[While I had brought Genesis over to Stockholm to record a new album together with my musical project Cotton Ferox, we also arranged a lecture evening at Fylkingen, a classic venue for experimental art in Sweden. This was a sold out evening that also featured an exhibition of records covers and other related art. During the evening, Genesis showed slides and videos from COUM and onwards, and talked about central concepts.
— Carl Abrahamsson.]
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: Okay, well I decided to do something I’ve never done before, just for the hell of it, which is to show the secret art that I’ve been making for the last 30 years. You probably, if you do know anything about me, imagine that I’m a musician or I pretend to be a musician if I’m correct, and so I’ve decided to not mention music at all. So, be prepared for that. I have something here, and it’s not actually one line or one story but merely a series of strange collisions that one can either surrender to, and exploit the pleasure, or try and impose form and shape on something and end up frustrated, angry, and even bitter. I can tell you right now, I am not frustrated, I am not angry, and I am not bitter. I’ve had so much pleasure and this is the story of my pleasure. And if it’s in any way appealing, I would suggest that you look for your own pleasure, build it carefully, and then present it to someone else. And that might well make life more fun.
In the end, there’s only one thing that really takes place while we’re alive and that is the act of making something that was not there before; whether it’s a relationship or a piece of music or a room that you live in… Looking at things differently and trying and trying to see something as if it was never there a minute ago—it might not be there in another minute’s time.
So I wanted to tell you something, which is that I actually murdered Neil Megson a few years ago, and I’ve been intrigued by this ever since. I wrote something a few weeks ago which perhaps will explain my dilemma. I’ve been thinking more and more lately, “where is Neil?” Neil Megson was the person that I was born and named as by my parents, and in 1965 Neil Megson invented a game. He invented a character, Genesis P-Orridge, and he let him loose into the world. In the beginning Neil was being Genesis, and Genesis was responsible for what the Art was and for the creativity, but Neil was the puppet-master of this alter ego and he was in control. But then, as Genesis took himself more and more seriously, or as Neil did, he changed his name. People would meet him and it was only Genesis they were speaking to. And there was no Neil any more. There was a point then when Neil was actually forgotten by Genesis.
It’s a strange question that puzzles me now: does Neil still exist? Why was he erased and murdered by Genesis? Almost like one of those monsters in a movie, a parasite that takes over and completely absorbs, like The Blob. Perhaps the Creation does take over the Creator, and I’m not really sure if Neil exists anymore, and I wonder what he thinks about Genesis, if he could…I’m Genesis; I killed Neil. I wonder if I went back to ask him to look at what he became as Genesis, would he still make the same decision? Or would he not want to be erased by Art? Or was it the determination, the dedication to living Art and Life as one that made Genesis exist? I don’t know where Neil is, and I wonder if Neil created Genesis and Genesis has now completely absorbed everything that was Neil and perhaps the only way to solve this question is not to be Genesis any more. But I’m stuck here now.
One of my first inspirations would be Andy Warhol and the idea that celebrity and personality can become art. That is why I invented a character like Genesis P-Orridge—to see what would happen if you actually lived the piece of Art instead of making it. So I spent quite a lot of time in the early ’60s in London in a commune that was basically a psychotherapy commune. The rigours of that particular place are significant, I think, in that you were not allowed to sleep in the same place two nights in a row; there were no beds; the toilet and the bath were one big room so that you were always visible when you were doing anything intimate; the clothes that everybody had were in one large box, and each morning the first person to get out of their sleeping bag or off the floor would put on the clothes that they liked and become a character suggested by this chosen outfit, and the last person to wake up got what was left. At any moment during the day you could say to another person, “Stop! Why are you eating food with a knife and fork; have you no imagination? Is there no other way to eat food? Why did you eat bread today? You’ve eaten bread before. Have you no imagination? Why is your hair the same today? Why is your name the same today?” I learned later that this “stop game” was an idea coming from Gurdjieff. And I actually observed people having nervous breakdowns and become catatonic. I found it very exciting and enjoyed it a great deal, and in fact took it to my own extremes and lived on the roof and leaped on scaffolding and hanging on strings and chains.
What I realized was that nothing was really fixed; nothing was permanent and, most importantly, the personality and the ways in which we behave are just as flexible and easy to manipulate as paint or photography or collaging or sculpture or sand. What we think we are is completely arbitrary and is mainly inherited from what everybody tells us that we are and that’s another reason that I decided to destroy myself. I wanted to find out what would happen if I began with a name that implied something and allowed it to lead me into new situations where I would guess and improvise and rebuild moment to moment what might happen next for that character, and that’s the character that presumably to some degree has appealed to or created curiosity in you.
