Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s “30 Years of Being Cut Up,” a retrospective of P-Orridge’s cut-up work, is on view at New York’s Invisible-Exports Gallery until October 18, 2009. P-Orridge is about as cutting-edge as you get: from being charged by the British Post Office for mailing desecrated images of the Queen, to founding the industrial-music heavyweights Throbbing Gristle, to more recent events, like P-Orridge’s cut-up collaboration with the performance artist Lady Jaye, in which they both underwent plastic surgery to merge their two identities.
We originally proposed conducting a brief interview with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge over email. S/he responded with a three-thousand word document, saying, “The reason we usually refuse to do email interviews is they take me so long. We are UNABLE to write quick, short, superficial answers. We find our SELF compelled to write as if for a book project. Or as the Sufi's believed, "Write every letter as if it be your last and your Life be judged thereon." Hence it took three days of several-hour sittings. Let us hope you find my effort and sense of responsibility worthwhile.” We find it very worthwhile. See below for much more.
All images courtesy the artist and Invisible-Exports, all rights reserved.
What first appealed to you about creating cut-ups? Does the interest remain the same?
How we came across, and more importantly aware of collages, with hindsight, was a destined collision that tore apart my previous visual world view into phantasmagorical fragments flashing and fluttering, knives and butterflies; and how some bits came to rest, and other bits simply vanished! Abandoning forever ANY existing Old World Order now that a New World Picture had somehow, tantalizingly come into an existence. Remarkable!
And who was this incredible alchemist, scientist, or absurdist (all most coveted and yet so illusory professions) had released this craven ability to “Godlike” render new worlds and events within them regardless of logic, possibility, or impossibility with just wit, precociousness, the eye of a genius and some scissors and glue. My 16-year-old sight had fallen upon “Une Semaine De Bonte.” By the inimitable Max Ernst.
Naturally my earliest collages after discovering sample pages illustrated in a book upon Surrealism were consciously influenced. We would search “Old Curiosity Shops” and jumble sales for any old medical books with engravings as illustrations. Victorian books on exotic travels to far-off lands and zoological books with line illustrations of deep sea creatures were a favorite. Mostly these earliest collages were part of my journals and seen as equal in vitality and transference and/or storage of information. We had had an initiatory revelation that just as Brion Gysin said “POETS DON’T OWN WORDS” in one of his famous permutation poems in much the same way “WORDS DON’T OWN MEANINGS.” Art can occur at these intersections where words fail us but images (regardless of how clear or opaque their messages) lend us a transcendent ability, or option to explore, record, and even enable US to create new previously unrecorded worlds. The artist can truly say “I am become as a God.” It was an amazing liberation of my imagination and my way of seeing the “world” outside, learning how malleable our socially agreed descriptions of places, objects, and living critters truly was. So exciting! Now we knew how to cut up and reassemble all forms of images to create worlds that defied the “laws” of physics and biology so the possibilities alone were endless, never mind the impossibilities.
Just as we were adjusting to the gossamer fragility of consensus reality and absorbing the thought that what we all see is an age-old, often useful, often discouraging social agreement and cultural construct we were deliriously creative. Then we found underground newspapers and magazines coming up north from the burgeoning London scene. Oh WOW! Now this is a time when only WOW! will do. OZ magazine was grossly compelling and shockingly colored psychedelic mayhem. Martin Sharpe especially pushed the boundaries of collage and graphic narrative cartoon strips to previously inconceivable layers of image and pataphysical madness of meanings. One of Martin Sharpe’s first ‘delic posters was an homage to Max Ernst in black and purple on silver paper stock. Thanks to the generosity of my “Other Half” Lady Jaye we possess a complete collection of this magazine. They function as my encyclopedia of exploding possibilities, and just as Max Ernst had expanded my way of seeing cultural landscapes of a new OUTSIDE, so studying Sharpe’s collisions and mindscapes in OZ increased how malleable our socially agreed descriptions of how our perceptions of anything via consciousness truly radicalized my concepts of a new INSIDE.
