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by Micheal Fox

Painful but Fabulous: The Lives & Art of Genesis P-Orridge

Painful but Fabulous:
An Interview on the Dematerialization of Identity

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 back to.

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 all into
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, but Fabulous.”


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 at www.softskull.com, and learn more of GPO’s L-if-E at www.genesisp-orridge.com.


© 2002 21C Magazine