Painful but Fabulous:
An Interview on the Dematerialization of
An Interview with Genesis
P-Orridge by Carol Tessitore
Originally Published in TEAR #3, 2002 and an excerpt from Painful
but Fabulous, the Lives and Art of Genesis P-Orridge published
by Soft Skull-Shortwave publications.
Understanding the lives and art of Genesis P-Orridge requires a
bit more than just the knowledge of his background. He’s someone
who has grasped something far beyond the expected reach of art and
music into humanity itself. His body of work reveals a thread of
faith in human existence that separates GPO from other “controversial”
artists and “knob-tweaking” musicians, and has the ability
to encourage even the most jaded of us. Life is about more than
our over-stimulated society’s present state of monotony, it’s
about thinking, feeling and creating. But don’t go by my words—Genesis
P-Orridge can speak rather well for himself.
You are focusing on your art again. How has art changed for
you over time?
In 1965 Neil Megson decided to create an art character, Genesis
P-Orridge, or to at least accept that character. I decided that
I would completely immerse myself in GPO, and then place GPO into
art and popular culture to see what would happen. In a sense, all
of my art has been the diary of GPO.
As you change, the art changes. Who is Neil Megson to you now?
That’s actually one of the most intriguing questions there
is. I’ve been asking myself “Where is Neil?” In
the beginning Neil was being Genesis. Then as I took it more and
more seriously (or as Neil did), I changed the name legally. People
would meet me and I was only Genesis to them, there was no Neil.
It’s a question that puzzles me—does Neil still exist?
I honestly am not sure. What I feel is that I’m Genesis, and
I think I killed Neil. It was my absolute determination and dedication
to truly living art and life as one that made the whole phenomenon
work. I was prepared to sacrifice everything including my identity.
I see you as a sort of Jack of all trades, but your current
focus is on visual art. Does visual art or any other art form carry
more importance to you?
When I began I wanted to be a writer, but I also wanted to be a
fine artist. I began doing performance art and mail art in the 70’s.
The performance art with Coum became really quite respected. When
what we were doing became acceptable to the art world, it seemed
we had proved our point. One of the points was that you didn’t
need traditional training to produce something that was valid and
valuable in the art world. And so we took on something else, which
was music. I never stopped making art all the way through. It became
the one thing I had that was mine. No matter what else was going
on, I always had collage and the secret visual material to come
How do you feel about the contemporary art world?
The art world is these days very much about careers and business.
It’s more like a banking phenomenon. Art, for me, was always
a sacred calling. Like a knight seeking the Holy Grail. It was a
divine mission, and still is. Art should seek the impossible. Art
should be our means of connection with the most profound and proud
qualities of being alive and human. Art puts the E in Humane. A
way to try and describe the indescribable.
Today’s music seems to be purely about the aesthetics
of sound or a sound, rather than communicating a movement or feeling.
That world is very much about production value. The souls have
been sucked out of most of them. To create music to simply create
music is decoration, not evolution. Culture works as the mirror
of the universe. The music we make is our journal of our journey.
It should reflect our point of perception from both sides of this
mirror. Too often now, it seems that people make music to be heard.
That they want to be heard in order to be recognized. To be recognized
in order to be thought special. To be thought special in order to
feel more important than other people. To be thought more important
in order to have power over them. To have power over them in order
to be rich, decadent and worshipped in order not to face the mirror
and really try to see who is there.
Would you say this has been a recent shift in music/society?
The superficiality of MTV and commodified culture has turned us
potential addicts, never satisfied with the next product because
it is also empty. Always hoping to be filled, always wanting more.
Lack of content and the triumph of formula over content is the great
enemy of our times. We’re in the first age where everybody
can communicate with just about everybody else. It’s phenomenal
and so completely different to any other period of human history
that I don’t think anyone has fully understood the implications.
We were talking earlier about why I’ve returned to doing Fine
Art, and I think it’s partly because it’s a controllable
environment. The scale of global culture now and the relentlessness
of superficiality are so amorphous a power, that privacy and intimacy
become really radical. I think that’s something that’s
really worth exploring now, unplugging from the networks, and separating
oneself. With that you rebuild trust, conversation and friendship.
You were saying earlier that the “soul has been sucked
out” of today’s culture, do you think it’s possible
for humanity to get its soul back?
The quest for the soul? In the west, the materialism, greed and
selfishness are so all pervading and as near as I’ve ever
seen it to a time of true godlessness. If culture is the reflection
of the soul of the people, then we have a really huge problem here.
And it’s not that it’s an American problem so much as
its America being so deeply entrenched in mass media. It’s
all summed up in things like Real World. We were talking before
about privacy, and all of these people reveal everything about their
life [on television]. Everyone seems to take for granted that the
media are innately beneficial. Living is about thinking and building
a soul. It can be done, you can live a creative life, and you can
take risks or disagree with the status quo. How do we reclaim the
quest for the Holy Grail, which is obviously wisdom and knowledge?
The only language I know for dealing with the problem and for exploring
how to reinvest love into existence is creativity. Exposing that
you believe in something other than greed—that’s the
only path that you can take, partly why the book is called “Painful,
Find the full interview with Carol Tessitore entitled "Painful
but Fabulous: An Interview on the dematerialization of Identity"
in Painful, but Fabulous: the Lives and Art of Genesis P-Orridge
and learn more of GPO’s L-if-E at www.genesisp-orridge.com.