There’s no end to the number of artists, writers and musicians inspired by the cut-up method of creation. But in collages and in life, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has taken the mash-up genre in a distinctive direction—and to particularly transgressive extremes. Born Neil Andrew Megson in Manchester in 1950, P-Orridge, now “pandrogynous” (P-Orridge’s hybrid term for positive androgyny), changed h/er name one year before dropping out of the University of Hull in 1969 and joining Exploding Galaxy, a London commune committed to pageantry and shunning societal norms. That same year, s/he (P-Orridge’s preferred pronoun) founded the performance collective COUM Transmissions, which morphed into the industrial band Throbbing Gristle, the project for which P-Orridge is best known. In 1971, s/he created a collage that now seems prophetic. On view in “30 Years of Being Cut Up”—a survey of 80 of
P-Orridge’s works—Mum & Dad is a grid of 32 portraits, created by duplicating two black-and-white passport photographs, the artist’s parents arbitrarily labeled either “Mum” or “Dad.” Gender turns out to have been an unstable distinction in P-Orridge’s oeuvre almost from the outset.
P-Orridge’s work often contains an odd but compelling mixture of playfulness, the paranormal and radical erotica. English Breakfast (2002-09) consists of a head shot of the Queen—her visage replaced by a fried egg with red beans, tomatoes, bacon, sausage and a mushroom, the food (an English breakfast) contrasting nicely with her many jewels. A sort of “E” with the vertical line running down the middle, the insignia for Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth—an occult organization P-Orridge founded but has since dissociated h/erself from—embellishes several compositions, including the psychedelic Electric Newspaper, Issue Two (1995), which served as album art for P-Orridge’s still-operative band Psychic TV. A 1989 series of illustrations for Terrence Sellers’s classic underground book The Correct Sadist blends what look like historical etchings of variously suffering nudes, snakes, tigers and demons with present-day fetish erotica. In a striking self-portrait, Flowering Pain Give Space (1998), P-Orridge appears enthroned, bound and blindfolded, wearing a corset, red stilettos and nipple clamps, with weights hanging from h/er shackled penis and a catheter running to h/er mouth—surrounded by a repeated image of yellow flowers in a gold vase.
In the 1990s, P-Orridge began what may be one of the most extreme cut-up projects on record, a collaboration with the performance artist known as Lady Jaye Breyer, h/er partner, who died in 2007. Through multiple plastic surgeries and hormone treatments, among other efforts, they strove to resemble one another as much as possible, thereby dismantling what they felt to be the fiction of their separate selves. Documented here in a video of an operation painful to watch and time-lapse photographs of the lovers’ chests taken as P-Orridge’s breasts grew larger and Breyer’s smaller, the project embraces the futility of certain ideals. It demonstrates P-Orridge’s grand contribution as a disrupter of monoculture, as well as h/er devotion to the conception of art and life being one and the same.
Photo: Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: English Breakfast, 2002-09, mixed mediums, 14 by 11 inches; at Invisible-Exports.