The thing that’s important to remember is that there is nothing unusual about this process. You’re all actually building yourselves right now. When I was at that youth place today, it struck me very clearly there that the younger people are trying to build a life for themselves, but they were building themselves from the outside in; they were building themselves with things that they thought represented ideas—instead of letting the ideas build them in ways they haven’t seen before. It was like a parade of moments from television. It was a beautifully naïve event, and yet I wondered if anyone has said to them at school or at home, “You don’t have to be that way; you can be any way that you want.”
And really, that’s the only message that I can have for any of you here: look at everything that happens to you, look at any moment in which you’ve inhibited yourself, and ask, “Why am I inhibited? Why do I stop at this point? Am I embarrassed to be naked? Is that because I don’t like my body? Or is that because I think I should look like somebody else’s body? Is there a reason that I don’t have sex in public? Is there a reason that I don’t sleep in the street?” If we think about behaviour it’s no different to writing down a nursery rhyme. We simply take what we expect and then we live the expected.
So I would like to just try tonight to help you see evidence of breaking all those usual habits and looking at the world with a fresh eye… The first video … this is the first time it’s been seen in 25 years. It’s from 1974 COUM Transmissions, and it’s the beginning of the process of me coming to terms with being in a body and refusing to accept any of the boundaries that I had inherited from the adult world.
The first thing that happened was that I realized that reality is truly just a series of choices, and each of us as a being is just a continuing series of choices that we make. And each one of you hear tonight is actually a completely separate universe. All our universes are intersecting and meeting, and you’re aware that I’m here and I’m aware that there are people here and we’re having a vaguely similar experience. But as soon as you leave the room there is no proof that either of us exist and the common experience is over, and that’s when you’re with someone else and their universe continues with you.
This is very important, I think, in your life: in the end, you are born alone and you live in one universe that is yours alone; and you will pass on from that apparent universe alone. And what you build during the time you appear to be here is absolutely your responsibility. And no one but you should choose what that is—because only you are there all the time. No one else. The rest are just visitors who never see the world; the universe that you are. It’s yours, and if you don’t choose to build it the way you really want, you’re wasting the time you have. That’s something I think is very important to bear in mind, because you can take that idea, and if you truly live it, you can start to feel awake and alive and in contact with things that otherwise you just miss. And that’s what Art is. Art is built in your universe; temporarily you’re having control of it. No one else, no one, has the right to build your universe! And don’t let them ever, ever teach you otherwise.
Now the next thing that became incredibly important for me was to understand something that I could only call magic. I’ve tried to find better words or less fashionable, more fashionable words, but in the end it’s “magic.” It’s a process… And I was introduced to the idea of magic, in terms of finding a process to make choices and build my universe and have control over it, from William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin. In my personal opinion they are probably master magicians of their particular age. And the reason is that they were doing something that is happening in most of the work that I will show you today, and they came up between them with an idea that some of you may have heard of called the “cut-up”—that basically nothing is linear, nothing goes from A to B, nothing is as it seems. We try and impose shape, and we try and impose order, but in fact we live in a completely chaotic state. And to get a clearer, more accurate picture of what’s happening, the more we smash and fragment what appears to be solid or logical, the closer we get to what might really be going on. The original ways that the beatniks, with Brion Gysin, applied the cut-up was very literally cutting pieces of paper, reassembling them and then re-reading what they said, and one of the classic moments on tape of William S. Burroughs is when he gets a letter from his lawyer in London and it’s a letter all about book deals and money and bills and percentages, and you hear him slicing up the paper and he says “Let’s see what they really say…” and as he starts to read it he basically goes something like, “Money money my money not your money my money…” They all start laughing… Basically they see the message which is they are getting nothing.
The Dreamachine is a very simple device, you’ll see it, and you’ll get the idea really quickly… As Brion Gysin said, it’s the only artwork you look at with your eyes closed. That’s a radical thought, and it’s a radical piece of equipment because it just uses a light bulb, and the light comes from a sequence of holes in a cardboard tube and they strobe on the eyes in a certain rhythm and frequency and with your eyes closed you hallucinate. If you use it long enough and if you relax enough you will travel to other dimensions and begin to see landscapes, archetypal figures, creatures from fiction and myth that you might have thought not possibly be real. And of course, they cannot possibly be real but that’s what they think about you. And who is watching who, and who’s at which side… I don’t know. I have no way of being sure that when I’m apparently awake it’s any more real than when I’m asleep. And I don’t think you do really. If you think you do, maybe you’re limiting what happens.