Just as we were writing slogans to try and promulgate this inrush of knowledge such as, “The possibilities ALONE are endless” and “Change The Way To Perceive And Change All Memory,” our remaining means of perception were shattered by our discovering the “Cut-Up,” principle tool of Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs in particular, and the—primarily Beat Hotel-based—Parisian Beats. The legend is that Brion Gysin was cutting the edges of some photos on top of a newspaper. Daydreaming afterwards he started shifting the various columns of sliced up text and discovered that as he butted them up to the “wrong” pieces of other pages, the resulting texts “received” by reading straight across seemed far more potent, evocative, mysterious, and innovative than the previous formally written, LINEAR methodology of literature that had gone before. Gysin had already declared that writing was 50 years behind painting. Abstract Expressionism and other modernist movements away from immediacy of meaning had no comparable equivalent in even avant-garde literature. Burroughs immediately became a passionate convert to the “Cut-Up” as they called their technique. They soon collaborated constantly, creating poems out of several sources, cutting-up photos, tape recordings, even 35mm film thanks to Antony Balch. We found a copy of “The Third Mind” and some of their other small-press collections in a Soho, London porn shop. The impact was profound! My entire approach to art, writing, identity, consciousness, eventually in fact to every aspect of a Life as Art and Art as a Life began from that moment and led to the creation of a consciously constructed artwork by Neil Megson titled “Genesis P-Orridge” in 1971 with my legal name change.
The realization that by juxtaposing ANYTHING with any other thing one was creating a “world,” in a sense, that never existed before and probably could not “exist” in a sensory world governed by our current scientific and mathematical formulas that we utilize as “rules” despite knowing everything is constantly shifting and adjusting, in a state of flux waiting for the next, often contradictory “rule” to replace it. For me, the Cut-Ups were an epiphany. Nothing was really fixed, immune from alteration. Burroughs and Gysin went further. They began to ask, “In a prerecorded Universe, who made the first recording?” What came to fascinate me was not just the visually entrancing and infinite possibilities opened up by Cut-ups in collages, writing, video, and more traditional creative avenues, but the application of the Cut-Up to human behavior. If DNA is in a sense a spiraling, yet still linear recording, then genetic markers and triggers governing primitive urges like “fight and flight,” attacking the unknown and anything “different,” might be adjustable. Perhaps our social and familial conditioning could be broken up, cut-up, re-arranged in new formations to reveal aspects of our SELF, our behavior, our identity, our attitudes that can then be discarded, reshaped, eventually giving an Individual as near to a self-created “blank slate” upon which to build and design a chosen autonomous personality. The binary systems relied upon for so long—black/white, good/bad, male/ female, Xtian/Moslem, and on and on—become weakened and outmoded as flexibility of viewpoint occurs through experimentation like this. This ability of cut-ups to “See what it really says…” as Burroughs once said remains as vital and revelatory as it seemed the first day we came across the concept. Without Cut-ups and the proposal that a Cut-Up is NOT the work of any person contributing the raw materials but rather becomes the product of the process itself of “random” exploration and deconstruction. “How random is random,” said Burroughs. Without this tool and an abiding faith in its effectiveness in unlocking hidden, occult, covert, or Universal layers of meaning and choice, Lady Jaye and myself would never have reached the place in our art practice where we made the mutual decision to rejoice in being each other’s “Other Half” and work towards the assembling of a PANDROGYNE, a Third Being that can only exist as the result of the cutting up and reconstructing two source beings—in this instance, ourselves and our bodies.
More than what might be called the salacious stuff, so much of your cut-up work appears to be about angles and lines and geometry, and also about transcendence. Do you find limitations inspiring or confining?
We certainly have found—a good example of “The Fractured Garden”—that one of the great joys of seeing all realities as malleable and layered, but the layers being gossamer-thin, illusory if we glance askance, is noticing what Breyer P-Orridge have nicknamed “Sacred Geometry,” a symmetry that is revealed, that as elements of a collage are moved about, exact matches of tones happen too, shadows giving a conviction the eye accepts through habit when what it is seeing, studied closely, is an impossibility. The Japanese zen garden stones have no logical right to float in the air at one side. The London houses are totally geometrically out of perspective. Yet, the most common initial feeling of the viewer is a sense of order and “rightness” that only falls apart upon closer examination. Angles and lines often jump out only after cutting-up and reveal intersections and perceptual relapses because of the act of juxtaposition in contradiction of logic. In that sense we could say we cannot, and will not accept limitations as the whole process is about restructuring and deconstructing to see what we would always miss if we accepted a visual world as we are told it already is.
