The mythical chimera – a fire-breathing creature that is part dragon, snake and lion – can be traced as far back as Homer’s Iliad, a fearsome beast described in that epic poem as ‘a thing of immortal make’. By the Middle Ages, the chimera had become a symbolic portmanteau of disorder, associated with Satan himself. And, while connotations of natural aberration carry over, the chimera of today’s science, far from the vivid depictions of ancient lore, is visible only at the microscopic level – the result of blended DNA within the amino codes of our genetic material. Indeed, with the move from the spectral to the anatomical, the modern chimera has transferred the idea of mutation from the narratives of mythology into the realm of pathology.
It makes sense, then, that the chimerical concept figured so prominently in the recent exhibition of storied artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, known for works that underscore the body’s fleshy confines as much as the capacity to transcend them. Equal parts documentary and eulogy, ‘I’m Mortality’ was a meditation on the artist’s ongoing ‘pandrogyne’ project, first begun in the early 1990s with the late Lady Jaye. Married in 1993, the duo embarked on a collaborative process that sought to merge the identities of both artists into the singular Breyer P-Orridge – the ‘pandrogyne’. Influenced by the cut-up strategies of Brion Gysin and Willam S. Burroughs, the couple underwent a series of surgical body modifications, attempting to irrupt the impositions of cultural binarism in the creation of a new form of being.
As in the photo-collage God Touching Adam (2012), the duality of gender is one such target for the pandrogyne project. Referencing the birth of Eve from Adam’s rib in the Book of Genesis, the hand of P-Orridge instead reaches across a mirror image of the same-self, forming a Möbius strip of gesture that short-circuits the divine hand in the act of creation, firmly placing it within mortal grasp. Thus, formed from within, P-Orridge’s hermetic touch mordantly plays with Adam’s proclamation, ‘This at last is bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh.’
Importantly, while the body is presented as a vessel for the reception of divine – or mortal – inspiration, it is shown to be one just as easily shattered. Depicting two Chanel No. 5 bottles containing the sanguineous contents of the constituent Breyer P-Orridge, the video Blood Sacrifice, (1993–2012) documents the slow intermixing of the duo’s blood. Positioned upon a swathe of white fabric, Jaye’s cracked vessel gradually leaks its contents, seeping into the fabric beneath and eventually encircling Genesis’s bottle. Blood, indeed, is a recurrent medium throughout the show. Whether in the totemic wooden sculpture, Blood Bunny, (1997–2007), or the imbrued fabrics of Blood Sacrifice Stain 1-2 (1993–2012), the haemotologic becomes a symbolic means by which to invest the physical with the psychic residuum of the joined Breyer P-Orridge.
And it is an emphasis on the physical as a conduit for bridging the infinite, as opposed to impeding it, which underlines much of the show’s threnodic tone. In Alchymical Wedding (1997–2012), P-Orridge-cum-Trismegistus invokes the esoteric practices of alchemy, the historic tradition that sought to transform everyday physical substances into divine manna. Housed within a steel frame, a row of three glass-bulb flasks hold hair, nails and skin, the piece’s glibly misspelled title highlighting P-Orridge’s quest to create a third, Promethean entity.
One could argue that the pandrogyne project is, in the end, akin to biological alchemy, the results of which are the chimerical Breyer P-Orridge. And indeed, whether described as surgical or alchemical, the result is a unison of natural elements brought together in an extension of man’s attempts to control the world around him. However, in the pursuit to enshrine Breyer P-Orridge, one wonders whether this is merely yet another quest for the fountain of youth.