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The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2020

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APRIL 2020 Issue
In Memoriam A Tribute to Genesis Breyer P-Orridge

Leigha Mason

Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and Leigha Mason. Courtesy the author.

I first met Genesis in 2008 or 2009. I was invited to do a performance at one of he/r exhibition’s closing events. I made a reference to Derek Jarman, and Gen started talking to me about his cottage and garden in Dungeness. He had made he/r a little collage/assemblage of driftwood he had found around the nearby nuclear power station, and had written he/r notes on the back of it. Gen invited me & some friends over to see it, after which it became a regularity for me to go to Gen’s apartment “thee Nest” and drink vodka and talk about art and artists and ideas. S/he was always excited to lend books and show new work. Over the years, we collaborated on many projects together, we traveled, shared a studio, and helped one another with our art practices and health issues. It was important to Gen that thee Nest was a safe space for he/r and he/r chosen family of artists, musicians, writers, etc. S/he had always wanted to procure a large piece of land to build a “Coum-munity” for he/r and he/r loved ones to come make work. S/he never got to do that project, but still, thee Nest and just Gen’s presence in he/r friendships served as sacred space.

Gen loved to host. I think because it was so formative for he/r when s/he had visited and talked with William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, and s/he liked the idea that s/he could play that role for younger artists. Whenever s/he would excitedly talk about he/r weekly visits with Brion Gysin, it was always about things that s/he he/rself ended up mimicking; Gysin made sure to always have he/r favorite chocolate biscuits, Genesis would always have ice cream for me even though s/he couldn’t eat it. S/he would sit next to a dreammachine, in a big orange ’60s chair, drinking vodka cranberry without ice, and tell stories about doing performances in public, about building instruments and giant walls of speakers and sugar caves and identities, about Bussy the school bus, about loving Brian Jones, and discovering Billy Idol, about many travels to Kathmandu, about python voodoo in Benin, about dating Soo Catwoman, about exercises s/he had made up in an attempt to “short-circuit control,” about he/r and Jaye’s quest towards an “angelic body,” about bumping into a giant Warhol painting while imitating Elvis’s stance and getting arrested for trying to steal it, about making outrageous headlines, and being a Wrecker Of Civilization; s/he loved to tell stories… The content varied wildly, but every single story that Gen told, both privately or in interviews publicly, had the conceptual underpinnings of Love and Creation.

Genesis is the most generous person I have ever met. S/he was generous in every way—with he/r time, with he/r affection, with objects, with information. S/he always spoke to fans who approached he/r, s/he would use he/r platform to champion he/r lesser-known artist friends, s/he would give away things to a fault…S/he had to buy he/r own books off eBay more than once—I would say, “Gen! Think of your archive!” and s/he would shrug and respond, “I’m more in-the-world this way.” S/he told me s/he had traveled to places s/he didn’t even know about, just by giving he/r work to people. S/he was always excited and amused when something s/he wrote was translated into another language. The potential for new or hidden connections thrilled he/r!

Leigha Mason, Roxy Farman, and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge. Courtesy the author.

At the same time, s/he was an avid archivist. Gen understood given histories as socially-constructed, and therefore buildable. S/he was acutely aware of assembling he/r own identity. S/he would sculpt stories, through the collecting and contextualizing of photos, documents, voicemails, magically activated objects, patterns, shoes, or anything else. S/he often talked about being drawn to a specific object, not knowing why but knowing to keep it, only to have its meaning revealed later on. S/he dismantled and reconstructed (or Cut Up) language in the same way. S/he had he/r own alphabet that s/he wrote in, and s/he restructured words all the time. Hospital = HorsePistol, Birthday = B-Earth Day, years = yeras, etc. S/he was particular about language and would hold you to the exact words you choose. If you didn’t say exactly what you meant, s/he would point it out and challenge you on it.

Gen was always very playful and loved jokes. One time, we were meeting a curator for the first time. They were considering doing a retrospective of Gen’s work in which s/he would have an entire floor of a museum. When he entered thee Nest, without saying one word to him, Gen blasted the song “Happiness” by Ken Dodd… S/he sang the words to him loudly and danced around waving he/r arms; “Happiness, Happiness, the greatest gift that I possess! I thank the Lord that I’ve been blessed, with more than my share of HAPPINESS!” When the song ended, s/he introduced herself and shook his hand without missing a beat and without acknowledging the song. Even during he/r cancer treatments, s/he would make up little songs about the doctors and sing rhymes about he/r white blood cell counts.

Genesis was such a positive force in my life. There are so many memories and experiences and lessons to unpack, and I know I will continue to discover new ways in which I have been influenced by our friendship. S/he is still her/e.

Contributor

Leigha Mason

Leigha Mason is an artist and filmmaker living in Brooklyn.

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The Brooklyn Rail

APRIL 2020

All Issues