Twins are a reminder and an incarnation of the mythical ideal. It is as though they are representatives of the ontological perfection; the state [that] non-twins have completely lost…But the birth of twins is a reminder of that Happy condition and that is why it is celebrated everywhere with joy – French anthropologist Michel Cartry, 1973
Tonight sees MOCA Los Angeles premiere a clip from upcoming documentary Bight of the Twin, captured by artist Hazel Hill McCarthy and pioneer of modification Genesis Breyer P-Orridge while an expedition earlier this year during the their search for the origin of Voodoo (otherwise known as the West African religion of Vodun from which derivative practices came to litter the African diaspora) on an expedition to Ouidah, Benin.
Known for her dedication to the Pandrogyne project, s/he and late wife Lady Jaye Breyer adopted one another’s characteristic appearances through a series of surgical procedures and use of gender-neutral pronouns and endeavour to become a single entity with every aspect of their shared life. This boundary-pushing and immersive undertaking defined an entirely new concept of identity, one far beyond any struggle to make sense of the self. Instead they modified it as if it were malleable, shaping a new combined gender embodied by the pandrogyne, one that lives on intact through P-Orridge even following the [physical] death of Lady Jaye Breyer in 2007.
Travelling to Benin’s seven year festival, the cultural mechanic found something wholly unexpected and more tied to the concepts and mission of their life’s work than s/he or anyone could have imagined. In the furthest isolation from the western world, what unravelled was an unexpected introduction to an ancient celebration acknowledging connections like their own; a belief system aligned so closely with her own experiences s/he was identified and initiated into the sacred Twin Fetish.
With exactly a week of their Kickstarter campaign remaining, the artist and cultural pioneer spoke exclusively to Sang Bleu about the project:
Sang Bleu: You’re going back to Benin, the point of the Kickstarter being to make that happen, but what is the purpose of this second visit? Hazel Hill McCarthy III: The purpose is to go back for the twin ceremony in Ouidah where most of West Africa go as a kind of pilgrimage, as an homage to their twin, living or dead. I think it’s important and a big part of the story for Genesis to go back and be a part of that celebration and show the positivity of what the place is and what we’re trying to do. Though what I know from our experience is that other things will develop that aren’t planned, but that’s what’s exciting about it I think. SB: Yes you mentioned the initiation, that it was unanticipated. How did that come about? HHMIII: Yes, it wasn’t planned at all. Gen, you can tell the story about you finding the fake twin. Genesis Breyer P-Orridge: we went to the beach at the end of the slave road and there was a kind of tourist trap at the end, a couple of tables with souvenirs on them. On it there was a small wooden figure with a band of green and yellow like one Lady Jaye used to wear around her wrist so we thought of her and bought it, knowing it was just a guy selling stuff to tourists. We showed it to our guide and he said, “It’s got a crack down the back, you can’t use it, it’s broken, it’s corrupt. If you want it to represent Lady Jaye you’ve got to do it properly.” So we asked what that meant and he said, “well you create a Jumu.” What we understood was that it would not have her in it but could use it to always be with me, like a transmitter-receiver between us. That’s why whenever we go out we take it with us, even if we go out for cocktails we give her a little dab of the drink on her lips. SB: How much did you know before going in, about the cultural history and the festival but also Voodoo in general. HHMIII: I knew very little about it. I had read a few articles about the seven-year festival, which is why we decided to go out there. Besides the nuances of it, it was more of a feeling that Genesis and I needed to go and understand something that was deeper and bigger than us. It’s rare to find yourself in a place where you’re completely out of your comfort zone. SB: Why now, why this year’s festival? HHMIII: A couple of years ago we were in Kathmandu and Genesis got very ill and we made a pact that if s/he came out of this alright that after the Warhol retrospective [last year] we would come into a new place to just try another experience together. And it just so happened to be that going to Benin this year was a very special time to go for the seven year festival. We didn’t expect ourselves to be going back so soon. GBP: It turned out in hindsight that the first visit was just acclimatising, starting to have some basic understanding of how unique their way of life is. For example opposite the old slave market was the mansion of De Sousa [who was instrumental in the slave trade in the area]. It’s still there and his descendants still live in it. Anywhere else they would have raised it to the ground and hung them from trees. Here [in the US] you have people who call themselves Christians who blow up abortion clinics and assassinate people who don’t agree with their beliefs. SB: You’re painting a picture of a welcoming environment; I just wondered what people’s reaction to you was and how they identified you? HHMIII: I think there’s definitely some open hearts but a little bit of apprehension, especially with cameras because a lot of their Fetishes, those are out in the open and they don’t appreciate people coming in and bastardising it. They don’t have any control over where you’re going to use that photography and obviously they know that their religion has been painted in a really dark light. But once Genesis had the ceremony and was initiated people were very open. GBP: If people here were like they are there the, world would be a very different place. There’s so much poverty, just the basic subsistence living, yet none of them even hesitated to share what they had and that is something we’ve lost in our competitive society, and something we have to return to in some form. The problems we face now are based on greed and ownership and that’s a path to destruction. It’s become a kind of crusade to tell people they have to change the way they view things, to care about things, otherwise it’s all just going to implode with this careerist, consuming culture that’s developed. SB: You’ve reminded me of something you said about the fabric of art, specifically, that is indivisible from daily life. I wondered what you thought western culture embracing those ideals would do for us. GBP: Well, on the micro level people in Benin share to get the maximum goodness from something, whether it’s nourishment or support, without any demands being made upon you to behave or be a particular way. If you transfer that to the human species globally wherever there was a crisis as one central organism we would use our resources to heal that simply because, in he end, it’s for the greater good. It would ultimately illuminate the idea of war because why would you wound yourself? Life is supposed to be integrated in every possible way. When it gets out of balance in the body, for example, it becomes cancer, a tumor. Well that’s what the human species is doing, the earth, and the rest of its species, are its host and it is a cancer. So that idea of unity, that would change everything. It’s why I’m still here. HHMIII: A simple solution *laughs* SB: It sounds simple when you say it like that, it really does. GBP: One of my basic searches throughout life is to question whether human beings are really capable of changing, or are we just a flawed animal. SB: And do you think we’re capable of changing? GBP: It takes just small incremental points of contact, Hazel’s film for example, where people have the courage to say things that people don’t want to hear, and explain why they think it’s important. That’s why we do talks, make records, make films. It’s not to go “wasn’t that a great record”; it’s because that’s when you communicate with people you wouldn’t usually meet, even people you don’t meet. That’s why film is so wonderful, you don’t have to travel like you do with a band, you can just send it off in a box and talk to hundreds of people. SB: You spoke earlier about the phenomenon of twins but I wondered what this whole experience means in terms of your relationship with Lady Jaye and the Pandrogyne? GBP: It’s just reinforced what we already believed. We discovered our thoughts, those that became pandrogeny, through a lot of really intense spiritual seeking with each other and this just started to unravel a lot of the mysteries we had been perplexed by for so long; in terms of metaphysics and philosophy. So when you get some confirmation of a theory that was originally seen as very eccentric, it’s encouraging and it makes me think perhaps we were touching on something really important. And if we could encapsulate that in this film, that maybe it could be a seed that helps us begin to change.
A 10 minute extract of Bight of the Twin will premiere at MOCA Los Angeles tonight, more here. You can read more and support via the project’s Kickstarter here. Images feature: Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, Dah Gbedjinon, Adepts, Drew Denny, Douglas J. McCarthy, Lewis Teague Wright, Eric Nordhauser, Hypolite Apovo and Emmanuel Sardou Gbedjinon, all courtesy of Hazel Hill McCarthy III.