What was happening at the very beginning of being Genesis, was cutting up behaviour, cutting up personality, cutting up every aspect of inherited ideas of reality, and the strength to do that came very much from the process that the beatniks gave to the world, and the cut-up in particular as a magical process. You cannot remember often enough that you are a series of choices, and that in an ideal situation you should erase everything that you imagined you were and start to build your own world.
The process of doing this is strange, in that the art and the artist in this day and age have become one thing. The human body and the artist are actually falling out of what was once a canvas and into the world itself. And so, the life that one lives is the Art in a very real sense. And the life that one lives therefore should be joyous, and it should reveal mystery and change every aspect of how we deal with being alive.
I don’t know how it is for everybody else, and maybe I’m just fucked up, but I am still absolutely shocked that I’m in a human body. It blows my mind to wake up and see edges to me, because I don’t have edges in my head. One of the reasons I’ve worked on my own skin and worked on this strange canvas is to try and understand where I begin and where I end. It seems that this is something like a mobile cluster of biological systems that move something else around, and the something else is the consciousness; the sense we have of existing and being a person, of having an identity. If that’s the case, then the body is, to some degree, holding us back from what might happen. I think for a long, long time I was angry at the restrictions of having a human body, and sometimes I think I probably still am. Even more so, I’m angry at the idea that there are genders and that there are certain expectations of how this cluster works and how it’s supposed to behave in relation to other clusters. And once I have resolved the idea that there is some solidity to the thing that I live inside, and that is temporary, and this being an incredibly brutal environment in linear time and gravity and space—it’s so brutal that it is almost like wearing a diving suit—in order to experience we come in bodies and the experience we have is a blessing that we might never have again. And once more I’ll just urge you: don’t waste that time.
I don’t have many things to tell you. I don’t know that much. But I can share my questions with you and I can share some of the things that seem to help make sense of this. You don’t know how long you’ve got. You don’t know if you’re going to come back. You might believe you will; I think what you believe tends to make things happen. But given that there tends to be a pattern to this physical stuff, work with it, find out how to control it, take power over it for yourself, build the world yourself, take identity and choose what it is for you.
As we experiment with this strange thing we call life, what we tend to find happens is that there are ways to communicate in non-verbal ways and to bypass the usual expectations and controls the society tries to use to define and maintain its power, with reference for what it wants us to behave like.
This is a very important man: an Aghori Baba. This Aghori Baba lives in a cave by Pashupatinath in Kathmandu and he tends a fire. It’s a fire dedicated to the Hindu deity Shiva, and the fire has been burning for more than 1,000 years without ever going out. And each Aghori Baba takes on the honour of maintaining the fire. The path of the Aghori is in a very real way linked to the process of magic and art in the way that I’m trying to completely and generally explain. The path of the Aghori is a path of no distinction, and the simple way of explaining that is that everything is exactly the same or completely different. And so, for example, an Aghori Baba would eat human shit and eat a beautiful meal of chicken and vegetables and actually taste the same thing, because taste and value are absolutely imposed by us. Nothing is innately different from anything else. He might drink petrol and then drink water and it would be the same experience. It’s a very rigorous, difficult path but the idea behind that is that we absolutely choose what we want to have happen. There are no real lines. No good and no bad, and no black and no white, and no female and no male, and no dead and no alive; there are no edges. It’s a very, very liberating thing and it’s like coming home to a new house and suddenly it all makes sense.
I was really very lucky when I spent some time with the Aghori Baba. He gave me some of the ash from the fire and asked me to take it back to America, which I have. And sometimes I take the powder and I eat a little bit, and there is something remarkable there, the idea of a powder that’s 1,000 years old, that’s linked to centuries and centuries and centuries of not believing what we are told is there. And it’s interesting because you eat the ash and it tastes like honey. And you get high and it cures illnesses. I’ve had people in my house who’ve had various illnesses, quite sick, and I’ve given them this powder and they go away apparently healed. I don’t know how that works; all I know is that nothing is as it seems and that’s a good thing.
