From the Genesis Breyer P-Orridge Archives.
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge has been making art, poetry, music, and magic for nearly fifty years. With the band Throbbing Gristle, P-Orridge became one of the main progenitors of industrial music, and in 1981 P-Orridge with Alex Fergusson commenced Psychic TV, which released its thirty-sixth studio album, Snakes, in 2014.
In 1993, P-Orridge met and married dominatrix, registered nurse, performance artist, and musician Jacqueline Breyer— aka Lady Jaye (named after G.I. Joe’s sidekick). Shortly afterward they embarked on the project of Pandrogeny, a fusion of their souls and bodies as one through using the pronoun we, as well as various surgical procedures and shamanic rituals. They got matching breast implants on Valentine’s Day 2003. Lady Jaye died in 2007 but lives on through P-Orridge’s life and activities as the shared creators BREYER P-ORRIDGE.
In 2009, Tate Britain purchased the artist’s archive, and P-Orridge is currently at work on several projects: a collection of poetry that will be published through Heartworm Press; Bight of the Twin, a collaborative documentary made with filmmaker Hazel Hill McCarthy III on the Voudon religion in Ouidah, Benin; and a commissioned exhibition on the influences of Nepal and Benin, West Africa, on P-Orridge’s works at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York slated for March 2016, to run simultaneously with an exhibition of new works at Invisible-Exports.
WE WERE THREE YEARS AHEAD of the rest of our peers in school because we were bright. By the age of nine, we were in class with twelve-year-olds. We became so bored, out of our mind! My father had a policy: If you can read it, you can read it. He had a great library of books. First editions of Tristram Shandy and Robinson Crusoe, all that stuff. He also had a copy of Seven Years in Tibet, which he gave to us when we were ten. We read it and we were just mesmerized by it and that was that, Tibet was in our life and consciousness from then on, all due to our dad. It got us looking for all things Tibetan. In those days there wasn’t much information around, especially in the suburbs of England. Then, at some point during the 1960s, we managed to get an album of Tibetan sacred music, which was mind-bending. Of course, we were listening to the Velvet Underground at the time as well, and we managed to locate all sorts of commonalities between the two.
When you become a Tibetan monk, one of the older monks will tell you which instrument to play. It’s not based on skill and aptitude; it’s based on what they think will work for you spiritually, in the long term. So we thought, What a brilliant way of approaching music. Skill is the least important part; devotion and revelation are the real reason for making sound. And then we came across a copy of Silence by John Cage, and then we came across Karlheinz Stockhausen. All of it made sense to us. It all came from the same jigsaw puzzle. Anything that can be heard is potentially music, every sound. And whenever you have a second sound, it’s a rhythm, no matter how many millions of years separate the sounds are, that makes it rhythm. That’s basically the rules of music. If it makes a noise, it’s music; if there are two noises, it’s a rhythm, end of story. And so we made our first album in 1967 based on that. We wrote by hand on the front cover, on the one copy we could afford to make, quotes from John Cage. The front functioned as the sleeve notes. On the back of it we wrote, “We have nothing to say, and we’re saying it.”
Of course, we’ve been accused of saying a lot, oftentimes offensive, Satanic, or pure evil—of being gratuitously “shocking.” We’ve been so pissed off at the hypocrisy and bigotry of the overriding culture, particularly in Britain where the class system infects everything. We were not just wanting to shock so much as to say, “Fuck you, you hypocritical, privileged bastards. We’ve seen you, we’ve been at your fucking school. We’re on to you.”
So they labeled us shocking when, really, we were just trying to communicate something about society that society couldn’t see, or didn’t want to see. We did this with music, of course, but we did it visually as well, in our artwork, collages, album art, and performances. We’d use the concept of the cut-up, ŕ la Brion Gysin and William Burroughs, to combine images from real life with totally conflicting images, confusing people. It was coming from Fluxus more than punk. One time, when we were performing with COUM Transmissions, one of our members looked profoundly wounded, even disemboweled, when really she was just covered in crushed fruit. People were horrified by it, even though she smelled incredible! It looked real, but we’d be performing right next to her, our body covered in a profusion of small cuts that would be bleeding so much by the end of the performance that we were nearly unconscious. No one would be bothered by it because my wounds didn’t look as “real” as hers. So the question arises as to what are you really looking at, if you’re drawn to fake drama, not “reality,” and what are you really upset by? Oh, the pretty girl who looks like she’s been mangled—look at her and take pictures of her, be appalled! But we’re the ones who’re actually injured, and you’re ignoring us because we were just some skinny little naked thing.
