Respect Yourself: Interview with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge

Photographer Aliya Naumoff
March 12, 2012

Duncan Cooper spends a lot of time on the internet. Every month, he pays tribute to the hours spent with original video and audio a short essay and interview. Today he celebrates the avant-garde artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, whose work predates and transcends the internet, but whose ultimate message surely falls in line with this column's title.

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge's art—beginning with the performance collective Coum Transmissions, which was infamously labeled "wreckers of Western civilization" by one British politician, to her pioneering industrial music group, Throbbing Gristle, and later with her fluidly-staffed psychedelic rock band, Psychic TV—has always emphasized change, both as an unpredictable tool inherent to the process of making art and as art's desired effect. A sort of perpetual motion has defined her personal life as well, most notably through her marriage to Lady Jaye and their subsequent attempts at joining, through body modifications and other exercises, into one entity known as Breyer Porridge. Their singular relationship is the subject of a new documentary directed by Marie Losier, entitled The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye and screening now in New York and at theaters across the country through the spring, which intimately and artfully follows the pair from their first meeting in a dominatrix's basement through Jaye's passing in 2007. In this interview, Genesis talks about the purpose of reflection, reincarnation through love and life after death.

Since so much of your work is about moving forward, is it even useful for you to reflect on this documentary, years after most of it was filmed? Change comes from reflection. The original point of the film when Lady Jaye and myself were talking about documenting our pandrogeny project was just to document the project. We didn't really think of it in terms of a feature-length documentary. That was a bonus that happened by chance and Marie's skill. Our initial impetus was just documentation. We rework and we rethink and we look at things and we gradually move forward as we analyze. But when Lady Jaye dropped her body, the film also became a crusade for me in any way possible to make her wish come true: All she ever wanted was to be remembered as a great love affair. That's my motivation more than anything else now. This is for Jaye. We'll see it through to the end until the process is over. We've always seen art as evidence of a process, not a finished thing in itself. While there's a sculpture that's sold for its evolution that has stopped at that point, the evolution that it represents is continuing. Change is not a linear process, it's an all-encompassing process and it's alive in different ways. What we end up actually leaving behind are signals, ways to direct people to ideas that may be interesting or useful to them. The trick is not to become addicted to the object and remain focused on a future.

The most obvious changes with pandrogeny are physical. What other changes were you making? For us, the whole process was initially a totally private, intimate process. In terms of practical things, we practiced mirroring each other. We did courses on neurolinguistic programming so we'd use language the same way and understand how it worked. We took a lot of psychedelics together too, in order to find dimensional contact. The ultimate point of the whole project for us, personally, is to find each other again after physical death, in much the same as Tibetan Rimpoches are reincarnated. We go to the Himalayas every year to learn techniques to go outside time and space. Whether we succeed or not, that is our ultimate goal, to find each other as disincarnate consciousness but still aware of ourselves as beings, so that we can find each other and quite literally join our consciousness together. People don't usually think that far. That's why the process is ongoing.

How has Lady Jaye's passing complicated that process? Well, not at all. Jaye represents us in the immaterial, and we're still here in the material. That's why we say "we." And she's both where she is. There have been particular occasions where we had this idea: How can we communicate when one of us has died? What could we do? How would we know one of us is being communicated with? And we came up with three things. It has to be something that physically happens. It has to have witnesses, so it's not just you saying it. That could just be neurosis. And it has to have a secret meaning that only we could know. That's pretty rigorous. And we've had three occasions when that has happened.

The most obvious was two or three days after Lady Jaye's body was buried. We were in our living room at the apartment and my daughters were both there, and Alice from Psychic TV [and some others]. There were about six other people besides me, and the kids were trying to persuade me to go back with them to California so they could look after me because we were so traumatized. Being in that state, we thought we must have a photograph of Lady Jaye if we're going to go away. So we went to the bedroom and on her side of the bed was the kissing wall, where she had framed about 20 photographs of us kissing in different parts of the world. That was the first thing she saw whenever she woke up. We took the one in the middle. We thought, That one! It was me and Lady Jaye wearing red robes in Nepal in Kathmandu, kissing. It looks like one blob of red with two heads, so we thought, Perfect! We took it back into the living room where everyone had sat down in a semicircle. We put the picture face down on a cupboard and went and sat. We were saying, You know what, we think Jaye wants us to stay here. Then exactly as we said that—and everybody saw this—the picture rose up, came across the room, stopped in front of me and turned over. Some people nearly fainted and felt sick. Like, fuck, wow. That's it. That fits. Witnesses, something you can't say didn't happen, and it was something about us privately. So we stayed.

Every time it's Jaye's birthday or our wedding anniversary, we get something done. The first year we got an ace of spades [tattoo] where she had one, but pointing the other direction, of course. This year, on Valentines Day, which was the anniversary of getting breast implants, we got her eyebrows tattooed on. So we're continuing. After she dropped her body, we went back and got breast reduction surgery so my breasts were the same size as hers when she gave up her body. On a purely physical level, it continues, but it became more about evolution the more we thought it through. In the end, it started to be about the human species and its survival, realizing that the human body is an unfinished project and that as a species, at some point, we have to become inclusive and unified or we're doomed. The meaning moves all the time as we think about it more and more.

From The Collection:

Respect Yourself
Respect Yourself: Interview with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge