BREYER P-ORRIDGE TRY TO ALTAR EVERY THING
by Vanessa Sinclair
Originally published @ ERIS MAGAZINE on March 29, 2016
Republished here on the one year anniversary of the opening of the exhibition.
So much is happening in the esoteric art world recently, it blows the mind. Earlier this year the Language of the Birds: Occult and Art exhibition opened at NYU as part of the Occult Humanities conference hosted by the illustrious Pam Grossman and Jesse Bransford. A compelling retrospective of the past 100 years, the exhibition ranged from long-time mentors –Austin Osman Spare, Aleister Crowley, Marjorie Cameron, Brion Gysin, Harry Smith, Ira Cohen and Leonora Carrington – to modern favorites and contemporary practitioners – Kenneth Anger, Kiki Smith, Elijah Burgher, Alison Blickle, Ken Henson and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge – to name a few. The exhibition featured over 60 modern and contemporary artists in total and took visitors on a journey through the cosmos, venturing into the inner lives of practitioners through magical workings and self portraits as well as an altar room mirroring that of a ritual space created by Kurt Seligmann and Enrico Donati in the 1940s.
Language of the Birds closed mid-February but fortunately the momentum continues as Breyer P-Orridge’s major art exhibition Try to Altar Everything opened at the Rubin Museum March 11 and will be on display until August 1. Once again, Breyer P-Orridge has broken boundaries with this latest installation of he/r unfolding body of work. The exhibition inhabits the entire top floor of the museum – its cylindrical shape reflecting the cyclical nature of the spiritual, psychical and unconscious realms we all inhabit, the flow of creation as the ouroboros swallows its tail. In fitting form, the exhibition spans the length of Breyer P-Orridge’s career with pieces ranging from the early days of the Temple ov the Psychick Youth (TOPY) in the 1980’s to current day work created by Breyer P-Orridge during he/r recent travels to Nepal. In the center, a handmade carpet from Kathmandu lies beside a bright red retro high-back chair owned by Lady Jaye when the couple first met. This central feature in itself encapsulates the juxtaposition inherent in Breyer P-Orridge and their work. The carpet appears ancient but is actually brand new, created by a traditional method with the design of the Pandrogyne stitched into it – a positive androgyne created when the bodies, minds and souls of Lady Jaye Breyer and Genesis P-Orridge were cut together in a process that forever transformed the both of them and created a Third Being they deemed the Pandrogyne. Overhead hangs a Psychick Cross – Genesis’ trademark emblem – white neon glowing, highlighting the contours of the central coil of the rotunda, the spine that is the fundamental architectural feature of the museum itself.
The process of Pandrogeny is outlined and represented beautifully in this exhibition. Beginning with sigils created with the intention of sex magick ritual and transformation, many contain the blood, hair, fingernails, saliva, and sexual secretions of the artists. These excretions of the body are sacred and have been considered so and used in ritualistic activities for millennia. Origin of the Species (1998) is a magickal working created almost entirely from photos of Lady Jaye in combination with representation of the four material elements of earth, air, fire and water. Patterns mirror the double helix of DNA in an attempt to break from the biological cycle of rote repetition and the limitations of the physical form. The piece is reflective of Gustave Courbet’s The Origin of the World, a controversial piece in itself once owned by famed psychoanalyst Jaques Lacan before finding its way to the Musee d’Orsay.
Yearning Flesh is a sigil created at the time Genesis was expelled from he/r native homeland of England in 1993. Forced to create a new life for he/rself and he/r family, Genesis took up residence in Northern California with he/r wife and two children. S/he noticed how the landscapes of these new surroundings mirrored the Himalayan foothills, which had provided refuge during this transitional time. Taking note of of one’s environment in this way is an essential part of the practice of magick. Recognizing, appreciating and commemorating these moments is a way to give thanks to the divine. As this rabbit hole of life unfolds before us, there are always clues we are on the right track, of course. Pay attention!
