The Poetry Project

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: POWER ANDROGENY

Remembrance by Lia Gangitano

In conclusion to their acknowledgements for the publication G.P.O. versus G.P-O: A Chronicle of Mail Art on trial compiled by Genesis P-Orridge and COUM (1976), they state: “WHAT E am interested in now is that point where Art meets Life and fuses, dispersing art and embracing life.” And their handwritten inscription notes, “herein beginneth thee occultural wars.”

My first visit to Thee Gates was mainly spent touring the archives from which this publication emerged, Genesis narrating the contents of their shelves and file cabinets, with labels ranging from Mail Art to Industrial Music, physically perusing all manner of obsolescent media including typewritten letters, handwritten postcards, cassette tapes and Super 8 film. Yet even within these narrow subterranean walls of made and accumulated things—physically recorded writing, tangible images and sounds—Genesis pointed toward their cosmic proliferation, from the expanding horizons of the commune to the bodily limits of the archive (which they consistently unfastened). Their archive was a timeline and its aim was to change, “to amend its course.”* Soon after this visit, Genesis handed over the keys, letting much of it go to more fixed repositories around the world.

Having participated in, and instigated, a variety of underground movements in their lifetime (many of which were physically manifested)—those stemming from literature, art, philosophy, cinema, music—Genesis’s early experiences of communal living and ritual performance reinforced a general inclination toward bodily expression as a means of connecting. Music, of course, amplified this, in particular through their merging of communal magic and sound, “auditory magical sigils.”**

Space becomes time,
Place becomes mind
And all ways
Like this rose

Their future-oriented goal was perhaps made most explicit with Pandrogeny, a project that brought forth the merged identity of Genesis and Miss Lady Jaye Breyer: Breyer P-Orridge. Deeply influenced by the cut-up techniques of Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs, Breyer P-Orridge transferred their use to identity, behavior, and gender. This application ultimately led to the substantially irreversible process of cutting up identity to produce a third whole—one they hoped could redesign a self-destructively binary, divided world. This intimate transformation was a new form of deliverance for Genesis, whose body offered a direct visual manifestation of a range of performative actions and life experience spanning decades, encompassing physical endurance, ornamentation, collective and individual action. Pandrogeny added to this life work not only a representation but also an embodiment of the cut-up, a holistic image with present, past, and future merging as a literal collage of their body, perceptible to those they encountered.

The exhibition that grew out of that visit to the archives, in fact, included no trace of archival material except for a screening of recently transferred Super 8 COUM Transmissions performance documentation from the mid ‘70s, which garnered a cease and desist-style email from Cosey Fanny Tutti. CHANGE THEE WAY TO PERCEIVE AND CHANGE ALL MEMORY, 2005, instead, became the first solo exhibition by Breyer P-Orridge. Comprised predominantly of new works charting the Pandrogeny project in photography and video, a site-specific installation, sigils and sculptural works made by their merged identity, it also encompassed two sculptural works made prior, including the kinetic “Tongue Kiss,” as if to recuperate these earlier gestures to their proper place in the timeline. An anecdote I feel compelled to repeat—perhaps in an effort to supplement its magic or maybe just remind myself that, at the time, I found it difficult to believe what occurred before my eyes—involves their spontaneous assembly of a complex artwork that had been described over the course of several months, but whose elements had lingered, unfinished, as disparate materials scattered around the gallery. This yet-to-be sigil, an object regarded by definition to be a functional sign considered magical, assembled essentially private investigations into the self in belief that “the future is open to subjective influence.” To affect that influence, their ritual maelstrom of gems, feathers, horns, sexual fluids, blood, and hair came together with Polaroids staged and taken years prior, meticulously cut up in the moment and reconfigured to form precise, perfectly-fitted starbursts, as if they had always existed, driven by some future-altering agency. Theirs was still a question: How can we change?

In their 1976 biography prepared “for thee use of Defense lawyers” representing them in an indictment for “indecent” postcards sent in the mail and published in G.P.O. versus G.P-O, it concludes: “Postal Works, Mail Art, Correspondence Works are throughout this activity the most continuous thread in their work, indeed the key, and have mainly led to them becoming world wide in their manifestations.” Again, I witnessed such a manifestation upon revisiting G.P.O. versus G.P-O for the purpose of this remembrance. Inside its packaging and within its pages I found the following items hidden or otherwise sent by Genesis: a rubber stamp stating “UNSOLICITED PORNOGRAPHY,” a Polaroid of a white Anthurium flower inscribed with “thank you for your trust,” a print of a collage made of pornography and pictures of the Queen of England, and a set of nine laminated prayer cards outlining P-ANDROGENY:




* Sabrina Locks notes of Group Material’s AIDS Timeline that, “An exhibition can function, however provisionally, intentionally or not, as a prescriptive presentation of history, or, as in the case of AIDS Timeline, as a call to amend its course.” Locks, “Tracking AIDS Timeline,” Show and Tell: A Chronicle of Group Material, ed. Julie Ault, London: Four Corners Books, 2010: 228-234.
** Dave Evans, The History of British Magick After Crowley. n.p.: Hidden Publishing, 2007: 99.
*** Psychic TV, “Just Drifting,” song lyric, 1982.

#261 — Summer 2020