Currently reading : Genesis P-Orridge & Hazel Hill McCarthey
Preceding a collaborative film that will see the pair take on Benin for filmic project White Slave Trade, Genesis Breye P-Orridge and artist Hazel Hill McCarthy III have collaborated, fusing their individual works, McCarthy’s brass rubbings and P-Orridge’s collages, into a single piece titled Breaking Sex><X (Sigil).
The following is an interview conducted between the pair and Thomas Gorton for Hero Magazine on the collaboration.
Thomas Gorton: How did you two begin working together?
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Well I’ve been ‘breaking sex’ for twenty years now.
TG: And where did you come in, Hazel?
Hazel Hill McCarthy III: Well the artwork that you saw specifically was a collaborative piece between Genesis and myself, a sigil that we made in order to get us to Africa for a project that we’ll be doing in January, a film called White Slave Trade. Breaking Sex is a big part of the actual cut up collage that Genesis applied to the artwork as the collaboration.
GBP-O: Yeah, think of that as the root idea. It’s not just breaking sex, it’s basically breaking cultural icons, breaking habitual forms and finding new ones, or rediscovering old forms in new ways.
TG: You’re openly at war with culture, do you consider yourself to be at war with sex?
GBP-O: [Laughs] Sometimes. When I walk around the streets and see really fat people and wonder how they possibly make sex happen, yeah then I feel at war with it. It’s about identity though, not necessarily about gender or sex specifically. It’s called Breaking Sex because that was just a phrase that popped out first and that’s going to be a book that will hopefully get written next year. That book will try and analyse all the different implications but gosh, it’s a big subject now, it’s got huge, it’s sprawling.
HHMCIII: It’s getting bigger.
GBP-O: It’s become more about evolution, the possibility of human evolution and survival. We’re in a very very deep hole as a species.
TG: Do you think that? That we’re at the beginning of end times, so to speak?
GBP-O: Or that we’re at the beginning of an evolutionary choice. The human body hasn’t finished evolving, the human mind hasn’t finished evolving, but people seem to think everything’s fine and this is the perfect form but it’s not, it’s just a moment in the changing mutation. Without mutation you get inertia, with inertia comes destruction, everything disintegrates and then something else comes along like a dinosaur or vice versa. So that’s part of it, looking for the undercurrents that might be hidden in the culture around you and seeing what they imply, seeing how people are behaving, why they are behaving the way they are, how they’re hypnotised into being consumers of everything, addicted to technology and have stopped thinking.
TG: What’s your relationship like with technology? How do you feel about it?
GBP-O: Very suspicious. Very suspicious of Facebook, Twitter and telephones. We were just in a restaurant getting some food. We having dinner and eight people walked in, sat down and got out their phones. They didn’t even talk to each other. People don’t ring me anymore. I can’t remember the last time I got a phonecall. People used to write letters that they’d thought about, you’d get it, read it three or four times and consider your response. Letter writing used to take six weeks to communicate, now it takes six seconds.
TG: Do you think people are thinking enough about their communications?
GBP-O: They’re not critically thinking. They’re accepting it without thinking what the implications are for the brain. The pathways in the brain are going to reduce because of the lack of use.
HHMCIII: Everything is so impulsive nowadays because of the instantaneous gratification.
TG: That’s to do with the self. It’s an instant gratification of the self. There’s an unhealthy heightened awareness of the self that isn’t necessarily productive.
GBP-O: Like Facebook giving you instant or imagined celebrity?
TG: Yeah, a world of dreams, of self indulgence. I’m saying this as a person who has Facebook and Twitter.
GBP-O: So do I, I just make people do it for me.
TG: That’s the easy way out.
GBP-O: It’s a matter of how to use time, how to use it creatively. Am I going to do some new work or am I going to reply to people asking the same questions over and over again?
TG: How did you two meet?
GBP-O: We both had friends in LA, and we were trying to find someone to design Thee Psychick Bible, preferably for no money, ’cause there was no budget. Somebody recommended Hazel, we met and we immediately found a real connection. The first time we physically met was at a Throbbing Gristle gig at Heaven in 2007/8, somewhere around there.
TG: I wanted to ask about the X symbol. Everywhere I’ve been in Europe in the last month I’ve seen the X symbol, each service station I go to there’s an erotic market, XXX emblazoned on everything. It’s become a signifier that I’m very familiar with, I associate it heavily with European cities. It was cool to look at your work and see yet another X symbol, so I was interested in the significance of it.
HHMCIII: The XXX is a part of the markers on the waterways in Amsterdam, they run vertically. The X symbol is meant to represent trade and commerce over these waterways. In LA they do the same.
GBP-O: Hazel does a lot of brass rubbings of different types, using different symbols. Would you say it was one of your interests or obsessions?
HHMCIII: One of my practices I would say. I’d done this rubbing a few years ago, two parts of the XXX and I’d kind of forgotten about it. Gen was looking over some of my stuff, deciding what s/he wanted to put h/er collage on and s/he found the two parts of the XXX.
