Genesis P. Orridge, forty three year old pandrogyne has shocked his way from the ‘60s to the ‘90s with the motto, ‘when in doubt, be ex-dream.’ Arch-anarchist and prime-time prankster, he first gained public notoriety at the infamous ‘Prostitution’ exhibition at the ICA in London in 1976, which featured live maggots and a month’s cycle of used tampons. He later co-founded Industrial Records (courting further controversy by incorporating a photograph of Auschwitz into the logo), and Psychic TV – widely attributed as the pioneers of industrial music. These days his tactics might be less notorious, but he remains a committed advocate to individual empowerment through Art, Magick and Ritual.
His wise old head of long grey hair has aged visibly in the last 9 months. Genesis P. Orridge, agent provacateur of the art world is now, as chance would have it, an outlaw, exiled in a foreign land, thousands of miles from his earliest moments in Lancashire.
“Don’t under-estimate the power of play,” urges Genesis in his latest video project, ‘Exile and Exhilaration.’ As a 9 year old child he would spend hours laboriously marking out areas, making clearings and painstakingly building things: “And I remember taking great pleasure in the thought that with the first gust of wind or rainstorm, it would be blown away for ever.”
Years later, at Hull University, things were not quite as he had imagined: “It wasn’t like that when I actually got involved. There were all these people deciding if they slept with the gallery owner, would they get an exhibition, and trying to impress their professors by giving them blowjobs. I thought, ‘Hang on a minute, is it really just about sexual favours and cheques and decoration for the people who are already elite and powerful?’ It really disappointed me and depressed me a lot. I was initially very disenchanted, then very angry, now I think ‘Well, what the Hell?’”
“I believe it’s a spiritual quest or path, like being a boddhisatva or a saddhu; that it’s exactly the same basic reason for life. So, if you have a strong belief in anything and you’ve a strong vision there’s no reason that you should starve to death or be destroyed physically because the world will at least recognise your obsession to some degree, and there will always be people who respect your obsession and your preparedness to stand up for it. So that’s what I decided to do when I left school: to live by the dream, because the dream would either be true or I was quite happy, if it wasn’t true, to just starve and die because I didn’t want to be around this world if my conception of what Art and Communication and Life was all about, was so mistaken. So far I’m still alive. So I tend to feel that at least part of that utopian vision of everything to do with what we call Art was correct.” Still alive but facing a crisis that effects the life and well being of his family.
On February 15 1992, 23 Scotland Yard detectives from the Obscene Publications Squad, armed with a search warrant and a video camera, raided the Brighton home of Genesis P. Orridge. They seized two tonnes of photographic and video material, from a twenty-year-old arts archive documenting the avant-garde. At this time, Genesis P. Orridge, his wife Alaura and daughters Caresse and Genesse, were organising soup kitchens in Nepal, for Tibetan exiles and the beggars, street children, lepers and urchins of Kathmandu.
On February 16 1992, The Observer newspaper ran a story entitled, ‘Video offers first evidence of ritual abuse.’ It reported that a film of “a bloody satanic ritual” had been seen by the Observer and passed to the police. It would be featured in a television documentary to be screened by Channel 4 later in that week. Andrew Boyd, the reporter on Channel 4’s ‘Dispatches’ programme was quoted as saying, “The video shows the abuse of young adults in what is clearly a ritual context. Sex and blood rituals are taking place beneath a picture of Aleister Crowley. The trappings of black magic are obvious.” These claims were backed by the testimony of a cult survivor, and by the accounts of medical and police experts. Channel 4’s senior commissioning editor for news and current affairs, David Lloyd, was also quoted: “I do not think a single television programme will clinch the whole question of satanic ritual abuse, but after watching this programme, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to judge it does not exist.”
On February 19 1992, Channel 4 screened their report including excerpts from a video of very hazy, blurry and distorted images, narrated by a woman identified only as ‘Jennifer.’ She told in graphic detail that one scene was an enforced abortion, of a foetus which was to be used in sacrificial rituals.
On February 23 1992, The Independent on Sunday reported that the video, claimed to be “the first hard evidence” of satanic child abuse was made nine years ago as ‘performance art’ and featured film director Derek Jarman as visual presenter. He was quoted as saying, “At first I was horrified and then very, very angry that they had so misrepresented scenes from the video. I did not see the video but what ‘Dispatches’ showed from it did not in any way show what they claimed it represented. It was not at all about child abuse or murder. It seemed too much when you had a lady on the telly, blacked out, saying she had killed her child. I mean, doesn’t anyone smell a rat?”
By March 1 1992, The Mail on Sunday had traced the elusive ‘Jennifer.’ She was named as Louise Errington, mother of two healthy children and one-time born-again Christian. In 1990 Louise had staved at Ellel Grange, a Christian ‘healing centre’ in Lancaster. She was quoted as saying, “There, the charismatics had an overpowering effect on me. In many ways it was the worst three months of my life... They told me I was possessed by demons because of the sins of my mother and father. They prayed over me in tongues and taught me to face my own guilt.”
One day, she said, the spiritual leader, lay preacher Peter Horobin, told her one of his prayer team had had a vision. “He said he had seen a mind picture of me standing over a tiny baby, helping a devil priest to wield a knife. We cut into the baby’s chest and the blood was collected and we drank it. The baby’s body was a sacrifice to Satan.”
Until that time, Louise Errington was not aware that she had had this child. “I screamed and pleaded with them to please stop saying it. I had a sort of fit and had to be held down. I fought people off physical¬ly. Finally I broke down and confessed it was true. I said, ‘Yes, I did it. I killed my own little daughter and helped others to kill their babies.” The confession of the key witness to the ‘Dispatches’ programme was brought about by the horrific vision of born-again Christians.
