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Painful but fabulous:
The Lives and Art of Genesis P-Orridge

Soft Skull Shortwave, 2002


Painful But Fabulous is a huge new paperback retrospective of the life and work of artist, musician and all round cultural attaché for all things subversive, Genesis P. Orridge, 200 A4 pages covering the whole breadth of his career from performance art with Coum Transmissions, through music with Throbing Gristle and Psychic TV including the infamous "Prostitution" exhibition at the ICA, up to the present day and his latest incarnation as a "third mind" with his partner Ms Jackie - Breyer P. Orridge. This new book features two extensive interviews alongside texts from Douglas Rushkoff, Carl Abrahamsson and others, a discography, bibliography and catalogue of exhibitions, as well as a huge amount of pics and illustration from throughout his career, many published here for the first time.

On first impressions I found this book a bit dizzying - what to make of it? I'm not a diehard Gen fan, though I appreciate he's done some incredible things in his career. Was there or is there one clear message, idea or point of view expressed? If there is, it was at first it was lost on me amongst the collision of high heels, porno pics, union jacks and fried breakfasts, paintings, doodles, sculptures and writings. Such a huge body of work, in such a varying range of media, defies uniformity. It's actually been said to me that the interview is Gen's best medium, and similarly, he cover a wide range of territory here - his past, both personal and musical, reflections on encountering the shade of Aleister Crowley and re-defining himself as a fine artist. The rest of the texts detail and theorise about his work and career, alongside a couple of original pieces of writing from the man himself. I couldn't help but enjoy the retrospective overview of someone whose been getting up the noses of the establishment for 30-odd years, from crawling round Nottingham dressed as a snail, hanging tampons at the ICA and raving it up at the end of the 80s. Of particularly interest were an essay on mailart and Gen's short piece on sigilsation, where it becomes a very different and richer process from the stripped down jackoff formula beloved of Chaos magick. Unfortunately, a couple of the other pieces veer towards the indecipherably theoretical, for me at least. Perhaps this is the consequence of trying to put a very personal and intuitive approach to magic and creativity into words.

In his book SSOTMBE (Sex Secrets of The Black Magicians Exposed) Lionel Snell paints a picture of magic as a combination of feeling and observation, differentiated from art, which is emerges from somewhere between feeling and intuition - the complex hierarchies of the Golden Dawn leaning more to system, the observing of an ordered universe, with an artist like Austin Spare situated closer to intuition. If anything Gen is closer to this intuitive pole than Spare. There's a fascinating account here of the approach taken in the freeform performances of Coum Transmissions, where it seems the aim was almost total spontaneity in their work to keep the "source dream" alive, and free from constraints. Looking at the huge amount of work and creativity on display here, one can't help but conclude that Gen has stuck true to his own source, and dreams. Sometimes, I found it hard to get or comprehend what a certain image might be communicating, but on reflection, perhaps this work is not to be "got" on a conscious level - like a lot of the work that emerged from TOPY, it's oblique , though there is something to feel here, something that touches, puzzles and delights. What comes through clearly is a sense of playfulness, eroticism and a commitment uncovering one's own creativity. As such, it's powerfully inspiring.
- Danny