On a recent drizzly Saturday, about a hundred devotees converged on London’s ICA theater for a six-hour conference in homage to Cosey Fanni Tutti. The iconic performance artist and founding member of Throbbing Gristle got her name when the artist Robin Klassnick sent her some mail art, a component of which was a re-spelling of Mozart’s comic opera Così fan tutte, loosely translated “as all women do.” Of course, what Cosey has done has always been a little different, and in the mid-1970s the name Cosey Fanni Tutti was synonymous with scandal. Experimenting with multifarious identities, Cosey appropriated images from her side-career as a sex industry worker into her artistic practice. Her first (and only) art show at the ICA, with Genesis P-Orridge as part of the COUM Transmission art collective, opened in 1976, bluntly titled Prostitution. It outraged the museum-going public with clippings of the artist in pornographic magazines and irreverent displays of, among other things, rusty knives and bloody tampons. The show was closed after only four days.
GERARD BYRNE, DIALOGUE FOR THREE, 2010. PERFORMED AS PART OF THE COSEY COMPLEX, INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ARTS, LONDON; MARCH 27, 2010. PHOTO BY TOM MEDWELL.
Fed up with the art world, Cosey and P-Orridge went on to form Throbbing Gristle with Chris Carter and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson. Their post-industrial, mechanical screech spurned the genre now known (popularly or not) as industrial music. When the band split, Cosey and Carter continued to record as Chris and Cosey, and later Carter Tutti. But judging by the fact that this recent event at the ICA sold out weeks before it opened, it seems that early ignominy severed only to corroborate Cosey’s stardom. Tucked inside the small, packed theater, the audience remained enthralled through a marathon program of readings, short films, music and theatrical performance in her honor. With the icon herself stationed in the front row, there was an air of history-in-the-making.
The Cosey Complex was the brainchild of Maria Fusco, editor of the logocentric art criticism journal The Happy Hypocrite. Eleven invited guests took the stage in 20-minute intervals, presenting work either directly inspired by the artist or deemed Cosey-esque by Fusco herself. Recounting his experience interviewing Cosey in her country home (apparently a converted sheep’s hospital accessible only by dune buggy), comedic writer Graham Duff, exhibited something like a complex when his enduring infatuation with the artist culminated in a (fictitious?) restraining order, euphemistically dubbed “mail art.” Theorist Diedrich Diederichsen presented a text about Cosey’s early work in which he borrowed Walter Benjamin’s idea that the camera is like a surgeon’s knife, employed detachedly to deconstruct the human body. The discrete objectification indicative of pornographic modeling, he suggested, was an instance of commercial media used as an instrument, or weapon, in expressing intellectual resentment.
In the medium of sound work contributions, artist Daniela Cascella played a solemn requiem of interwoven auditory excerpts from Carter Tutti, Meredith Monk and other experimental composers. Not everyone made direct reference to Cosey however; novelists Martin Bax and Chris Kraus read from their own works tales of autistic patients and artificially inseminated pandas in captivity, respectively. Cosey herself took the stage only briefly, to commence the ceremony and express gratitude to her many inspirees. The Cosey Complex in sum was an amorphous gathering celebrating the symbiosis of diverse practices-an event that could go on for six hours without feeling like a roast or an annual fan club conference. Hardcore in duration, but not in its content.
COSEY FANNY TUTTI INTRODUCES THE COSEY COMPLEX, INSTITUTE OF CONTEMPORARY ARTS, LONDON; MARCH 27, 2010. PHOTO BY TOM MEDWELL.