GBP-O: And we were thinking, ‘we can’t start until we have a story’. No point doing anything for the sake of making it. So we were looking at it and it just popped out, the x’s and the y’s as well. So then you have the genders and the variations of genders, so it seemed like a nice deconstruction, a story within a story and that was what set it off. And if that’s where we’re going, what else goes with it? Then came the Breaking Sex Rant, co-done by myself and Lady Jaye. Recently we found ourselves drawn to it as a texture, something that when you get closer you see that there’s actually ideas in it too. So according to how close you come, it changes. That’s something that’s always fascinated me, the idea of distance, changing the way that people perceive something, or people’s emotions changing when they find out the source of an image. For example, a long time ago we went to Auschwitz because we wanted to try and understand how that could ever happen. We used an image of the ovens at Auschwitz for Industrial Records [Throbbing Gristle’s record label], changed it to black and white. Sometime later we happened to say in an interview we mentioned where it was from and there was outcry, their entire opinion shifts, just based on the information you’ve given them, which might not even be true. That borderline between acceptance and denial has always fascinated me, same as the borderlines between life and death, sleep and awake, all those very very vague boundaries that people make, they’re part of the way that culture works, male or female, black or white and so on. So that led us into that whole binary thing, how do you break that? Is there a way to find a new form? And as Hazel said, that comes from cut-ups. When Burroughs and Gysin worked together, they said it always came from another source, cut-ups, and they called it the third mind. What about if you go further and it becomes a third being? A possible future being. How would you do that? That’s how it began.
TG: You talk about X as a malicious cross for sex to bear. I’m interested in that malice, where does that malice come from?
HHMCIII: There’s a certain code in how each of us are made up and that’s in some way a burden. We’re made up of chromosomes, of x’s and y’s and it dictates a lot, the physical gender of who you are.
TG: A trap?
GBP-O: It contains instantly all the different histories and all the different possibilities for futures.
TG: Genesis, with Project Pandrogeny, are you still undergoing that and what relation does it have to the two pieces that you’re currently working on?
GBP-O: Lady Jaye is in it of course, and it was co-written with her. Everything is touched by it now, our daily life is ambiguous. Even when we’re not dressed up, which we rarely bother to do now, we don’t wear make up, we wear jeans and leather jackets and we still get called Miss and Madam all the time. Today we got three day stubble and it’s interesting how little touches like not bothering to shape your eyebrows can actually make people assume that you’re female.
People don’t see what’s in front of them, they don’t even look very hard and they don’t listen very hard, they’re missing all the signals, which is another sign of this closing down. People are talking in generalisations, talking in text messages. I’ve lost count of the amount of times that people have got upset over something innocuous in a text message, when the meaning has been misunderstood. That’s something that fascinates me, where these things blur, if there are any edges at all.
TG: Is it something that excites you? Are you excited by the challenge that your pandrogeny presents to people?
GBP-O: It’s something that excites me just as an idea, whether other people are interested or not. Two weeks ago we were on a panel at the Feminist Women’s Annexe at Brooklyn Museum. Just being invited to be on a panel, where all the rest were biological females, was really something. No-one had a problem with me being there. We were thinking that surely one of the feminists was going to say ‘what the hell are you doing here?’ But they were completely comfortable with it and said how inspiring and challenging it was in terms of making them think. That’s what’s exciting, when people say it’s made them think. At that talk, a middle aged woman with spectacles, kind of mousey, walked up afterwards crying and said ‘I haven’t written poetry in years but now I’m going to go home and write a poem’. That’s amazing, that makes it worth it, that one person who feels that shift in themselves to rediscover what their true sense of what they want to become is and they start to change again, revert to something more creative. It’s really about learning to think.
TG: Do you think Western civilisation has a healthy relationship with sex?
GBP-O: Well, we have a complex relationship with it. Most people don’t really think of it as complex, they think of it as a penis and a vagina and getting that short, sharp, electrical discharge. That’s why you see so many unlikely people together, they’d rather have that than not have sex.
For a while we were thinking, why is celibacy so important in so many different belief systems, from Tibet to Roman Catholicism? We realised it’s because of the lack of distraction and the refusal to be drawn into that biological way of viewing the self, becoming obsessed with just consciousness. Maybe there’s a way to remix it so it’s about constantly re-assessing. Am I doing this because it’s easy? Because I’m lost in true love? Because I just want to relieve myself and go to sleep? Why am I doing this?
HHMCIII: It begins to be like a game, Western thoughts on sex always seem to have a game element without a whole consciousness behind it. This penis and vagina, one two, on off. It’s really bigger than that.
GBP-O: It’s interesting that binary is 1 and 0, penis and vagina. We’ve still not figured out what that implies but we’re convinced that there’s something in there, buried very deep. When you go into all belief system, sexual behaviour or congress as a spiritual amplifier was always part of the system, but now it’s been separated as an action and it’s not necessarily thought of as a spiritual, mystical behaviour. A lot of people see it in a really mundane way and that’s a great loss.
TG: That game element in our civilisation is something that people want and is encouraged. I think it leads to sadness.