The examples of mail art look mischievous, some quite beautiful, but not really dangerous. Do you see them as they were once interpreted, or how they look on the wall today?
Well the mail art was NEVER intended by me to be in any way “really dangerous.” We were as surprised as anyone to be arrested for some of the Queen postcards in 1975 and sentenced to a year in prison plus the maximum possible fine, for each postcard seized! Obviously the “Powers” that be found the use of ordinary souvenir postcards of our Queen in conjunction with over-the-counter soft-core magazines openly displayed at newsagents offensive and that offensiveness is defined roughly as “likely to deprave and corrupt the public.” THAT in turn IS seen as dangerous for some reason WE are not privy to. We thought they were ironic.
One lesser known message was the policing of S&M and fetish sexual activities at that time and the making illegal of any piercing, tattooing, or scarification even between consenting adults at that time. My collages were in part a commentary on those double standards. When DOES a postcard become indecent. The Queen card is freely available and the soft-core mags are also readily available in every high street in England. When combined, does the Third Mind mysteriously add social danger and disorder? These kinds of questions and hypocrisies have always bugged me. Where IS that line between acceptability and censorship. Is it the line you cross as you enter a Gallery? My cards could not be seen in the street, where all the materials came from, even the stick glue and scissors; nor in the post office sorting room where they were seized, though there were probably similar magazines being delivered en masse to subscribers.
Our belief is it is really about power. S&M and festish activities were for a long time (centuries) primarily the vices of the aristocracy and royalty, who could afford the luxury. As the so-called common person developed an interest in these privileged sports, they were harassed, intimidated, and eventually jailed. One gay man in the infamous Spanner Case got three years in jail for piercing HIS OWN foreskin. The local pharmacy saw his snapshots and turned him in. His trial, with 11 others, was at The Old Bailey, London, with a judge, but NO jury. All were found guilty and for a shameful time the U.K. had no legal rights to tattoo, pierce, scarify or practice S&M. This was in 1991. It was the primary reason we were forced into seven years exile as an “instigator” though we were NEVER charged with even a parking ticket. But cultural engineering is a powerful force and look at the world now! Everyone and their brother is an expert on “Body Modification”. We say hurrah. The alternative repression is far worse.
Now we see the mail art and laugh a lot. Some are very funny if we may say so. A lot we don’t recall making as we produced probably thousands between 1970 and the present day. How they look on the wall today is surely different for each viewer, dependent to a degree on what they do, or do not, know about mail art. Whether they read the backs for context. You can ask staff there politely to show you the backs. All in all they stand up well as pure art, fun and games. They almost seem like the last art movement/network before the internet changed so much. The last era of hand-made gifts of art and thought exchanged for sheer pleasure amongst friends. Knowing some are on loan from collectors is flattering but anomalous as they were truly in all but a few cases, exchanges of time and creativity with other artists and friends bypassing the gallery system and art market altogether. Now they have snuck right on in there anyway! And, as we look around at much contemporary work, we feel they stand up well and remain almost prescient at times. Mail Art sort of evaporated from mass interaction around the time industrial and punk culture exploded into the streets. Often from these very same artists and characters. The reappraisal of this era of the early 1970’s is accelerating, a lot of it positive. We tend to think rightly so.
Your career has so many stages. As an artist, are there things you believe that have remained consistent through your evolution?
Yes. The use of Cut-Up methodology. Immersion in any topic that draws our interest for any reason. E.g., Brian Jones. We ended up with original copies of every press cutting in the British press from 1962-1969; the jacket he wore on his first TV appearance; meeting and spending time with both his illegitimate sons called Julian, and all the women he had relationships with; became friends with Donovan who is married to Linda, mother of one Julian; interviewing one person who autopsied him who gave a written statement saying Brian did NOT drown, nor was he drugged up (this in 1984), and so on until our archive was several thousand pages and included dozens of never-ever-before-printed photographs and slides; we discovered lost newsreel footage in an old cinema archive. THEN we wrote “GODSTAR,” a three-and-a-half-minute psych pop song as a magickal invocation/or cultural engineering strategy (as you prefer) with the intention of making it public that in our opinion Brian Jones was murdered and then maligned. Recent events have proven us correct all along. So we work more as cultural archeologists, gardeners of the forgotten pioneers of contemporary functional art practice. Keepers of the spirit of idealistic notions being implicit for Art to have any Astorical value. We share as much of what creates our passions as we can via our Art, our actions, books, records, interviews and any other media. In the hope that at least occasionally it resonates with others who are dissatisfied with a current status quo in as close enough a way as us to become autonomous allies in action.
