In his influential 1919 essay “The Uncanny,” Freud points to the repressed as a possible source of the troubling feeling of the uncanny, asserting, “It may be true that the uncanny is nothing else than a hidden, familiar thing that has undergone repression and then emerged from it, and that everything that is uncanny fulfills this condition” (15).
Employing the uncanny, the art of French post-war, post-Surrealist Pierre Molinier and BREYER P-ORRIDGE, the ongoing collaboration between Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV’s Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and h/er now-late wife Lady Jaye, both uncover the transformative and transcendent power inherent in the malleability of the human body.
Pairing these artists in an arresting, unsettling and ultimately inspiring show, Invisible-Exports’ BREYER P-ORRIDGE & Pierre Molinier exhibition forges a powerful aesthetic genealogy between these uniquely subversive artists. Filled with fetish imagery from fishnet tights to dildos and sky-high heels, including BREYER P-ORRIDGE’s aptly named “Shoe Horn,” the exhibition combines BREYER P-ORRIDGE’s pandrogene works with Molinier’s autoerotic black and white photomontages, allowing viewers to perceive the links between these artists, as well as witness the identity destabilizing possibility in body modification.
For artists like BREYER P-ORRIDGE who, at least to me, have always seemed almost peerless in their explosion of the binaries of sex and gender, the discovery of Pierre Molinier, who also dared transform his own physical being through technological means, provides an essential link in the trajectory of transgressive art.
Quite frankly, I only recently found Pierre Molinier’s demented photomontages in the pages of the enormous tome Art & Queer Culture, which rendered me staring stunned at Molinier’s multiple nylon-ed legs and mannequin mask, which appeared almost like a proto-Narcissister.
A contemporary of the Surrealists and, as his epitaph states, “a man without morality,” Molinier, through the aid of a mirror and photographic manipulation, investigated his own erotic fixations, which even alienated the Surrealists due to his highly disturbing sexual imagination. As Catherine Lord details in Art & Queer Culture, “Andre Breton who became interested in Molinier in the mid-1950s, ceased to publish him ten years later when Molinier proposed a painting of Christ with a dildo up his arse” (128).
In the photographs throughout Invisible-Exports, Molinier’s fetishistic montages uncannily erase the separation between animate and inanimate objects through his wild array of limbs, asses and dead-eyed female mannequin masks. In “The Uncanny,” Freud quotes fellow uncanny theorist Ernst Jentsch who placed the source of the uncanny with “doubts whether an apparently animate being is really alive; or conversely, whether a lifeless object might not be in fact animate” (5). Highlighting uncanny objects such as dolls, wax figures and automatons, Jentsch’s animate confusion reflects Molinier’s own blurring of these divisions.
Like Jentsch’s dolls, Molinier’s self-portraits appear almost inhuman–a surreally fantastical and almost nightmarish conglomeration of body parts, piling limbs upon limbs and fracturing the apparent stability of anatomy. Not only disturbing the seemingly strict difference between animate and inanimate objects, Molinier’s photomontages also break the binary boundaries between the genders, as well as the unchangeable understanding of the biological human form.
Discovering Molinier h/erself in a book on Surrealism while attending a conservative English public school, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge writes on Molinier’s work: “Art like Molinier’s and similar works attempt to solve this auto-destructive trajectory by proposing both a vision of time as a congregation of loops and looping that in themselves require a sense of responsibility for a future as we might all experience just that! And by proposing a massive rethink of our attitude to the human body. A final declaration that it is NOT sacred in any way, merely a cheap suitcase to give mobility to consciousness…”
Mirroring Molinier’s rejection of the sacredness of the body, BREYER P-ORRIDGE’s literal transformation of the body similarly erases these constrictive and restrictive binaries.
Taking William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin’s conception of the cut-up to its absolute limit, BREYER P-ORRIDGE create a collective “third mind” or the “pandrogene” by cutting up the body through cosmetic surgery. Through numerous procedures to look the most like each other as possible, Genesis and Lady Jaye, as BREYER P-ORRIDGE, transcend the singular idea of the self.
As BREYER P-ORRIDGE explain in “Breaking Sex,” “We are required, over and over again by our process of literally cutting-up our bodies, to create a third, conceptually more precise body, to let go of a lifetime’s attachment to the physical logo that we visualize automatically as “I” in our internal dialogue with the SELF” (444).
Through post-surgery Polaroids, as well as Molinier-esque images of reflected body parts and fishnet fetishism, BREYER P-ORRIDGE also engage with the uncanny through the eeriness of “doubling.” Pointing to the double as a source of the uncanny, Freud states, “These themes are all concerned with the idea of a ‘double’ in every shape and degree, with persons therefore, who are to be considered identical by reason of looking alike; Hoffmann accentuates this relation by transferring mental processes from the one person to the other–what we should call telepathy–so that the one possesses knowledge, feeling and experience in common with the other, identifies himself with another person, so that his self becomes confounded, or the foreign self is substituted for his own–in other words, by doubling, dividing and interchanging the self.” (9)
Through this “doubling, dividing and interchanging the self,” BREYER P-ORRIDGE assert that the binary systems integral to institutional and societal control can be overcome. In “Breaking Sex,” BREYER P-ORRIDGE reveal, “BREYER P-ORRIDGE believe that the binary systems embedded in society, culture and biology are the root cause of conflict, and aggression which in turn justify and maintain oppressive control systems and divisive hierarchies. Dualistic societies have become so fundamentally inert, uncontrollably consuming and self-perpetuating that they threaten the continued existence of our species and the pragmatic beauty of infinite diversity of expression. In this context, the journey represented by their PANDROGENY and experimental creation of a third form of gender–neutral living being is concerned with nothing less than strategies dedicated to the survival of the species” (445).
By rejecting these binary systems, both Molinier and BREYER P-ORRIDGE expose the weaknesses in the restrictions of the human body. Returning to Freud’s understanding of the uncanny as a familiar idea that has been repressed, perhaps Molinier and BREYER P-ORRIDGE’s work causes such a destabilizing sense in viewers due to the underlying truths exposed within them–that the body is not sacred, that it is a potential artistic material like any other and that through this body manipulation, alternative forms of post-binary existence can be found.
As BREYER P-ORRIDGE state in “Breaking Sex,” “When you consider transexuality, cross-dressing, cosmetic surgery, piercing and tattooing, they are all calculated impulses–a symptomatic groping toward a next phase. One of the great things about human beings is that they impulsively and intuitively express what is inevitably next in the evolution of culture and our species. It is the Other that we are destined to become” (444).