You know, we never said to ourselves, “Aren’t we genius that we came up with the idea of industrial music?” As a cultural engineer, we believe certain radical shifts in popular culture are inevitable. If we didn’t do it, we think someone, somewhere down the road, would have been astute enough to apply the lessons of John Cage and classical electronic music to popular music to give it renewed authenticity and content in terms of sounds and lyrics. Bob Dylan liberated lyrical content at one point; Lou Reed’s Velvet Underground liberated the lyric at one point; and then we feel we took lyrics as far as they could go within Throbbing Gristle. Psychic TV, on the other hand, was my reaction to the way Throbbing Gristle was constantly being misunderstood—everyone just thought T.G. was making a lot of noise, screaming about murder. And that’s not what we were doing! An artist has a right, an absolute right, to discuss any subject he or she chooses. Why is it that a journalist can discuss brutality, nihilism, suppression of ideas, and other unsavory things, but if artists do, we’re irresponsible, labeled evil? It’s absurd. The dominant media makes money from humanE suffering, while we’re doing it to ask why human beings are the way they are. Surely this should change—MUST change.
Stanley Whitney, Dance the Orange, 2013, oil on linen, 48 x 48".
The New York–based artist Stanley Whitney’s first solo museum exhibition in New York, “Dance the Orange,” at the Studio Museum in Harlem will feature recent work made between 2008 and 2015. Here, he unpacks the formal and structural ramifications of the colors in his paintings. The show opens July 16 and will run through October 25, 2015.
I ALWAYS HAD THE COLOR. I don’t know where it came from. My influences are many, from Titian to Edvard Munch to textiles, and the color comes from all kinds of places. Sometimes I go for a walk and I am looking for a yellow but I can’t find it in the world so I go back to my studio with a specific hue in mind. For a long time, my difficulty was how to make color the subject because the way we were taught is that color supports content.
So much of my color resembles music, something that is intrinsically difficult to address in language. Jazz is misunderstood in the United States, but a friend expressed it best when he said, “When Charlie Parker came to Stockholm, he liberated the city.” We take jazz for granted as an American expression, but the intellect in music is hard to discern, because the fluidity of improvisation in, say, Ornette Coleman’s work conveys an ease. Similarly, African American art is typically understood as depictions of the body and not the intellect. Even today, it is a fight to be an abstract artist. A fight to be outside of blackness not in a postracial way, or as in Du Bois’s postulations about double consciousness, but almost in a class way, moving beyond demographics. Skin color remains, culture remains, but what does that look like—being outside of blackness as an artist, not being white and just being human?
Over the years, I have become more comfortable with how I approach the canvas, how the red is laid on, and how things feel. When I was a student, if you weren’t drawing the figure, then what were you drawing? Drawing became the structure for my paintings, though. I still draw in black and white, without the vibrancy of color. The way the 4 x 4 grid came about in my work is I wanted the composition to be simple and have the color be magical. Color has always been about space for me. You have the Claudian space of the landscape painting—a central field framed on either side by trees—or the vast allover space in a Jackson Pollock, but how could one create space in the color on a grid? How could I lay two colors so close to each other and not trap them but rather allow air for the canvas to breathe? This became a sort of preoccupation for me. Creating space within color involves experiments with density, vibrancy, saturation, and even with matteness. It is not just formal for me—color has great depth; it can bring up great emotion and immense feeling. I studied with Philip Guston whose paintings always had luxurious skins, and I thought I wanted to paint like him. But in Florence I once saw a Botticelli that was saturated and matte at the same time, and in northern Egypt the architecture held up the color, so solutions to color handling are sometimes unexpected.
I want everything in the paintings—the complexity of the world. I am often reading while I am working on a body of work, so the titles are snippets from poetry, literature, and music. “Dance the Orange,” for instance, is from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus: “Dance the flavor of this fruit as we experience it!” All the senses are engaged in the poem. I sit with the work after it is finished, waiting to name the paintings, and I won’t let them out of the studio until they have fitting titles.
