With over 43 years of recording and performance, from COUM Transmissions, to industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle, to the claimed invention of acid house with Psychic TV and the is-it-or-isn’t-it-a-cult Temple ov Psychick Youth, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has long ridden the pony of the ultimate outsider.
P-Orridge is now the subject of a new film screening at the Berlinale Forum directed by Marie Losier (see our interview with Losier) entitled The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, documenting the couple’s project of ‘pandrogyny’ – their attempts through surgery and other means to become a third, unified being. The documentary recently won the Teddy Award for Best Documentary.
Genesis will also return to the stage at HAU 2 on February 19 with minimalist legend (and ex-Velvet Underground roommate) Tony Conrad and Psychic TV’s Morrison Edley. EXBERLINER caught up with Genesis, who had been sleeping off a bad cold at home in her Brooklyn flat.
How are you feeling today?
Great, we just got back from the shop, and now we’re going to make ourselves a cocktail.
We? What does ‘we’ refer to?
Normally, whenever possible, we say ‘we’. We sometimes forget, and there are occasions when somebody we’ve just met doesn’t know anything about our story or the project, and it would be more complicated to explain everything for 15 minutes than to put them at ease by saying ‘I’.
The concept of the human body is pretty difficult to transcend – but this is part of your life’s work, trying to break that fear.
Definitely. Fear has been an ongoing theme, even before we realized that it was. It’s been about change, with a capital ‘C’, but also it’s been about the reclamation of the body. This is your body, and it belongs to you. And you can have it shaped and adjust it to whatever gives you the most pleasure that you can possibly have.
And, yeah: break all the stereotypes. Break all the habits. There’s no need for male/female. One reason we like the word ‘pandrogyne’ is that it doesn’t have any baggage. This is a new word, so it can build its own story. And people can get involved in writing that story.
It’s a positive androgyne. It would be symbolically represented as hermaphroditic. I don’t know if you’ve read much about alchemy, but in many magical traditions and myths all over the world, there are stories of the male/female deity. And often, that is considered to be the symbol of perfection. And in fact, not this Pope, but the one before him published a text on the Vatican website saying that God must be male and female, because God is everything, and God can’t be either/or. We thought that was a wonderful breakthrough.
How did the death of Lady Jaye affect your transformation into becoming one being?
Of course, quite a lot of people said, “Oh, I guess that means the pandrogyny project is over then.” And we said, “Why on earth would it be over?” It’s just become more fascinating. We’re now operating in more than one dimension of space and time. We’re in at least two different zones, and while we represent the both of us here, there’s no reason not to continue with various physical adjustments that were already planned or become relevant because of her dropping her body.
It makes complete sense in the context of the film.
It does. And it came naturally, the moment that she dropped her body, as she puts it. Lady Jaye represents us both and the pandrogyne in the immaterial, and we still represent both of us and the pandrogyne in the material.
Are you planning on doing more transformation in the future?
We did have – and this might seem even more strangely extreme to people – but when she dropped her body, we got breast reduction surgery, so that my breasts were the same size as hers when she passed away. For the first few months, we were grieving so much that we lost so much weight that we could wear all her clothes. So for the first year, we only wore her clothes. Luckily, we had the same size shoe.
The film suggests a much more domestic life than one would have imagined.
I love the bit in the kitchen where Lady Jaye was eating the broccoli. The look on her face is so mischievous, so pure. When you see her looking at me in the film and in the stills, the look on her face is pure adulation. There’s no consciousness of the camera; that’s just irrelevant. She’s just looking at me and thinking “Oh God, I love you.” For me, that’s so stunning to see that.
Myself and Lady Jaye met in 1993 in New York in a dungeon, and it was love at first sight. During the first few years we were in that huge, infinitely expanding, passionate kind of love. That whole sense of wanting to be consumed and devoured by each other in order to become this ultimate expression of the duel mind, that love in the most utopian way.
We used to say “We’re romantic existentialists.” And it’s not a contradiction, in a way. So, we spent seven years or so just growing more and more obsessed. And Lady Jaye said at one point: “You know how in psychotherapy, they’re always saying it’s really bad to be co-dependent? Love is co-dependency to the nth degree, and there’s nothing wrong with that!”
But there’s intimacy, and then there’s the merging of identity.
Through that, we got into the whole idea of the Third Being and the Third Mind. [Brion] Gysin and [collaborator William] Burroughs in cut-ups, to them that meant that the writing and the color ideas that resulted weren’t by Burroughs and Gysin anymore, but were somehow created by a Third Mind. So we thought, what if we took that cut-up idea that we were feeling so intensely anyway, what if we did a cut-up where we included plastic surgery and anything else that’s on the table of options to look more and more like each other and become a third being?
Once we decided we were going to do it, she said that we really needed to document all of this.
I wanted to ask you about [Throbbing Gristle, Coil, and original PTV member] Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson. Sleazy’s death last year put an absolute finality to Throbbing Gristle.
He was a genius. An absolutely amazing mind. Very witty and dry and funny. If there was a disagreement or some issue that was blocking us from finding a solution to something we needed to do, he was really good at stripping away everything unnecessary and saying, “Well, what’s really happening is this.”
He was a great graphic designer and video-maker, as well.
Hopefully someone will eventually do a book of his photographs. They were hard for people when he was first doing them because they were pretend injuries, teenage boys and so on, quite taboo. But times have changed, and [Robert] Mapplethorpe is now an accepted genius. It’s Sleazy’s turn to be the next Mapplethorpe, in my opinion. His photographs that people haven’t seen are stunning.
Good. It’s time. And I’m glad we got to talk about the film.
If it were up to me, we wouldn’t be in it at all. We just want everybody to realize how fantastic Jaye was.
The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye premieres on February 15 (16:30 @ Delphi Filmpalast). Check out www.berlinale.de for other individual screenings