Canada Choate on Breyer P-Orridge
“WE ARE BUT ONE,” a presentation of art by Genesis and Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge, focuses on the couple’s Pandrogyne project, a nearly two-decade-long effort by the pair to transform their bodies via plastic surgery into one “pandrogynous” creation: a singular being they refer to as Breyer P-Orridge. Organized by Invisible-Exports proprietor Benjamin Tischer, this paean to love in its highest state—a narcissism that rises above the self to encompass the beloved—displays relics from the pair’s reciprocal metamorphoses in the form of photographs, sculptures, collages, and handwritten concrete poetry that, taken together, represent a monumental effort to transcend individuated subjecthood.
Genesis P-Orridge died of leukemia in March 2020, and at the center of the show sits a shrine to the artist, theorist, and Throbbing Gristle cofounder: a wooden structure created by he/r daughter, Genesse P-Orridge, to house sacred objects retrieved from her father’s home altar alongside bits of he/r biological matter and materials common to he/r artistic practice. Taking the domed form of a Himalayan stupa, this temple orients the viewer toward key themes of ritual, corporeality, and benevolent magic, displaying teeth, family photos, and Blood Bunny, 1998–2011, a small wooden rabbit soaked in Lady Jaye’s blood and topped with a lock of Genesis’s blond hair. Nearby, the sculpture Alchymical Wedding, 1997–2012, spatializes and allegorizes the fusion of Lady Jaye and Genesis, capturing saved hair and nail clippings from each lover in two separate handblown glass spheres and intermingling the remnants in a third. Produced over the course of fifteen years, including a period in which Lady Jaye no longer existed on this plane—she died of heart failure in 2007—Alchymical Wedding turns the noun wedding into a verb that sutures people together across space and time. Cronenbergian Polaroids of Genesis and Lady Jaye in the process of their transition, wrapped in gauze, lips swollen, newly altered breasts leaking fluid, appear throughout the gallery, returning the viewer to the astonishing reality—and mutability—of the body. For A Love Story, 2010, the couple photographed each other from the shoulders up from the front, at a three-quarters angle, and from behind, diagramming a moment of their transition. Set against backgrounds of shimmering gold leaf, these portraits evoke Warhol’s 1962 Gold Marilyn Monroe, yet they locate the divine not in the godheads of celebrity but in the physical extremes of self-mortification.
Polaroids of Genesis and Lady Jaye in the process of their transition return the viewer to the astonishing reality—and mutability—of the body.
To my mind, the strongest pieces in “We Are But One” are a series of never-before-exhibited text drawings. These works on paper emerged from Thee Whispering Began, 2003, a video filmed by Psychic TV projectionist Sam Zimmerman in which Genesis and Lady Jaye silently take turns writing down words related to their Pandrogynous belief system in gold and pink ink. In one, the couple place their words in a tight square centered on the page, then deface the text with a spiky, flame-like pink scrawl. In another, the words EVE EVE EVERY EVERY MAN AND WOMAN IS A MAN AND WOMAN form a pyramid, with the final WOMAN sliced in two. These works are indebted to Brion Gysin and William Burroughs’s cut-up method, a technique involving the cutting up and rearranging of preexisting texts that also profoundly influenced the radical reimagining of gender in the Pandrogyne project. When gender differentiation occurred and identification across genders became taboo, write Genesis and Lady Jaye in one of the drawings, ALL HELL BROKE LOOSE. The couple aspired instead to RETURN TO THEE ORIGIN, before such a split took hold—to the genesis of life itself.
Discussing the project in the Village Voice in 2012, Genesis noted that they chose the term pandrogyne because it was “a word without any history or any connections with things—a word with its own story and its own information.” The Psychick Cross, a symbol designed by Genesis in 1981 to represent the magical fellowship Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, fulfills the same function. This twentieth-century alchemical emblem, a mash-up of the papal cross and the Cross of Salem, sits atop Genesse’s stupa and hangs in neon on the back wall of the exhibition’s pew-filled viewing room, serving as a symbol of life forged anew, seemingly out of thin air. With their pandrogyny, Lady Jaye and Genesis—or Breyer P-Orridge—successfully introduced a new signifier, a new reality, a testament to their love that lives on in our world while they are reunited on this plane.
“Breyer P-Orridge: We Are But One” is on view at Pioneer Works, Brooklyn, through July 10.
Canada Choate is a writer based in New York.