Jimmie Durham is an American sculptor, essayist, and poet based in Europe, where he has lived since 1994. Durham spent most of the 1970s as a political organizer with the American Indian Movement, serving as director of the International Indian Treaty Council. “Here at the Center,” his latest solo exhibition, is on view at Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (NBK) in Berlin through August 2, 2015. Additionally, his work can be seen in the Fifty-Sixth Venice Biennale through November 22, 2015.
IN 1963, I was just out of the military and started my real adult life doing art and politics together. I’ve never been able to separate the two. Art is a thing one does socially, and if it seems politically loaded it’s because the object just gets so loaded with life. When you make things, the result is always a kind of self-portrait, so art ends up telling you whatever politics you have. I began as a poet, and then moved from poetry into theater, then into politics and the writing that came with public life, which turned to objects. I have a feeling, when you read, when anyone reads, you read publicly—though one likes to be private when within a book, it is a social act. You read to join the world, which is similar to the act of looking.
For the show at the NBK, I was just going to show non-art, different objects in my studio so the work would just look like interesting things in progress. But a friend suggested exhibiting a video I had made of myself this past February singing songs from childhood—American country music that children had to learn in the 1940s dealing with things like the blood of Jesus and children getting lost in the woods. To this day, I cannot escape this music. I wake every morning with these horrible, horrible songs in my head, a bad echo of a American childhood in Arkansas, the most racist state in America. Once it was decided to exhibit the video, the non-art idea didn't work and I started looking though old pieces I had in storage that would fit around it. The show builds on a long series of output dedicated to the idea of the euro or Europe as a whole—it’s like a twenty-year report to the Continent, almost everything in it is related to the predicament of Europe.
Artmaking always starts from the love of the materials—trying to see how I can enter the material and leave with that material in some way. For Venice: Objects, Work and Tourism, my project at the Venice Biennale, for example, I was thinking about objects for tourists. I love Venice, I love the crowds, I love the Biennales, and I hate the tourists because we’re so stupid when we’re tourists. And we don’t mean to be stupid, we mean to see everything, but we don’t even know what we mean by seeing everything. People take photos of pigeons and pizzas and they never look at any reality, which is themselves—they are the biggest part of the Venice reality. There is no Venice without these tourists, without us. And, as a tourist, you can’t go to Venice without buying some souvenir—you bring it back and treasure it mostly because you probably won’t ever go back. These are magic things that may be perceived as stupid, but the craft is always good, though the design often bad. I love the glasswork and wood tchotchkes: This is my biggest weakness. It’s not objects I love, but material. There are never conscious decisions about this sort of thing; that’s one of the things I don’t know how to do in art.
An artist who ties into this is Monet—I like Monet very much. Monet looked at the world with love and he tried to represent it. He tried to use camel hair, pigs’ hair, squirrels’ hair, stuck on the end of sticks. He put together some linseed oil and pigment to make oil paint and tried to represent the world with this stuff. It’s so naive and so childish and so beautiful. He wanted to depict the world with this goofy stuff that humans use, thinking that we can represent the world, which is at once silly and brave. In contrast, Picasso looked at himself and his talent, and to me, this is against art. If you have a good talent at art, you shouldn’t do that kind of art that your talent is good at; you should do anything but that.
Yoshua Okón, Oracle, 2015, four-channel video installation, color, sound, 24 minutes.
Earlier this year, Mexican artist Yoshua Okón travelled to Oracle, a small Arizona border town, to record the AZ Border Protectors. Oracle, 2015, the resulting four-channel video installation, includes footage Okón shot of the group reenacting a protest it had staged in 2014 against unaccompanied minors who crossed the border in record numbers that summer. The work will be on view in a show curated by Julio Cesar Morales at the Arizona State University Art Museum in Tempe from July 4 through August 22, 2015.