Another good thing is to realize that none of us have any original thoughts at all. When we go somewhere like Nepal or Bali or somewhere in South America or wherever it might be, we suddenly discover these ancient cultures, and we see that we’ve been crawling back to something we should have known a long time ago. Somebody stole this from us. Somebody didn’t tell us about this. And there is a reason they didn’t tell us. The reason is, I think, that we can control what seems to be reality more than we expect. And interestingly enough we have people who learn physics now coming to the same conclusions; that time and space are actually energies, and the body and flesh are just that.
This person you can see now is called the Milk Baba—a remarkable man, who for more than 20 years only drinks tea and milk, has no solid food and he has dreadlocks like no one. Look at that! I’ve seen some dreadlocks but they ain’t nothing on him. What is interesting though is to be in the presence of that level of command over one’s universe; it is a very humbling experience and a very inspiring experience. We’re really amateurs out here in the West, and certainly coming from England in the ’50s, very ignorant, speaking of myself. And I wonder why we don’t really have in our education the idea of spirit, of the divine. I don’t know about you, maybe it’s different in Sweden, but no one told me or discussed with me during my education philosophy, the divine creativity, reality, reasons to exist, the mystery of life… The most I got was Jesus. Bow down for Jesus, kneel down for Jesus… and I did, I knelt down and I got hit and kicked, beaten, insulted, and humiliated… Ironically enough, all of the things that supposedly happened to Jesus, but it doesn’t seem like that’s what we should be doing.
One of the things that I found out as I was starting to make objects and rituals was that sometimes different things would happen that I wasn’t supposed to expect. The most useful of those is one that I just touched upon, which was that it seems that one can quite literally change the human metabolism and heal illness. And so after a while I started to very quietly make pieces of art that had functions. So instead of them being made to be looked at or admired for their aesthetic value or because they were pretty, I would make them for a person that needed something… It might be that they needed money, or it might be that they had a blood disease and they wanted to be cured. I would use all these things that happened to me before; my own body and blood, my hair, my skin, my belief in the possibility of changing reality, and I would give this as a gift to those special people in just the same way that it’s done in all these other places in the world.
One of the things that I would love to see happen with art is for it to return to its sacred purpose. If one really looks at where art came from, it was the process of the shaman and the healer; it was to speak to nature and the natural forces; to intervene in what we think of as reality and alter it for the good of others. It was not meant to be a career, and it was not meant to be about celebrity. It was not meant to be about money and dealing and banking. It was sacred, holy work, and I believe art and creativity are only present in sacred, holy work. The body is a sacred, holy vehicle which allows the spirit to speak to others and meet them. Our body is a vehicle of mobility during a life. A life is central in art. Art is this body. Life=Body=Art… And so we are able to feel all these moments through our bundle of senses. Body and Creation are inseparable.
That is why something like this tonight is a blessing; because I am able to meet you and try, very quickly, to suggest that you really believe that you are able to be fabulous and special and powerful in this world. No one has the right to steal your joy in being yourself, and your self is what you make of yourself. There is really no difference between art and religion, between art and healing, between art and gods. Perhaps each of us are really just small parts of what was once God, and that God can only experience through all of us. Without us there is no experience, there is nothing. But with us there is a potential for everything and anything to happen. And it does.
In the end, all we do is build a series of experiences, and we make the choices that allow those to happen. So when I was talking before about that each of you is a series of choices, that’s true, but those choices are made about experiences, and you have the right to any experience that you wish. But you have the right to wish experiences that others don’t wish. And you have the right to experience anything that you can imagine. When your imagination is stuck, cut up your experience and build another imagination. And you will never run out of things to do, places to go, people to meet, drugs to take, sex to have, love to be, shrines to build, memories to hold. I hope you noticed I’m trying to encourage you. A lot. And of course I can’t prove anything that I say except that I’ve been doing it for 35 years and it’s a lot of fun.
All of us contain a lot of different people, different characters in potentia, and it would be really silly to think that you’re just one person. We are probably at least a few dozen, and they all want to have their voice and they all want to have their moment living in the body that you have right now, sharing it with you, playing with it, playing with other people through your body. So another thing that I would like to remind you of is just to let all those people speak. Take time to listen to them. Look for the ones who shock you; listen to them harder. Look for the ones who surprise you and embrace them a bit more—because those people are trying to help you to make the most of the time that you have and they are trying to encourage you to really maximize the potential that you have in there inside. The genius factor that no one wants you to know about…
We’ve reached a point where these are the actual sigils; the magical works that I used to make during the ’90s to make things happen. Mostly for healing illnesses. None of these have ever been seen before for obvious reasons that they were very personal to the people they were made for and I had to get their consent to show them.