Obviously, identity. Who creates it. Who tries to shape and control it. The search for possible techniques to change it, mutate it, and ultimately SELF re-design it is a constant theme. CHANGE. Sincere hunger for change for its own sake, see a cliff…JUMP OFF! When in doubt…BE EXTREME …or EX-DREAM. CHANGE THE WAY TO PERCEIVE AND CHANGE ALL MEMORY.
Language, the way words operate. Are they a virus that limits us as Burroughs and Gysin believed? Are they an alien software that maintains our illusory nonconsensus reality in order for DNA to propagate? The DNA software, mitochondria, may well be the highest lifeform on earth. Our bodies replicate to perpetuate the ever expanding database of DNA worldwide but our individual bodies begin to decay and become redundant to DNA once replication is superfluous. Words are like holograms. My essay “Thee Splinter Test” in Thee Psychick Bible (published October 31 2009 by Feral House Press) explores this theory in depth. We have come to suspect words are “alive” in a sense and that repetition empowers words ultimately leading to a possibility for a word, especially a charged word used to name a “God,” can separate from its human hosts and become an incarnate but conscious being with plans of its own. Hence we talk of INVESTING words with meaning. So, language, how it works, what it liberates, what it controls and limits is a constant source of fascination.
Borderlines. The line that is always immeasurable. Like the line between awake and asleep, alive and dead, male and female, night and day. Linked with this interest are near-death experiences (we have been declared physically dead three times!). Ritual and shamanic ways of being as potential doorways to other dimensions, or simply less accessible areas of the human brain.
UNCONDITIONAL LOVE! Beyond all else, all this other stuff, our endless struggle against INERTIA of any form, is our deeply devotional, idealistic, Utopian search for unconditional reciprocated LOVE. We have been blessed by meeting my “OTHER HALF,” Lady Jaye, in 1993. Of all the amazing, remarkable people we have met and collaborated with in our L-if-E, David Medalla, Derek Jarman, Cerith Wyn Evans, William S. Burroughs, Dr Timothy Leary and Brion Gysin—of all the people we have known in our 60 years apparently on this planet, Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge was by far the MOST remarkable of them all. S/he wove all the previous threads into one overall project and vision, PANDROGENY, with me. This project is ongoing. Her SELF now represents Thee Pandrogyne in the immaterial realms and my SELF now represents Thee Pandrogyne in this material world.
What are you working on at the moment?
PANDROGENY. Two documentary films are being made about the artist BREYER P-ORRIDGE. One by French filmmaker Marie Losier who has already devoted five years to her feature-length documentary focusing on Lady Jaye’s loving creative devotion to loving me and vice-versa. It is tentatively titled The Ballad of Lady Jaye and Genesis. Lady Jaye always told me, “All I want to be remembered for is us being one of the great love affairs of all time.”
The other is a more mysterious movie being created by Katy Paycheck which will focus on Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and her belief that we belong in a pantheon of serious, refined, and influential artists. It will revolve around artists of note relocating us in the art Astorical context.
Heartworm Press are publishing Collected Lyrics and Poems of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Volume One, 1961-1971. Later they will publish my first novel, written in 1969, Mrs. Askwith. Other books will follow.
We continue to create fine art and exhibitions at galleries and museums around the world. Our current being “30 Years Of Being Cut Up” at Invisible-Exports, Orchard Street, New York. Open until October 18, 2009. They will be publishing a catalog with approx 200 full-color photos of collages covering the years 1971 to the present.
We also still perform occasionally in the original industrial music group, Throbbing Gristle; play in Psychic TV/PTV3; perform expanded poetry with music and video as Thee Majesty; have begun occasional concerts of improvised violin duets with Tony Conrad.
We have taught and given lectures at Rutgers University, NYU, New School, SVA, and Purchase Universities in the last year and continue to do so. We tour the world giving lectures on Pandrogeny, the Cut-Ups, and their impact upon conscious evolution of the human species.
Our artworks reside in over 50 museum and private collections.