This returns us to the center of the installation, where situated near Lady Jaye’s bright red chair and the Pandrogyne carpet is a beautiful altar space specially dedicated to Genesis’ other half. This cabinet includes photos of the beloved, a GI Jaye action figure, mala beads with a Psychick Cross, and a glass butt plug, among a variety of other fetishes and items. Notably there is a porcelain figurine of the famed White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland given to Genesis by Lady Jaye when they first met, as Jaye described the budding union – or re/union one might say – with Genesis being akin to “going down the rabbit hole,” and what a very special rabbit hole indeed.
In psychoanalytic terms, this experience of the uncanny, synchronicity, and deja-vu is what one encounters when delving into the realms of the unconscious. We enter into a hall of mirrors where we find our reflection at every turn. We can choose to recognize ourselves in others and our environment and learn to work with it, play with it, molding it and ourselves into what we would like to be and see or, as many do, we can write it all off as being chance or happenstance and choose to believe we live in a world where we feel out of control and subject to external forces constantly imposing themselves upon us. In my practice as a psychoanalyst, I consistently bear witness to patients’ internalization of the ideas of mainstream society thrust upon them since birth, before birth even. Ingrained in us are the expectations of parents, family, and society, which are largely based on the gender we are assigned. This inscription also includes the Western medical model, the commodification of being and patholozation of the human experience found in the worldview of mainstream psychiatry and psychology. This viewpoint not only discourages “magical thinking” but even labels as pathological: a royal road to psychosis. I have found that much of my work is dedicated to providing a space in which individuals are able to authentically express themselves without external judgment. Lord knows there is enough societal judgment internalized by individuals already, and it is pervasive. Every person that comes through my office makes statements like, “I know this sounds crazy but…” If everyone has experiences of synchronicity, the uncanny, and the like, then it is obviously not crazy and is in fact an integral part of human experience that society tells us to ignore. At this point in my life, I sincerely believe that everything that society deems the “right” thing to do is actually designed to disempower the individual. Stay in the same dead end job for years and years on end so that you have benefits and a retirement plan and are seen as loyal; only have missionary style sex with the same person of the opposite sex for the rest of your life and make sure not to use birth control so you have as many children as possible to keep you busy, stressed and poor; don’t trust your own personal experiences and don’t dare create meaning in your life or feel like you have any control over your circumstances or surroundings, as this will lead you to chronic mental illness.
Breyer P-Orridge is one of the leading artists of our time who has been bringing to light the control mechanisms of society and breaking them down for decades. Inspired by the cut-up method of Brion Gysin and William S. Burroughs, Breyer P-Orridge has applied the cut to visual art, mail art, sound, behavior, identity, gender, consciousness and soul. In this latest installment, Breyer P-Orridge bridges time and space by cutting through the divide between the two. Intersecting modern day ritual and sex magick techniques that include fetish, BDSM, cult and Western occultist practices with traditional and timeless rituals found in Tibetan, Nepalese, West African Vodou and Santeria practices. Not only does the art/life work of Breyer P-Orridge span time, space and culture in this way, but now s/he has brought these “hidden” practices to the main stage in the form of a major exhibition at a prominent art museum in the center of Manhattan. A r/evolutionary step on the part of both the artists and the Rubin Museum, Try to Altar Everything brings the intersection of underground occulture and ancient traditions into Western modern day mainstream life. When stepping into a space such as the Rubin Museum, most visitors tend to view the works on display as artifacts from an/other time and place; foreign, out of reach, to be viewed and revered but not touched or experienced. Breyer P-Orridge shows that these practices are happening here and now and are for all of us. S/he highlights this through the item exchange practice wherein visitors may bring in a 2×3” item of their choosing in exchange for a limited edition Psychick Cross (while still available). Items are then inserted into the museum exhibition itself, highlighting the integral nature of exchange while embodying the communal practice and essentiality of everyone’s contribution and intention. This is expanded into the evening events of art talks and music, the ability to call Breyer P-Orridge and speak to he/r on the phone at times throughout the course of the exhibition, and in the bronze cast of he/r arm inviting us to reach out and touch he/r, as Brion Gysin once stated that true knowledge can only be imparted through touch. Don’t just watch the creation, become a part of it. In essence, Breyer P-Orridge is creating a five month long ritual performance piece – a magickal practice – in the heart of New York City and is inviting us all to participate. We are in this together. We can create change. This event is an act of r/evolution.
