HEROES: GENESIS BREYER P-ORRIDGE
THE SEMINAL ARTIST HAS SPARED NOTHING IN A LIFELONG PURSUIT OF SELF-ACTUALIZATION, WHICH IN HER CASE INCLUDES TRANSFORMING—BOTH PHYSICALLY AND PSYCHOLOGICALLY—INTO HER LOVER AND LIFE PARTNER. TURNS OUT THE WORK MAY NEVER BE COMPLETE
In 1971, William Burroughs asked Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, “How do you short-circuit control?”
“To me, that meant how do you locate control? Where is it?” Breyer P-Orridge explains from a Lower East Side apartment on the morning of—what else?—the apocalypse: a day this past spring the world was predicted to end. “At first it was about economics and power, but there had to be a deeper level of control, and finally Jaye and I decided it was DNA.” Genesis, who insists on the gender-blended pronouns “s/he” and “h/er,” is speaking of Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge, the partner with whom the Pandrogeny project was conceived. It’s the latest in a long line of barrier-breaking movements that collectively make up Breyer P-Orridge’s work—a string of almost-past lives that form the artist’s evolving identity.
In the late ’60s, Breyer P-Orridge joined the Exploding Galaxy, an art commune in London which required residents to give up all tendencies and lifestyle traits that might be construed as “normal.” From there, s/he and Cosey Fanni Tutti formed COUM Transmissions, a performance art group in which the duo would perform actions like trading clothes and gender roles before a rapt audience. They were then joined by Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson, and by 1975 the three of them had formed the influential industrial band Throbbing Gristle. From TG came the world record–breaking Psychic TV (and its later incarnation, PTV3), then the Temple of Psychick Youth (TOPY), Thee Majesty, and, of course, Pandrogeny. Each project stands as a separate conceptual entity, but all are linked by a common thread that might be called dedication to the spirit of evolution.
“If you build up a character strongly over the years,” Breyer P-Orridge (who has identified h/erself as Pandrogyne since 2003) says, “it becomes something like Genesis P-Orridge, and you get this amazing opportunity to play with people’s expectations on a much deeper level.” Indeed, Breyer P-Orridge earned h/er share of infamy early on. In 1991, s/he was famously exiled from Britain, having been branded a “wrecker of civilization” for the supposed obscenity of h/er work. “There is a demographic of people who have a preconceived idea of Genesis P-Orridge, so when you start to mess with that and transform it, it reverberates.”
S/he describes the subversion of gender and sex in the ’70s and ’80s as a freeing one, effected “not just by wearing costumes but by looking at the self. There was definitely a sense of liberation in refusing to even be the biological gender or package that you were assigned at birth.”
Of course, when speaking with one of the pioneers of industrial music—a genre which later spawned many others, like Madchester, acid house, and rave—the conversation always comes back to the nature of recording. “The planet, in a sense, is a recording device,” Breyer P-Orridge explains. “The only reason we know about archaeology and dinosaurs is because it has been recorded on the Earth. It seemed really interesting to us because we had cut up all these recordings, whether sounds or literature or pictures, so we realized everything is vulnerable to being cut up. Society can be cut up by doing something completely different, like living in a commune. DNA is a prerecording. Somewhere, our DNA has embedded in it everything that’s happened to us since we were slime balls in the sea, millions of years ago. So if you want to change the future, you have to cut up the information, and that’s the DNA. Once we came to that conclusion, things began for us.”
Through Pandrogeny, Genesis and Lady Jaye attempted to effectively cut up their DNA—through surgery, hormone therapy, costume, and behavior—to resemble one another as closely as possible in the form of new, ideal, angelic bodies. In October 2007, however, Lady Jaye tragically succumbed to an undiagnosed heart condition, or “dropped her body,” as Genesis puts it. Now, as the half of Breyer P-Orridge remaining here on Earth, Genesis speaks only in the first-person plural “we,” pushing the Pandrogeny project beyond the limits of both sex and mortality.
“The ultimate objective was for us to become so intertwined and so merged, mentally as well as physically, that we could locate each other after death: one could wait for the other. The primary thought of the Pandrogyne is to become immortal, away from the body, where we will blend our consciousnesses and become one. That’s the ultimate transformation, and we are working on it.”
After pausing to reflect, Breyer P-Orridge records a new idea: “Maybe it’s not about transformation, but resolution—getting to where we are supposed to be.”
Nipple Pinch, 2004. From left: Lady Jaye and Genesis
Breyer P-Orridge in New York. Photography Chris Buck