ORACLE includes a chorus of nine Guatemalan kids from the approximately sixty thousand unaccompanied minors who migrated to the US last year. They sing a song based on a US Marines’ Hymn that narrates a history of US invasions beginning with the invasion of Mexico in the nineteenth century (“From the halls of Montezuma...”). In this version, the kids sing about the invasion of their own land—beginning with a CIA-led coup in 1954—with specific emphasis on the complicity of the CIA and the United Fruit Company. The second section of the work is a two-channel diptych in which we see one of the protesters driving in circles—a metaphor for nationalism—in a white truck with a huge US flag. He is shooting his guns out the window.
Last year, I learned about the protests when I saw a picture of a lady in Oracle holding a sign that read, “Stop Invasion.” Knowing the history of the US invasion of Guatemala, I found this image incredibly ironic and revealing of the nationalist bubble in which most people in the US live. The arrival of these kids to the US is a direct result of US foreign policy, but the root causes are almost never brought into the immigration debate, be it in conservative or progressive circles. The right-wing media tries to make the anti-immigration groups look like heroes who are defending America, while the media on the left tries to make them look like dehumanized, racist, and fanatic savages, and tries to portray them as the source of the problem. Some people from the counterprotest in Oracle even compared them to the KKK, which is a big distortion. Many of the people involved in these groups are mixed-race and they openly acknowledge it. This is not about race. These people are angry because they feel the national pact has been broken; they feel betrayed and frustrated by the complicity between the government and transnational corporations. But holding on to nationalism is making matters worse and generating a lot of hatred against immigrants who are victims of the same forces the protesters are ultimately opposing.
I titled this piece Oracle as a reference to the town as well as to the Oracle corporation, which has strong ties to the CIA and also symbolizes our current geopolitical paradigm, where it is increasingly difficult to distinguish between governments and corporations.
Oracle is a very small town. It wasn’t long before I was able to interview the leaders of the protest. I presented myself as an artist who uses video and told them that my goal was to put their issue on the table and then let people make up their own minds. I told them that I am not pro or against them—which is true. I assumed they liked attention and cameras, so I decided not to interfere much and to let them do their thing. The protesters even offered to perform what they call “Camouflage Operations” for my camera.
You have to remember that most members in these militias are ex-cops or ex-military. These secret activities mimic special-ops missions. For instance, they mentioned to me that they did some camouflage operations to monitor the Sycamore Canyon Academy, where the Central American kids were taken. But, as tends to happen with these kinds of works, after a few days they began to feel exposed, so they canceled the extra shoot.
I wouldn’t say that the protesters completely take control of their own image in Oracle, but I would say that the portrayal I am constructing gives a wider perspective and is more nuanced than the mainstream media. To me, as a symptom both of the disastrous effects of neoliberal capitalism and of the inadequacy of nationalism to counteract these effects, the anger of the Oracle protesters should be taken seriously.
View of “Jesse Aron Green: Ärztliche Zimmergymnastik,” 2015.
Jesse Aron Green’s 2008 multimedia installation Ärztliche Zimmergymnastik has been exhibited in parts at Tate Modern, the Whitney Museum of American Art, and ICA Boston, among other institutions. His current exhibition at the Harvard Art Museums, which runs through August 9, 2015, is the first time all sixty-five components—including photographs, prints, video, and sculpture—are being shown together.
ÄRZTLICHE ZIMMERGYMNASTIK is basically a workout video, so it’s no surprise that some people start to exercise in the gallery. Mirroring the thing in front of you—judging its scale and size against yourself—is fundamental to being with an artwork, or for that matter to being with other people. We’re all bodies. The exercises in the video component of this installation are drawn from an instructional book by a nineteenth-century German doctor, but the invisible center of my piece is really the doctor’s son, Daniel Paul Schreber, who lost his mind as a result of the abuse he suffered as a child. His experience of intense physical subjugation—being tied down in bed, strapped into a rigid chair to fix his posture, forced toward a bodily ideal—led him to reject the position he later held as a powerful lawyer and judge and instead identify with people who were considered powerless at that time whose bodies were believed to be different and inferior.
As a kid I was also subject to intense physical regimentation, although nothing close to what Schreber went through. I spent three hours a day, six days a week for ten years speeding in circles and hurling myself in the air as a figure skater. The real sticking point was the dissociation I felt competing in a context in which my worth was determined so externally to my self, and by such contradictory means. In figure skating, success is measured with two opposing metrics: a supposed objective one, in which points are given for the “cleanliness” with which you complete jumps and spins, and a subjective one, in which the “artistic merit” of your skating—its beauty—is adjudicated.
