“How do you short-circuit control?” Genesis Breyer P-Orridge asked during a talk s/he gave about h/er mentor and friend Brion Gysin on July 15th, following the opening of “Brion Gysin: Dream Machine” at the New Museum. Though unusual, Genesis’ question did not come as a surprise to me after having worked on the exhibition with senior curator Laura Hoptman for the last two years. The kind of “control” that Genesis was referring to was also of great concern to Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs. Their magnum opus, The Third Mind (1978), is a book of collages and texts that elaborate on their concept of the “Cut-Up,” a method by which words, sound, images, and physical forms are rearranged to reveal new meaning. In conversation with Laura, Genesis spoke passionately about Gysin’s influence on h/er thinking, and about the day they first met.
In 1978, After Genesis repeatedly asked Burroughs to introduce h/er to Gysin, Burroughs eventually put the two artists in touch. Genesis invited Gysin (partially as an excuse to meet him) to participate in a limited edition book of contemporary artists. Upon arrival at Gysin’s place on Rue Saint Martin in Paris, Genesis was greeted by an empty apartment, but Gysin returned shortly with Genesis’ favorite candy: Cadbury’s chocolate fingers. The artists quickly became friends and conspirators, and though they shared many interests, their primary bond was an embrace of the occult as a means of finding a place outside the realm of what was considered “rational.” Much of their time together was spent imagining ways to create simultaneous actions and focusing their energy on manifesting what might happen next. Their friendship continued until Gysin’s death in 1986, but the knowledge they exchanged during the late 1970s and early 1980s endures.
During the 1990s, Genesis and h/er partner and collaborator, the late Lady Jaye, embarked on a journey to deconstruct themselves by applying the Cut-Up method to their bodies. Through surgery, clothing, and adopted mannerisms, the two artists tried to find a way to become one. “Pandrogeny,” according to Genesis, is an attempt to merge male and female in order to create a perfect hermaphroditic state. Genesis’ musical endeavors—including the industrial bands Throbbing Gristle (originally conceived of as the performance art group COUM Transmissions) and Psychic TV—and h/er more recent spoken word-based project, Thee Majesty, also utilize the Cut-Up as a means of creative liberation.
Sitting in the New Museum auditorium listening to Genesis talk about navigating a way beyond gender binaries, I found myself drifting back to my thesis research in graduate school, when I spent long days reading and re-reading Judith Butler’s Undoing Gender (2004). My research was focused primarily on the blurring of gender in art and I spent a lot of time thinking about the work of British artist Helen Chadwick who was particularly knowledgeable about Herculine Barbin, a 19th century French hermaphrodite who tragically committed suicide after a short life filled with confusion and pain. I hadn’t thought about it until that night, but it was obvious that Genesis and Chadwick must have known each other; both British artists, around the same age, AND a shared interest in the politics of the body. I was thrilled to have this confirmed by Genesis who said they even lived across the street from each other for a time. That night I raced home to research their connection.Click here for the first link I found.
I discovered that in 1972/1973, COUM Transmissions, Helen Chadwick, and other emerging British artists of that time presented work in a handful of towns across the UK in an event called Fluxshoe, inspired by Fluxus, which had occurred a decade earlier in the US. I’ve yet to confirm this with Genesis, but I’m off to the UK in August to delve into Chadwick’s archive at the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds (she died in 1996) and I’m certain this bit of knowledge will serve me well. Prior to the research I’ve engaged in over the last year or so, I was also unaware of Genesis’ deep connection to Burroughs and Gysin, but now it all seems to make sense, or perhaps I’ve just re-arranged things a bit to find new meaning.
During h/er talk, Genesis also elaborated on h/er ideas about the possibility of human hibernation, or unique physical modifications to the body such as fur or wings, and even, space and time travel. Sharing Gysin’s sentiment, “change the way to perceive and change all memory,” Genesis advocates for a different reality, a new kind of perception, that encourages people to look beyond binary definitions of gender and where we aren’t confined to our fragile bodies. S/he reiterated several times throughout the evening, h/er belief that the body is simply a “biological container” or even just a “suitcase of DNA.” Though Lady Jaye passed away in 2007, Genesis continues to engage in physical alterations such as reduced breasts, re-shaped eyebrows, and the addition of birthmarks that mirror those of h/er partner. Now embodying fragments of both human forms, Genesis is evolving into a whole, infinitely malleable being. It is clear that Genesis, like Gysin, has discovered a means to evade the control that permeates our world, one Cut-Up at a time.
Curatorial Associate, New Museum
Always Open :: NewMuseum.org
// From our friends at the New Museum