Since I started working as a gallery attendant last month, I have enjoyed learning more about the new “Summer at The Warhol” exhibitions. As a Carnegie Mellon graduate who will be pursuing my master’s degree there in Literary and Cultural Studies beginning this fall, I am interested in art and literature that both question and redefine predominant ideas of the self and the proverbial “Other.” The highly anticipated S/HE IS HER/E (She Is Here/He Is Her) exhibition, featuring the work of renowned performance artist and self-described “cultural engineer” Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, is of especial interest to me. Not only does the exhibit apply to my academic research on identity politics, but it is also one of the most striking and intimate collections I have ever seen in a museum.
Talismanic orbs, multicultural sigil collages, and a staircase-activated quote generator are just a few of Breyer P-Orridge’s 100+ artworks that museum patrons can view and interact with. Since the unveiling of this exhibit to the public on June 15th, it has been great to observe the wide-ranging reactions that people have to the works of Genesis and h/er wife and artistic collaborator for nearly 15 years, Lady Jaye. Whether they watch the entire Pandrogeny Manifesto video in awe, make astute comparisons of the Warhol and Breyer P-Orridge Polaroids, or playfully mumble a few Hail Mary’s when walking past the post-op cosmetic surgery photos, they can all agree that the exhibition is unlike anything they have seen before.
I first became acquainted with the work of Genesis earlier this year, when I helped organize the Carnegie Mellon International Film Festival screening of the 2011 documentary, The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye. The theme of the festival was “Faces of Media”, and we thought this film would be an ideal addition to the program for a number of reasons. The unconventional and thought-provoking exploration of media in the film is twofold. On a conceptual level, Genesis extensively describes how s/he adapted the cut-up technique popularized by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin to dissect and rearrange raw materials to create new messages in h/er own music, artwork, performances, poetry, and body. Furthermore, the director of the film, Marie Losier, essentially employs a version of the cut-up technique herself by incorporating footage from her 1920s silent 16mm Bolex film camera, VHS videos of home movies and past performances, dream-like reenactments of life-altering moments, and narrations by Genesis. In this way, Marie compliments Genesis and Lady Jaye well as they tell us an unprecedented story of profound love and devotion through a variety of different media.
Although the “Pandrogyne” project cultivated by Genesis and Lady Jaye is central to both the documentary and the art exhibition, it is respectively contextualized in distinct ways. What a lot of people at the Carnegie Mellon film screening were most captivated by was the idea that the film is, more than anything, a profoundly poignant declaration of love that both reflects and challenges preconceived notions of love and partnership. The primary reason why Lady Jaye wanted someone to film a documentary about h/er life with Genesis was because s/he “just want[ed] to be remembered as one of the great love affairs of all time.” Lady Jaye died tragically during the production of the film in 2007, before Marie was even able to conduct an interview with h/er, but h/er total devotion to Genesis was evident in the footage of the couple’s cheerful and loving day-to-day interactions with one another and, of course, in their desire and achievement in undergoing cosmetic surgeries to resemble each other and subsequently create a third “pandrogenous” being. The art exhibition, however, provides a lot of essential background to the comprehensive works of Genesis and Lady Jaye, which is often visible or referenced but intentionally left unexplained in the film. Their allusions to Eastern religions, innovative taxidermy sculptures, and photographs and text from their long-term performance series called “Breaking Sex” all reveal the unique spiritual and artistic philosophies they espoused in advance of and during the initiation of the “Pandrogyne” project. Through the study of these works, one can more fully understand what Genesis means when s/he says that “Pandrogyne” is not so much about gender or sexual transformation as one might imagine; rather, it is rooted in ontology and consciousness – the act of two minds extending beyond the physical constraints of the human body to form one being.
I would highly recommend that those who attended the April screening of The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye check out the S/HE IS HER/E retrospective, and that people who saw the exhibition come to the August 30th “Creating the Pandrogyne” film screening event featuring a guest appearance by Genesis h/erself at the Warhol Museum. Several key aspects to the story of Genesis, Lady Jaye, and “Pandrogyne” – the biological transformations, the spiritual ideology, the decades of fearless creativity and dedication, and the beautiful love story – are expressed in notably distinct ways through their different works. Genesis has an insightful belief, “Change the means of perception and you change the world.” Through the documentation of the “Pandrogyne” project and the “Breaking Sex” series, one may begin to reflect upon and question conventionally established ideas on the mutability of the human body, the boundaries of performance, and the sacrifices made for love and art.