The cultural engineer Genesis BREYER P-ORRIDGE is an avant-garde anti-hero whose remarkable body of underground work reminds us that when you believe something, artistic integrity demands that you live by it too. S/he will be performing at the Serpentine this upcoming Saturday, October 16th at 9:30pm for their Map Marathon. H/er performance emerges from the Pandrogeny series, an evolving experimental project devoted to radical self-modification and its documentation, and certainly the most intense of Genesis’ work to date. The work tests the limits of transgression as a strategy towards evolution, proving the expressive power and pervasive influence of those artists who take the world not as it comes to them — sensible, orthodox, predictable — but as they would like it to be.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Genesis founded COUM Transmissions, a confrontational performance collective heavily influenced by Dada, which later transformed into the group Throbbing Gristle. By the time COUM disbanded in 1976, it had become the forefront of performance art, pushing the boundaries, and shattering the definitions, of contemporary art, and paving the way for many later transgressive art movements. The culmination of COUM was the 1976 “Prostitution” exhibition at the ICA in London, which featured a stripper, used Tampax encased in glass and transvestite guards; the show caused such a commotion that the British Parliament sought to rethink governmental public art funding, and labeled Genesis and h/er collaborators as “Wreckers of Civilization”, documented in the book of the same name by Simon Ford, curator at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
In the early 1970s, Genesis met William S. Burroughs and was introduced through him to Brion Gysin, marking the beginning of a seminal and influential collaborative relationship; under Gysin’s tutelage, Burroughs had repopularized the “cut-up” technique of the early 20th century Surrealists, in which text, or narrative imagery, is cut up and randomly re-organized creating a new, non-linear formulation. Riveted by the work of both, Genesis would take the logic of the cut-up to its inevitable apotheosis, applying the post-Surrealist mania to material not just external but also internal.
In the 1990s, Genesis began a collaboration with the performance artist, Lady Jaye Breyer. Inspired by the language of true love and frustrated by what they felt to be imposed limits on personal and expressive identity, Genesis and Lady Jaye applied the “cut-up” to their own bodies in an effort to merge their two identities, through plastic surgery, hormone therapy, cross-dressing and altered behavior, into a single, “pandrogynous” character, “BREYER P-ORRIDGE.” This project focused on one central concern—deconstructing the fiction of self. They embraced a painterly, gestural approach to their own bodies, making expressive and startling use of signifiers like eyebrows, lips, and breasts, in an effort to resemble one another as much as possible. The work was an exercise in truly elective, truly creative identity, and a test of how fully two people could integrate their own lives, bodies, and consciousnesses.
One phase of this collaborative project ended, tragically, when Lady Jaye passed away in 2007. But Genesis has diligently continued to work on their shared pandrogynous mission, and in the intervening years has produced a remarkable collection of work that testifies with astounding power to h/er devotion to this radical project and to h/er late wife, and that is a powerful reminder of what real artistic commitment truly means.