If you haven’t caught on by now, the practice of Pandrogeny is not just the embodiment of a love story between two individuals. It is that of course, and in that is an extraordinary act of devotion, commitment and love. But more than that, it is a conscious and intentional step in the process of human evolution. By breaking down barriers of identity, gender and behavior, cutting through the constraints of the body, mind and soul, Lady Jaye and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge have created not only a bridge between themselves but also between life and death, this world and the next, potentially forging a path off the wheel of samsara. As Breyer P-Orridge state, the practice of Pandrogeny continues on after Lady Jaye dropped he/r body in 2007. It could even be viewed that the dropping of Lady Jaye’s physical suitcase was the essential next step in the r/evolution of the Pandrogyne. Perhaps s/he had to make the leap between life and death to create the cut, the gap, the space between this world and the next, between he/r consciousness and that of Genesis’ in order to bring the Pandrogyne more fully to fruition. Lady Jaye once stated, “I’m limited by time, by gravity, by all these physical forces when really I wish my consciousness could be liberated completely free to go everywhere, to be everywhere, to do everything, to be everyone that I’ve ever dreamed of being.” S/he achieved this. Quite a r/evolutionary act. And in this event, s/he is her/e to impart to others that we may achieve this as well. It is not out of reach. Quite the contrary, it is within our reach, and Try to Altar Everything exemplifies this.
We are co-creators of this life, of this world. This exhibition shows us that everything around us is sacred or can be made to be; materials to be used in the creation of our lives. Life itself is creation. Life is Art. Every step has potential to be an event. In my own personal cut-up practice, I create cut-ups daily upon awakening as I write down my dreams. You’d be marveled to see what they say (and should try them for yourself). Recently a cut-up of mine stated, “Everything is an evolutionary magical activity.” Every thing is an evolutionary magical activity. Try to alter every thing.
The opening weekend of the exhibition was a full one with Genesis performing with PTV3 for two nights at Trans Pecos in Bushwick, Brooklyn. The second evening the band played a live score to the Derek Jarman film In the Shadow of the Sun for which Throbbing Gristle provided the original soundtrack in 1975. The evening paid tribute to this previous incarnation with samples from TG’s infamous tracks Persuasion and Hamburger Lady, while honoring Breyer P-Orridge’s long time friend and creative companion; a moving tribute to a star lost too soon.
Occultural pioneer Carl Abrahamsson has recently released two related films on TRAPART Films fitting to mention here. The first, entitled Change Itself is an hour long documentary on Breyer P-Orridge he/rself as part of a series of artist biopics called AN ART APART. A moving documentary on the artists’ life/work, it is refreshing to witness the fluidity of exchange present and tenderness evident between the subject and the filmmaker, who are longtime friends and creative companions. The second, Sub Umbra Alarma Luna is notably inspired by and dedicated to Derek Jarman and Throbbing Gristle for their collaboration on In the Shadow of the Sun. Seemingly set in the dream sphere of the unconscious, Sub Umbra takes us on a journey through a series of overlays, cuts, and intersections. Really, all films do this through the process of editing, but in this creative work, the latent process is made manifest. Uncanny images morph into surreal and haunting scenescapes. The experience escapes words. Abrahamsson will be screening Sub Umbra at the symposium we are hosting together Psychoanalysis, Art & the Occult at Candid Arts, London, May 6-8. The weekend event celebrates the creative human mind and includes panel discussions, an art exhibition, and live music by Val Denham.