When Fluxus emerged in the 1960s as a Neo-Dada movement that celebrated the random and mundane, artists like Yoko Ono and John Cage created inter-media performances that merged art with the everyday. Considered music by their makers, many of the most notorious performances incorporated acts of violence on instruments, artist, and viewers alike: Nam June Paik’s leap from a Cologne stage to cut off the necktie of audience member John Cage (1960); George Maciunas’ nailing of every key on a piano (Carpenter Piece, 1962); and Yoko Ono’s invitation to an audience to cut bits of clothing from her body (Cut Piece, 1965). The link between Fluxus and everything contemporary—from installation art to punk music—has led to the rediscovery in recent years of its lesser-known figures—Tony Conrad, Gustav Metzger, Al Hansen. Another such figure is the British-born artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, best known for pioneering the industrial music scene of the mid-1970s, and for co-founding the band PsychicTV, the video art and music group that originated from the artist’s philosophical writings on magic and self-expansion. But what many fans don’t know is that P-Orridge has also been making visual art in the form of collage for over thirty years, which makes the retrospective Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: 30 Years of Being Cut Up a must-see. The first of its kind in North America, it spans three decades of the artist’s life, tracing the evolution of a man born Neil Megson (his given name) into the underground musician Genesis P-Orridge yet again transformed into the female artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.
The exhibition is divided into three main sections, the first of which represents Breyer P-Orridge’s contributions to the Fluxus-inspired genre of Mail Art: collaged postcards sent by the artist to friends and colleagues through the Royal Mail. Mum/Dad, 1971, features black-and-white passport photos of the artist’s estranged mother and father recollected by the gallerists from their respective recipients and re-collaged into a single work. In response to their grim visage, s/he asks, “They look like Nazi war criminals on the run, don’t they?” A more infamous example is Genetic Fear, 1972, which consists of popular tourist postcards of Queen Elizabeth II collaged over with body parts cut from magazines to create pornographic kaleidoscopes of sexual irreverence. The project resulted in a one-year jail sentence (for the crime of sending indecent mail) though the charges were suspended when P-Orridge agreed not to send any more images of the Queen through the mail. (LEFT: ENGLISH BREAKFAST, 2002–2009. COURTESY OF INVISIBLE-EXPORTS)
The second section of the present exhibition comprises collages that derive from what the artist calls Sigils (or spells); rituals performed by Breyer P-Orridge and documented in photographs that are cut up and fragmented. Semen, blood, public hair, and expressive swaths of paint give them an abstract quality like a painterly stew. One especially moving example was done in the early 1980s for filmmaker and friend Derek Jarman to stay his failing eyesight in order to allow him to complete a film. Another was made to assist the artist in getting a house in Brighton. Both spells worked. Infusing the Sigils with the power of magic and a belief in hidden realities beyond conventional logic, Breyer P-Orridge saw them as opportunities to “reprogram one’s brain”. Recalling the anti-establishment principles of Fluxus, which saw itself not as a movement but a way of life, the idea that one could change the existence of things also reflects h/er longtime interest in the occult.
Uncommon among Fluxus practitioners, the spiritual aspects of the artist’s work reference the Surrealists (“It all started when I saw Max Ernst’s work, s/he claims); Breyer P-Orridge was also intimately involved in pagan subcultures of the 1970s. The Psychik Cross, which resembles a weather vane of sorts, is a symbol invented by the artist to function as both image and tool (an object version was made to use in the rituals). The sympol recurs everywhere in the Sigils, drawn over and into the psychedelic-styled geometries and images of holy sites that predominate as well.
The last section of the exhibition presents pages from the artist’s Notebook, collages smaller in scale than the Sigils, and more ironic in tone. Sunflowers, 2002, once again defiles a sacred icon, though this time its an art historical masterpiece rather than the Queen. In a lurid ode to the traditional English breakfast, Breyer P-Orridge transforms Van Gogh’s famous still life into a bouquet of bacon and eggs. Snippets of the latter taken from magazine ads replace Van Gogh’s impastoed leaves and flowers, such that the patterned background of the British flag appears slick and seamless (cut from wrapping paper, perhaps?). This Duchampian spirit is mitigated in the other notebook collages by anecdotal elements that reflect the artist’s travels with h/er late wife and performance artist, Lady Jaye, among other everyday activities. Its easy to miss details here like the tiny heroin baggy glued over a photograph of a woman’s purse that is a perfect fit, or the butt plugs that bloom from abstracted images of a woman’s ass that sparkle like gems in a mandala.
Most of the “Notebook” works were done in collaboration with Lady Jaye, and several document the couple’s radical process of “pandrogeny,” the fusion of their identities into a third gender through plastic surgery and other less tangible means. The resulting “we”, a pronoun the artist uses today, is testament not only to Breyer P-Orridge’s undying love for Lady Jaye, but h/er Fluxus-based conviction that art and life are one.
Genesis P-Orridge: 30 Years of Being Cut Up is on view through October 18. Invisible-Exports is located at 14A Orchard Street, New York. See more about the life of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge in INTERVIEW.