As originally published in Arthur No. 2 (Jan 2003), with accompanying photography by Shawn Mortensen…
‘The whole planet is the museum!’
Author-theorist Douglas Rushkoff takes tea and talks shop with veteran mindboggler/conceptualist/artist/visionary Genesis P-Orridge, best known for his work as co-founder of seminal industrial outfit Throbbing Gristle and leader of neo-primitive-shamanic ravists Psychic TV
I met Genesis in the early ’90s in the Bay Area. He needed a lift to Timothy Leary’s house in Beverly Hills, and I needed an interview for a book I was writing about viral media. We spent about six hours in the car together, trying to impress one another with our strangest thoughts while Gen’s two daughters fought in the back seat.
We’ve been friends ever since.
I guess it’s about ten years later, now. I’ve gotten married, become an author and university professor, while Gen has been kicked out of the UK forever, gotten divorced and married again, replaced his teeth with gold ones, and done some other stuff to his body that I’d be scared to. Still, in spite of our outward differences, we’re on the same path, and often use one another for guidance along the way.
See, if you’re going to be an artist or writer or magician, you’ve got to navigate through some treacherous zones. If you’re not traversing new territory (or at least forgotten territory) then why write instead of just reading? And many of these regions and be culturally, intellectually, physically, and psychically challenging. Disorientation can’t be avoided—it is the rule. Panic is the thing you have to watch out for.
So, Gen and I have these long talks every month or so. Sometimes they’re data dumps, and sometimes they’re progress reports. This one is probably a little more the latter, coming as it does on the release of Gen’s new book, Painful but Fabulous: The Lives & Art of Genesis P-Orridge (Soft Skull Shortwave). —Douglas Rushkoff
Dougas Rushkoff (DR): Your new book has served for me as an occasion to look back on the history of cut-and-paste, as well as its tremendous influence on art and culture every since. Cut-and-paste can even be understood as a first, rebellious step towards the attainment of genuine co-authorship. From a broad, historical perspective, it seems to me that we move through three stages. We begin by passively absorbing the information that’s fed to us—the datastream. Then, maybe with the Protestant Reformation and the printing press, we gained the ability to interpret this information for ourselves, to some extent. Then, with cut and paste, we achieve the ability to take what’s been presented to us and move it around a little bit. We can create new meanings through transpositions of what’s there, but that’s limited, in a sense, to a kind of satire or self-conscious juxtaposition. And now, finally, with computing and the internet, with the ability to actually author what for lack of a better word would be ‘original’ material, now we move into artistry. But a truly interesting moment was that first cut-and-paste moment, that first moment of, “Okay this is being fed to us, BUT we can do this with it, or to it, and get something else.” I’d be interested in hearing from you what was it like to be part of that moment.
Genesis P-Orridge (G P-O): Well… The preamble would be this: in the early ‘60s, somewhat parallel to my becoming aware of the beatniks, I started to discover Dada and Surrealism. The first time I’d heard of cut n paste, I think was Brion Gysin giving Raoul Hausman and one or two of the Dadaists the credit as one of his inspirations. He said they would cut up words from one of their poems, putting them in a hat, and then they’d draw words out of the hat, and make a new poem. What had happened was that more emotionally based artists, the ones who were actually involved in feeling human as well as just glorifying creativity, had become very disconnected from the concept of linearity, the concept of Reason, all the material concepts of the world. They had just experienced the first world war, which had led to this Armageddon, this hell on earth, and this was their reaction against what they saw as that war’s cause: the misplaced celebration of Reason, the control over information and culture in society, the harmful repression of irrationality, which has backfired.
That’s really where the first step came, that disconnection from, and obsession with, a finished, perfect result that was ‘owned’ by the artist that made it. One of Brion Gysin’s greatest poems, which I didn’t understand until very recently, was ‘Poets don’t own words.” He would do a permutation: “Poets don’t own words, words poets don’t own, own words poets don’t” and it was only recently that I actually experienced it in a visceral way, that that’s been the big change. This is what you’re talking about: that we are blessed, or gifted, or pushed, by various events to deal with the information that’s coming at us, and that society and culture are, if you like, a solidity that’s based on the inertia and linearity. This solidity is oppressive, and in order to even begin to be anything one might label ‘free’ or ‘liberated, you have to, as Burroughs used to put it, ‘First you have to short-circuit control.’ Because control is ultimately an oppressor. Control really does contain all the feedback loops of consumer culture that you’ve talked about so astutely.
I’m know I’m going in a weird loop here, but basically the point is that during the middle of the last century, the idea of having to be an Artist who owned each thing fell apart. The Dadaists did live events. They did collaborations. They did The Exquisite Corpse, where they would do a drawing, fold it, next person would draw some more, fold it, and then the result was the art. And of course no one could say with any of these activities, ‘I did that.’ They all did it, but it also made itself. That process intrigued the more interesting artists from then on.