever possible. Not knowing what it's like after death or what's possible, we thought it had to be something that happens that's physical, material, solid. Something actually moves or falls, where it can't be subjective or wishful thinking, like "I think I heard her voice." There have to be witnesses so you can't just make it up. It has to have some secret significance to both of us. Those were the three things we thought of.
At her funeral, my two daughters, Caresse and Genesse, flew out from California and they arranged for a tattooist to come out to the house and give each of us a white psychic cross. We were sitting around with about four or five friends who'd been at the funeral and they were trying to persuade me to go back to California with them. We were hemming and hawing and we thought, being pretty traumatized, this irrational thought came into my head: Well, we're gonna have to take a photo with me if we go. So I'm in the bedroom and on one wall where she slept, there were about 20 framed photos of us kissing at different times and different places, so the first and the last thing she saw was always us kissing. That was the kissing wall. So we picked out a picture of us kissing in Kathmandu to take and went back into the other room where everybody was set. We placed it flat on a table and then sat over here in an armchair. And we were all talking … [I said], "Maybe we should stay here with Jaye. It feels like she is still here."
And then this picture in front of everybody--seven witnesses--levitated, moved across the room front of me, and flipped over so I could see the picture of us kissing.
And we just went, "Well, I guess we're staying here." Everyone went, "If we weren't there, we wouldn't have believed it happened.
If I weren't naturally inclined toward this stuff, I probably wouldn't.
Another time, we were on tour with Psychic TV, PTV3 in Europe, and my now-personal manager Ryan Martin, stays at the apartment with my dog, Big Boy. Every day he would make the bed--he's a neat freak. He'd make the bed, lock the bedroom, walk the dog, leave the dog, come home in the afternoon, walk the dog again. The day we were due back, he thought, "Well, Gen might get delayed or something so he came back to the apartment to give Big Boy a last walk in case the plane got held over and noticed the bedroom door was open--which it never was. He went in and looked and the bed, he knew for a fact he made the bed so it was rectangular and these seams were over the pillow like that…. When he came back, the bedclothes had been folded back in a perfect triangle and two rainbow-colored woolen bed socks had been placed right next to each other here. And he took photos of it because it shocked him so much. And what he didn't know was that whenever we were away without Jaye, that's how she would welcome me home.
Welcome home, there's your bed ready for you.
And that's just two examples. Really specific.
Yeah, she followed instructions.
Which is weird, because my rational self says it's an existential universe and it's all a big accident, but too many strange things have happened to me for to be able to believe that anymore.
Especially having taken psychedelics. You realize how tenuous this idea is of consensus reality, or as now we call it "nonsensus" reality. So there are a couple of really specific ones that had witnesses, were significant, and were physical. There's been quite a few. We try to keep notes in our diary. Very strange.
I like these stories.
On the first anniversary of her passing we stayed home; we got this [tattoo] done that day. We were home and and at midnight we sat at the end of the bed and we thought, "Oh, it's the end of the day. Wonder where Jaye is." And then what seemed like three seconds later we went like this [holds a reclining pose]. We were still at the on the bed and all my limbs were aching because it was two hours later.
And we'd been in this really awkward half-sitting position for two hours because we looked at the clock on the TV, but it was a blank.
It was a blank. Where do you think…?
We can only speculate. But we had this really strong feeling that she nipped off with me somewhere. But you're not allowed to remember, I guess. It's weird. Not sure. It's interesting. But it's never happened to me before or since.
I would picture you of being more of a traveler, an astral traveler.
Mmm... Jaye used to say that we had weirding ways--that strange things happen to me all the time.
It's exciting, it's exciting because it opens up possibilities, which is always part of life.
[In our program for the gallery opening] one of the quotes is, "Change the way you perceive, and you change your memory." Because when you change the way you perceive things, everything you used to believe changes, too. And there was Burroughs thing: "Well, let's cut it up and see what it really says."
That's really good. Speaking of which, let's talk about what's on the walls here.
This bit here is the "Mail Art" section. After Fluxus, which was sort of a 60s thing, there was a lot of playfulness and games and so on, people started sending things, multiples in the post, and it grew into a whole network of people sending bits of original artwork to each other bypassing galleries altogether and it became known as "mail art."
What's all the liquids on here?
That's blooood, that's blood, that's pubic hair. This is wax off candles we were using to see what we were doing from the looks of it. And there's bound to be some sperm or spit on there.
Bound to be.
Bound to be. But it's actually a really beautiful piece of graphics, too. It's got a constructionist look to it. And here's the "23," of course.
Yes, of course.
