After a two and a half year battle with leukemia, the world lost a singular performance artist, avant-garde musician, provocateur, occultist, and body art pioneer. R.I.P. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.
(Throughout their life and exploration of gender, Genesis used masculine pronouns, was sometimes referred to using feminine pronouns, and later s/he or they. With this being their preferred nomenclature at the end of their life, gender-neutral pronouns are used throughout this post.)
Born Neil Andrew Megson in Manchester England in 1950. They dropped out of the University of Hull to join a London commune, departing after three months to found music and performance art collective COUM Transmissions, which existed officially from 1969 until 1976. The most infamous of their performances/exhibits was the show titled Prostitution at London's Institute of Contemporary Arts, which consisted of clippings of partner Cosey Fanni Tutti's work in pornographic magazines, as well as used tampons in glass and other items intended to use sex and sexuality to provoke the viewer. The exhibition featured transvestite guards, along with prostitutes, punks, and others in costumes who were hired to mingle with the gallery audience. It also involved a performance and discussion events in which women working in the sex industry and the public could enter a dialog about issues surrounding this industry and prostitution. During the outrage over the show by London papers, Scottish Conservative MP Sir Nicholas Fairbairn referred to COUM as the "wreckers of civilization."
That same year Genesis, along with Cosey and COUM collaborators Peter "Sleazy" Christopherson and Chris Carter, debuted their music group Throbbing Gristle. To call this group “influential” doesn’t begin to describe their impact on modern music, as they literally named the genre of industrial music with the release of their album Second Annual Report on their own Industrial Records in 1977, coining the slogan "industrial music for industrial people."
At Throbbing Gristle’s dissolution in 1981, Genesis went on to form Psychic TV, and that same year co-founded occult collective Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth. P-Orridge was PTV’s de facto figurehead, but separated from TOPY in 1991 and it continued as a fan community after Genesis’s departure. In 1992, Britain’s Channel 4 documentary show Dispatches claimed to have discovered videotapes depicting P-Orridge sexually abusing children in a ritual setting. Though the tapes were later revealed to be a video work titled First Transmissions that had been made in the early 1980s, police from London’s Obscene Publications Squad raided P-Orridge's home, and confiscated most of their possessions and artwork while they were in Thailand undertaking famine-relief work. Fearing for their freedom and worried about maintaining the custody of their children, they went into self-imposed exile in the United States.
Genesis’ career as a performance artist and musician are well-documented, but it was their role as a piercing pioneer that endeared them to the body modification community. P-Orridge was extensively profiled in the book Modern Primitives, published in 1989. With a subtitle of “An Investigation of Contemporary Adornment and Ritual,” Modern Primitives prompted a sea change, and more than anything was responsible for bringing the body art, including piercing, tattooing, and scarification and branding, along with other forms of permanent body ornamentation, from the gay underground, primarily in California, to the larger underground culture of art-school students and post-punk provocateurs.
Genesis and then-wife Paula P-Orridge were interviewed extensively about their body art, including the history of modern piercing and tattooing in the UK, their relationship with tattooist and piercer Mr. Sebastian, and the evolution of their own body art—including extensive photos of them showing off their work. The frank talk about their body modifications and how they related to their sexuality was revelatory, and especially so to a fledgling body art practitioner of my generation. According to one interview, Genesis claimed to be the catalyst for publisher V. Vale to start work on the project. If that is the case, the piercing industry owes P-Orridge a huge debt of gratitude.
(On a related note, at this year’s Association of Professional Piercers Conference and Exposition, the Body Piercing Archive will showcase the work and history of Mr. Sebastian, and his contribution to the UK piercing scene.)
WORLD PREMIERE announcement video! (crank up the volume for the sultry voice of Mr Sebastian - best viewed...Posted by Body Piercing Archive on Sunday, December 29, 2019
In 1993, P-Orridge met second wife. Born Jacqueline Breyer, she was known as Lady Jaye and worked as a dominatrix. “We fell in love the minute we saw each other, and as we became more and more obsessively in love, we had that whole feeling of, ‘I wish I could eat you up. I wish I could just take you, and I become you and you become me,’ ” they say in a profile of the couple in New York magazine. In 2003, on their tenth anniversary, they began to do just that. They embarked on the “Pandrogeny Project,” a journey of extensive (and matching) plastic surgery, including breast implants, eye and nose surgery, cheek and chin implants, lip plumping, liposuction, and hormone therapy. They dressed in identical outfits and mimicked the other’s mannerisms. They referred to themselves as one: Breyer P-Orridge.
Genesis lost their other half suddenly in 2007 from a heart condition possibly related to stomach cancer. They continued the Pandrogyny Project, having further surgical operations to alter their body and using "we" when in reference to themselves in order to keep Breyer's memory alive.
They continued to forge new paths across culture and sexuality until the end of their life.
In a recent article in the LA Times, Genesis was asked about their profile in Modern Primitives:
Your commitment to body modification was first made known in the RE/Search book, Modern Primitives. In it, you posed nude to showcase your many body piercings. Did you have any hesitation about revealing that side of yourself to the public?
No, not at all. It seemed like a really important statement of ownership of oneself. As we absolutely 100% believe, women should choose what they do with their own bodies. So should every human being.
It’s my skin. It’s my body. And if I want to change it, that’s my right. It’s just raw material. It’s not sacred. It doesn’t belong to a deity. It doesn’t belong to the government or any cabal of power brokers. It’s mine. The malleability of the body is one of the gifts that we receive, and as technology changes and improves there are more and more choices.
The world lost an amazing artist, pioneer, and iconoclast when it lost Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. They will be missed.