Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s exhibition is featured in Canadian Art magazine’s Winter issue 2019.
“What is more terrifying to maleness than to learn it is impermanent?” This question, aggressively scrawled at the bottom of a photo-collage by iconic performance artist and musician Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, is a provocation: if the impermanence of gender is terrifying, what is so (strangely) sexy about bodies torqued in permanent fusion? Is desire to be found in the meshing of gender symbols here, feminine dominance crystalized through a stiletto heel while masculine strength is upheld with the force of a ram’s horn? These works disturb some of society’s most visible gender codes. If sex is really about power, and control, then desire is the name of that which feeds both.
A selection of polaroids and small collage works track the infamous morphing of P-Orridge and their late partner, Lady Jaye, into a third, “pandrogyne” gender—a collective entity they formed through surgeries, body modifications and name changes to bring their previously gendered bodies closer to each other. Although intimate and playful, the photo documentation of their mirrored, entwined bodies morphing into a singular subject is confrontational and, depending on what one thinks of coupling in general, they might be read as beautiful or horrific, both seductive and deeply uncomfortable to look at.
It wasn’t the more outrageous images of sex, bondage or body parts but the striking fetish objects that put the oddities of attraction on display. A series of black stiletto heels fused with animal horns and embedded with animal skins, dead fish, glitter, feathers, bones, skulls, relics and copper, offered an entirely different view on the projects of bondage and domination. Elegantly unsettling, they read as talismanic objects for the kinds of secretive, magick rituals and performances required to fuse two beings together.
Given that outrage, confrontation, self-inflicted violence and sexual “deviance” were the dark hallmarks of P-Orridge’s founding work with industrial music and performance art outfits Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV, the force of their artwork should come as no surprise. But I was surprised, mostly at how much I continued to see things anew throughout the exhibition, returning to images and objects I thought I’d already seen. It wasn’t until my final round that I noticed one collage depicted and was titled after a mandrake—a human-shaped plant root associated with hallucinations, psychedelia and poison, and with the superstition that, if uprooted, it will emit a scream that kills anyone who hears it. What an unusual metaphor for desire in a gender-fluid era: a shape-shifting, psychotropic, anthropomorphic plant whose attraction is a piercing, lethal sound produced as it emerges from the ground.
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