These ones here are from a friend of ours, Terence Sellers, who wrote this book called Correct Sadist. Actually, Lady Jaye and myself met in her dungeon in 1993. We used to crash there when we were in New York and Lady Jaye used to work there as a dom. These were my illustrations for her book, one edition of her books. We did about ten but these are the only four surviving.
I think I have pages from this--these are the collages I have, one at home and one at my desk in the office.
You do? So now you can see the originals!
So we went through this whole thing--all the positions this model is in are actually stations of the cross as well.
Oh, they're tarot cards!
Mmm-hh. You know with the Catholic Church there are the stations of the cross and Jesus is in different positions. There are all the positions. We put a stuff jock strap on--so it's a hermaphrodite.
Like the Fool. They're the names of the cards.
Well, we were thinking about starting a whole series and finishing but never did. One day…
What we have here?
These are probably from the sketchbooks that we have back home. This one [with baked beans and sausages on Queen Elizabeth's face] is called "English Breakfast."
You just couldn't resist.
Two souvenir postcards but it's perfect, isn't it?
There's something about that one – it had to be done.
What is going on in some collages?
We have a first-edition of the Book of Thoth signed by Crowley and Frieda Harris.
Well, lucky you.
It is lucky me! It's leather-bound, Egyptian paper inside, and all the pictures are studded by hand.
Where did you get your hands on that?
A shop called Atlantis Bookshop on Museum Street in London. Geraldine Beskin was there and we always used to go in and ask if they had anything by Crowley and she said, "Oh, this just came in." It was 60 pounds, which was nothing. And we had just gotten our dole check so we bought it with our dole check. Now it's worth a lot more.
Looking around, you have a really corny sense of humor.
Some of them look funny and I just die laughing.
I like it.
You have to.
This is just a really meticulous one. The more you look at it the more you'll realize how detailed it is.
They're all done with ordinary scissors and stick glue. As a matter of principle we don't use anything fancy --don't even use a scalpel.
Tell me more about this cutting up fascination.
I've always interested in this whole thing when you put two pictures and you join them like that how it changes and you get this really interesting new sort of way of seeing everything. There's just something really fascinating about the geometry of these things once you start doing that.
It messes with perception.
This is a recent one. Jaye took these Polaroids of Ben's hairy chest. There's his nipple, see? And that is my ear that being stapled back on after one of the surgeries. But we were moving them around one day and it seemed like this strange alien baby just screaming. Don't you think? And the way that line follows this so it's got this weird head that screams! Ben's chest is Satan!
Over here, this one of you reclining in fishnets… you're in a glamour pose
Jaye said that's one of the most decadent pictures of you I've ever seen. "You look like a really decadent old rock star." [Laughs.] It's true.
Now this one of you with all the tubes and things tied to you, this to me looks decadent.
That's pretty decadent. Yes, we said to Jaye, "We need some pictures to go with this flower arrangement," and the next thing you know, this is what she did. That's the trouble when you live with a nurse who's also a dominatrix--you get a little bit medical, catheters and things. It actually hurt too--the way she rigged it was that this would suck the urine out of my bladder and it went right up inside and filled this bag and then [the tube would] come into my mouth and I'd have to drink it again. She didn't even warn me.
How long were you like this?
About six hours.
What is this video?
Thirty years of being cut up. It's a video of myself and Jaye. She was writing a telegraphic statement about pandrogyny. This is me under full anaesthetic and there's the inside of my face. It's really interesting to see that your face was just peeled off. See, there's the ear that was stapled on. And then [in another layer of video] we put real worms from the back garden and filmed them so that the writing turns into living worms. Oh, look, it shows his hand inside your face, there!
It's interesting to me how you can be so cavalier and--
Look, look, look, look!
Yes, that's your face being squished around and cut.
Just cut the fat off! Snip! Don't even need it.
What else we have?
When you look closely, at this one, there's actually this castle in France… Sadly we don't remember the name of it, but it's the first castle where they say that the first troubadour wrote poetry. And some friends of ours took us there and it was all chained up and fenced off. See there's me and Jaye really wandering around. And as we stood at this chained fence this old man came up and said, "You want to look 'round?" We were like "Yeah!' And it turned out he was the expert on troubadours in the whole of France and he lived up the street in a medieval cottage with his wife. Showed us 'round and gave us this long guided tour and took us home, gave us tea, and all he wanted in turn was he made me read a poem. That was a really special moment.
Right place, right time. Synchronicity.
Those kinds of things, that's when Jaye would say, "You've got that weirding way. What is it about you that you would just turn up at places and suddenly, there's the old guy?" I don't know. I don't know.
You really don't know?
No, it just happens. You can't start thinking about it. You'll ruin everything.