Thinking about achievement in this context—how bad it can feel to lose but also how ambivalent to win, how the capitalist concept of self-worth never matches up with the emotional complexity of being—became a useful analogue against which I could figure out how making art might be meaningful. It was in acquiring a language—both spoken and aesthetic—for describing difference that I began to see how ideologies of sickness and health were constructed, and how conceptions of care could apply to interpersonal and political relationships. Seeing the Guggenheim’s retrospective of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s work when I was fifteen was the start of this understanding.
Recently I’ve had to reevaluate my own health and fitness. I got a little bit of cancer, now gone, and I elected to start taking PrEP—Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis—which are prescription drugs that help prevent people from becoming infected with HIV even if they are exposed to it. At the moment, PrEP is underadvertised, underprescribed, and subject to misinformation about its risks (which are very few) and effectiveness (which is very high). The people who take it in this country are the ones with resources to know about and access it. African American, Hispanic, Latino, and prison populations along with all people living in poverty continue to disproportionally contract HIV.
I was asked recently if the recent shifts in my health care have made me think about Ärztliche Zimmergymnastik differently, but they really haven’t. For me the project was always about sickness as much as health, and about being excluded for your lack of fitness as much as for the value of being fit. If one thing has changed it’s that the project has proved itself to have legs—it’s being shown and being added to a few good collections, which means that it will be cared for. I guess that’s supposed to confer legitimacy on the work, but experiencing such symbolic gain is not necessarily a feeling I value or enjoy, and I don’t think I ever will.
View of “Sarah Cain: blue in your body, red when it hits the air,” 2015.
Sarah Cain is a Los Angeles–based artist whose work explores boundaries between painting, sculpture, and installation. “Bow Down,” her solo exhibition at Honor Fraser Gallery in Los Angeles, is on view through July 11, 2015. In tandem, her first solo museum show runs at the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, in La Jolla through July 19, 2015. The latter includes selections from the institution’s permanent collection as well as the artist’s personal collection, which Cain discusses below.
AT THE CORE of my work is a challenge to abstract painting—an attempt to expand it. It comes from a deep love, but also from an unsettled feeling. I never studied painting in school. I studied new genres at the San Francisco Art Institute and ended up painting for myself while at UC Berkeley in 2005–2006. It was very much my secret project. In the meantime, I was producing site-specific works. There is a freedom in the found object—for example, using an old dresser and transforming it, as I do in my current exhibition at Honor Fraser. Palm Afterlife, 2015, features a palm frond, which was in “freedom is a prime number,” my last show at the gallery, in 2012. There’s a constant recycling of materials in my work.
The exhibition in San Diego is the first in a series of new projects at the museum in which the institutions invites artists to produce solo projects and also select works to be shown from the museum’s collection. There’s A Pythagorean Notebook Suite, 1965, a mystic vulva lithograph print by Alfred Jensen, and a goauche on paper work, Threaded Piece 4, 1973, from Regina Bogat, his widow. I really wanted a Beatrice Wood ceramic in this show, but the museum didn’t have her work in the collection. So I went to her foundation in Ojai, California, where she had lived, and bought an amazing little sculpture she made in 1968 and kept her whole life until she died. Andrea Zittel’s A-Z Aggregated Stack #11, 2012, was something I first saw in her house and it has always stuck in my brain. She, along with everyone else, is in the show because she relates to a specific point in the trajectory of my own practice. My work is very much my own, but I think it is important to show the context it comes out of. I included a John Divola photograph in the show because before I worked with galleries my studio practice was all in abandoned buildings on either coast—wherever I could find them. Ana Mendieta is also in the show—a photo of her body imprinted into sand. She was one of the first artists who resonated with me. Fred Sandback was a similar early inspiration. He did everything I am trying to do now honed into one gesture.
I put in seven paintings of my own, along with a suite of works on paper. These are important to me so it was great to assemble them. Also, there is a painting that I have always liked but feel like no one else likes it. Its title is the same as the show, “blue in your body, red when it hits the air.” It works incredibly with the Robert Irwin window piece in the museum.