GBP-O: That’s part of what seems so interesting in the way that people have reacted to pandrogeny as an idea. The number of people who have suddenly rethought the idea of unconditional love. Jaye and I joked at one point because there’s all this psychology and therapy about how to not be co-dependant but me and Jaye wanted to be completely co-dependant, we didn’t want any separation. In Native American languages there isn’t a word for death, the word is separation. That implies that concrete over earth is a kind of death, redirecting rivers is a kind of death, everything that you separate becomes a form of loss, something to be mourned. By turning sex into a commodity, as well as a game, it gives control to those who choose the rules of the game.
Or you can include ritual or magic in its wider sense. You can use it as something to try and actually change the way you perceive, so the world then changes for you. That’s one of the reasons that we’re going to Africa, to see one of the roots of really ancient thought, in terms of human relationship with nature and with ancestors and so on. The ancestors part came because people couldn’t understand mortality, they didn’t even understand linear time for a long time. Eventually women discovered time because of menstruation and then they kept it secret because they knew it was a bad idea to tell the men about it. When the men found out about it, all they wanted was little boys that looked like them so that they didn’t die. That’s why men took over, became patriarchal and tried to control women, so they could make sure that they got sons, mini versions of them, so they felt that they were immortal. Of course all of this gets forgotten after hundreds of years and we’re left with just the robotic behaviours without the knowledge of where it came from and why. Some of it’s definitely about reinforming people.
TG: Do you feel that Breaking Sex is a confrontational art piece?
GBP-O: No, not specifically. Certainly at the beginning it was a bit more confrontational, personally for me. At one point we woke up and realised ‘you know what, we’re really so glad that we’re not so attached to being male’, because most of the male education we had in England, going to an all-boys school was twisted and miserable. They would always say, ‘You’re going to be the future leaders of this country and control it’, which was always disgusting. Everything was discussed in terms of power, be it girlfriends, cars or money, it was all seen in terms of power. We never wanted any part of that, we always found that uncomfortable, like ‘who the fuck are these idiots?’ Being more separated from that physically is exciting and it was not necessarily an aggression but a ‘fuck you’. You should think more, if you don’t think more, fuck you.
We give out embroidered patches and the last one we made says ‘Fuck ‘em all’. A couple of days before Lady Jaye dropped her body she said the next slogan should be ‘Fuck ‘em all’. So we made patches of it for people to put on their jackets. It’s a basic attitude. Don’t be controlled by what you want people to think, don’t try to please them for the sake of it.
HHMCIII: You’ll never win.
TG: Once you start subscribing to other people’s belief systems or try and be a version of yourself that they want they will only see through that lie and be disappointed. So nobody wins.
GBP-O: What’s used to make people agree or to control every society? Why is it any government or ruling body’s business what body you have, how you use it, how you adjust and change it? It’s none of their business and never should have been. They want to maintain power, that’s why they’re involved. They intimidate you and lay out the rules, if you don’t agree we’ll kill, torture or jail you. They run it with violence. How do you break that?
Burroughs said to me in 1971, ‘how do you short circuit control?’ We came to the conclusion that it was all built into the gender either/or structures of most societies. Why do we have so much conflict? Different ideas come together and they fight and then everybody suffers. Then we forget and we do it again and again. It’s insane, we have to wake up. I’m amazed that there was ever a second war. You would think that once somebody had had a war and seen mutilations, crippled people and lost loved ones that they’d say ‘never again’ and mean it. It hasn’t happened yet and it’s been thousands of years.
TG: That saying ‘mistakes we know we are making’. When you’re in the middle of mistakes and you know they are happening, but you let them go and the problem perpetuates.
GBP-O: It gets bigger and more complex the more you think about it. The implications keep growing. That’s why it’s still exciting for me. The realisations that you have to get rid of all these bureaucracies because they’re getting in the way, which makes you revolutionary in a sense and that’s when you have trouble with the authorities, but that’s a choice you have to make. How serious am I? Am I prepared to sacrifice what I have to say that I really think this? Of course as you know, in my case, yes.
TG: Yeah you’ve certainly fucked them all. Will you two continue to work together?
HHMCIII: Yeah, we’ve known each for a bit of time now, not quite ten years but we always come together when we find the right project and right moment and when it makes sense.
GBP-O: We know each other’s skills and strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes it’s just obvious, we’ll see something and say ‘yeah, that’s a Hazel and Gen piece’. And having dragged her into Thee Psychick Bible, how could we refuse to be involved in Hazel’s brass rubbings? God, we owe her.
TG: In any creative partnership you have to be aware of strengths and weakness, to know that about each other and be willing to edit each other. Working with someone creatively, it can be refreshing when somebody says ‘that’s shit you know’. You know that you know that person.
GBP-O: Of course, you need honesty. We never have any reservations about discussing anything with Hazel because we know that they’ll always get a fair listen. The only person we ever felt that comfortable throwing out ideas with was Lady Jaye, so it was a joy to discover Hazel. It works very well, it’s a very profound simplicity.