In this one, down in the bottom right corner, is an old friend of mine from the ’60s: Derek Jarman, the filmmaker. He was actually very ill at the time with AIDS, and had begun to go blind and wanted to keep his eyesight long enough to finish one of his last and most powerful movies: Blue. So he asked me if I could do something for him, and this is the one that I made. A beautiful, beautiful man. Anyway, it worked. And he actually got to do quite a lot more of visual work before he lost his sight again. And by the time when he was to pass on, I was living in America, and I had this really strong feeling to find this picture. I found it in a box and took it out and felt compelled to write a letter to Derek, and I mailed it to the last address that I had. And it was months later I met somebody from London who worked with him, and I said “Did Derek ever get that letter?” And he replied, “Yes, it arrived on the day he died. And we read it to him. And he said to say, “Thank you.”
At the very least, it reminds me not to assume that the material world is as it seems and that’s all I need to know—things can happen when we don’t expect, and expectation is really a curse. One of the worst things that you can ever do is to have expectations. One should always assume that something you didn’t expect is going to happen. So will it to be different, want it to be different; don’t want it to be the same, and don’t want it to be what you expect. Take control of it; it’s yours.
TOPY was an attempt to organize a very loose network of people just enough so that they could exchange ideas and information about some of the things we talked about before. That one could make a ritual or make a sigil and have something that you wanted to happen actually happen… There was no logic to it, science didn’t agree, but it seemed to several of us that we still got good results and that was really interesting. So what better way to check than ask anyone who wants to play a game? So that’s what we did. We said, here is what seems to happen. You take an idea of something that you really genuinely desire and you in some way write it down or turn it into something graphic and then at the moment of orgasm—whether by having sex with another being or masturbating—you try and post that message into the part of consciousness that we don’t usually think we control.
Austin Osman Spare was definitely influential in extending these ideas in the way that I made some of the artworks that you’re looking at. And so very gradually, through communication and post, people like Carl and some people in America and people in England, we would meet or we would exchange letters and we would, on the 23rd of the month, at 2300 hours, experiment with sexual rituals. Sometimes just for our own personal desires and sometimes for group desires. And we did that for 10 years, at which point the Queen and the British government decided I was the most evil man in Great Britain, and suddenly put my face on all these newspapers and said, “This evil man corrupts kids!” And I thought, yes, of course I do. What am I supposed to be doing if I’m not meant to corrupt kids? “Corrupting” being, “change in the way that you think,” right? And so Scotland Yard went to my house in England and took away all the photographs and videos that I had, and found nothing… I was in Kathmandu, Nepal, subsidising and working for a soup kitchen for Tibetan refugees, lepers and beggar children, so it was a supremely ironic moment for me. Every morning I would get up at 6 a.m. and go and feed 300–600 beggars and lepers and Tibetan refugee families. One day afterwards I went back to our hotel to find a fax from TOPY HQ, or TOPYGLOBAL, that said “Big trouble. Call home asap!” And basically I’ve stayed away from the UK since then.
If you want to know more about TOPY what I can tell you is that the people who were really present at the beginning are still present in my life and they are all very creative people. They publish books and they write ideas and live the kinds of lives we were talking about before. I would see that as evidence that whatever it was we did as an experiment in terms of ways to be was a fabulous experiment, and a very powerful one. And it drew to it people who genuinely wanted to change themselves and manifest their Will. People think they want to change; they say they want to change. Most people don’t truly desire to change. Because it’s scary. The unknown is scary for people. They want to keep telling you that they are radical, and they want to keep telling you that they experiment. They don’t really do it for a lifetime. Most of you must have seen people drop away in life, maybe at school or university or whatever. They dropped away. And so you look around and there are only five or six left. It’s not as easy as it sounds; it’s very brutal and tough to genuinely want to change all the time. But that’s what it was and that’s what it does. TOPY is the process of trying to change.
The reason I do what I do is because it’s a great way to live. And I’m blessed. And I have the best fucking life, I really have a great life and I just do what I want every day. I mean who can complain about that. Is it perfect? I doubt it. There are many people who think I’m a complete asshole. So what? One thing that I am is I’m authentic. I have integrity, I keep my word, and I’m very loyal. That’s what matters. Not the stuff that gets made. The reason it gets made, that’s important, but not what it is. Sometimes it’s good too; sometimes I’m embarrassed, but so what? I’m honest. I live it as it happens and I don’t pretend. What more can you expect from someone?