'Genesis Breyer P-Orridge' exhibit examines identity through art
It may very well be the ultimate love story: Boy meets girl, they fall in love and embark on a 14-year journey involving plastic surgery and other body-modification methods to become mirror images of each other.
They called it the Pandrogyne Project, and it is the central focus of “Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: S/HE IS HER/E,” the latest exhibit to open at the Andy Warhol Museum, North Side. The first museum retrospective of its kind, it features more than 100 works by Breyer P-Orridge, undoubtedly one of the most unique collaborative artist teams that's ever existed.
When Genesis P'Orridge (nee Neil Andrew Megson, b. 1950) met Lady Jaye (nee Jacqueline Breyer, 1969-2007) in 1993, the two became inseparable. Soon married, they embarked on a shared mission to become like two parts of a single “pandrogynous” being.
“We did a lot of shamanic and sexual rituals together to focus our minds on trying to make this happen,” says P'Orridge, an artist and musician best known for his work in the industrial bands Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV.
Using plastic surgery, hormone therapy, cross-dressing and altered behavior, the two artists sought to merge their individual identities in an effort to overcome socially imposed limits on personal identity and comment on the language of true love. The result was the creation of an androgynous “third being,” a “pandrogyne” they called “Breyer P-Orridge.”
“It started out as a love story,” P'Orridge says. “You know how you want to just absorb somebody when you are totally in love, and you go, ‘I could eat you up?' ” That was what started it in us doing this ourselves, it was to try and look more and more like each other, so that we were two halves of one, instead of two separate beings.”
In a way, the Pandrogyne Project is the love-child of both artists, exploring how fully two people can integrate their lives, bodies and minds, producing an astute commentary on the potential, as a species, for ongoing evolution.
One of the first works visitors will come to, and one that sums up this concept in the most literal terms, is “Alchymical Wedding.”
A talismanic object comprising three blown-glass globes, it embodies the physical connection between Genesis and Lady Jaye and their coming together as the pandrogynous Breyer P-Orridge.
This sculpture represents Breyer P-Orridge's belief that the “Pandrogyne Project” continues. “Lady Jaye chose to drop her body in 2007,” P'Orridge says.
Lady Jaye died in October 2007 at her home in Brooklyn from a previously undiagnosed heart condition related to her long-term battle with stomach cancer. Since that date, P'Orridge has become the physical embodiment of Breyer P-Orridge.
In “Alchymical Wedding,” the glass globe on the left holds Lady Jaye's hair, skin, toenails and fingernails, and one the right is P'Orridge's.
“In the middle, are the two of us combined, and so it's a really beautifully clear map, structure of the idea of the two becoming one,” P'Orridge says.
Before there was Breyer P-Orridge, Genesis P'Orridge was best known as the front man for Throbbing Gristle, the English industrial music and visual-arts group that evolved from the early 1970s performance-art group COUM Transmissions, of which P'Orridge was the founder.
Early works from the COUM Transmissions period form the foundation of the exhibit, as well as a piece or two P'Orridge created as part of the quickly expanding mail art world that was taking hold at the time.
One wall contains dozens of collaged images from several of P'Orridge's sketchbooks, spanning three decades and quickly summing up P'Orridge's many physical alterations and output.
Breyer P-Orridge's output is best summed up in the many assemblage and installation-type pieces on display. Most of them were executed after 2003 and articulate different aspects of the Pandrogyne Project.” Some relate to the surgical procedures undertaken by the artists in order to look as identical as possible. Other works, such as “Tongue Kiss” (2003), give symbolic form to the synthesis of Genesis and Lady Jaye.
Taking its point of departure from the shamanic concept that everyone has a spirit or power animal, “Tongue Kiss” comprises two taxidermied heads of a wolf and a bear, each having a dagger in place of a tongue. The wolf head is suspended over the bear by a mechanized wire. As the head of the wolf slowly spins over that of the bear, the daggers periodically meet with a sharp din.
Breyer P-Orridge chose the wolf as h/er spirit animal, believing that the alpha male of the wolf pack is less a leader than a figure who maintains continuity within the pack. S/he considers the wolf as “the cementing force, which is a nonindividualistic power.”
Later works like “English Breakfast” (2009), which features a desecrated image of the Queen mum, her face covered with beans and bangers, prove that P'Orridge (now in his 60s) has lost none of his/her true focus as a true punk prankster.
At the core, P'Orridge says the work is about “defining your own identity. It's about reclaiming the narrative of your own story, writing your own story, designing your own identity,” s/he says.
“People are born, and they get all the expectations of their family and relatives thrown at them because they are male or female or whatever, and often the names are given from old relatives, and so on, and so on. ... You are being designed from the very beginning by other people's expectations. What we are interested in is breaking that completely, and writing that story yourself.”
Genesis P'Orridge will front the group Psychic TV / PTV3 in a Sound Series performance at 8 p.m. Aug. 16 at the New Hazlett Theater, North Side. Admission is $25. Contact the Warhol Museum for tickets.
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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