The Mail on Sunday also traced television presenter Andrew Boyd, to the fundamentalist Petersfield Fellowship Church, of which he is a prominent member. Co-incident to broadcast, Boyd published his book ‘Blasphemous Rumours.’ The Dispatches programme was constructed directly from his research, collated from the anecdotal evidence of fundamentalists at Ellel Grange.
By March 8 1992, it became apparent that Channel 4 themselves had commissioned the video material for an arts programme concerning the power and language of the televised image. But the video, of which only three copies were said to exist, was not made by Genesis P. Orridge.
On March 22 1992, author, researcher and presenter, Andrew Boyd acknowledged on Channel 4’s ‘Right to Reply’ that he had been fully aware of this, yet declined to inform viewers, and declined to identify the background of the video. This partial, inconclusive research combined with entirely fabricated testimonies, has ruined people’s lives.
In the Summer of 1991 Scotland Yard arrested Mr. Sebastian, a gay man in his late 50s, a tattooist and body piercer by trade. His studio in Earls Court, licensed by London Council and by the Government was extensively searched. Scotland Yard took away every photograph taken of people he had tattooed or pierced. He was to be charged on 14 counts of ‘Grievous Bodily Harm’ (GHB) against people he had pierced, taken apparently at random from his appointments book. GBH is the charge below manslaughter, carrying up to seven years imprisonment.
Sebastian was tried at the Old Bailey, usually reserved for spies and mass murders, without a public jury. Found guilty on 13 accounts, he received a two year suspended sentence with a large fine, and had to meet his own costs. In summing up, the ruling judge, Lord Lane set a legal precedent. He said that it was not illegal to have decorative body piercings, but if at any time these piercings played a part in sexual activities or erotic pleasures, then that was “unnatural sex,” sadomasochistic, and now illegal. A piercing, since it makes a hole in the flesh, injuring the skin, could be construed as ‘Grievous Bodily Harm.’ To own a whip, leather thongs, a blindfold or mask, handcuffs or any other items, which might be used in sadomasochistic practice, was now a criminal act, complete with ret¬rospective sentencing.
Lord Lane then retired, leaving a law by which technically even lawfully married, happily heterosexual people with body piercings could be arrested and imprisoned if it was proven they had ever had an orgasm. For some people, the act of making love, has now become illegal.
The ruling was appealed against as anti-homosexual and as an ‘outrageous attack’ on what people choose to do with their own bodies. Liberty, the civil rights campaigning group, said that the decision showed “a level of intolerance which is unacceptable in a democratic society.”
In February 1992, on Appeal, Lord Lane Chief Justice rejected that people would not be brought to trial because they had consented to sexual acts in private. He said that individual liberty was not to be confused with license to commit acts society regarded as cruel. These statements were recorded as amendments to this new legal precedent. It now because illegal for one partner to give another a love bite, because in leaving a mark, technically, this became an ‘injury.’
Mr. Sebastian was the voice on the original film commissioned by Channel 4 in 1981, and shown in 1992 as evidence of satanic ritual abuse. A film purposefully made to illustrate how easily people can be misled by sophisticant editing. It was as a consequence of these allegations that Scotland Yard searched the P. Orridge’s Brighton home. Their arts archive included unpublished films by writer William S. Burroughs, experimental films by artist Brion Gysin, films by British director Derek Jarman which had never been shown, videos of Disney’s ‘Fantasia’ and ‘The Care Bears,’ videos of the P. Orridge children’s birthday parties, every single photographic negative that was in the house, and DAT tapes containing master recordings for future albums.
For a tense month the family monitored the situation at home with phone calls and faxes. Although they have has yet to be charged with anything, Scotland Yard could still allege that ‘someone’ in the video was subjected to GBH. The P. Orridges, both of whom possess piercings, could also be prosecuted for possessing the chains and leather thongs used in the video.
Eventually it became apparent that if the P. Orridges returned to England, Scotland Yard would arrest them, hold them for questioning indefinitely, and take custody of their daughters, who would likely be interrogated for evidence of child abuse. Unwilling to put the children through such an experience, said Genesis P. Orridge, the family became “triggered exiles.” They have relocated to America, staying briefly with counter-cultural figure head Timothy Leary at his home in Beverley Hills, before settling in Northern California.
Leary, himself a previous exile hunted by the American government and C.I.A., recognised in the implication of police raid, an attempt to crush a sense of imagination and possibility. He believes the archive not only documented but also symbolised the power within digitally recorded media. An archive founded on the premise that Video is one arena of an ‘Information War,’ and collated specifically to analyse how images are controlled and used to indoctrinate.
On the night of the noting in Los Angeles, 3000 fires were lit; thick columns of smoke rose out of the city. On the televi¬sion news channels, the Police kept beating Rodney King. An exasperated George Bush kept crying, “If only you could see through my eyes.” Genesis P. Orridge was at Leary’s home watching television: “I began to notice that all the images were of people with VCRs and televisions. Almost constantly you would see people stealing VCRs, and I realised that it was because they knew that that is where the power is. A videotape is what triggered the riot, and there in the media, that’s where the disinformation is being given. That’s where the battle is taking place.”
In Britain in 1993, where ownership of one’s own skin becomes a question of seven years’ imprisonment, where the police seize an arts archive of individual empowerment, where freedom of association, gathering and sexual expression are legislated against, is it not time that we finally realised that truth is not something seen on television screens. We have only to look elsewhere.
“Re-empower yourselves. Re-possess your own space. That’s all there is to do. And believe me, it causes great mischief in those silent corridors of power.”
(written April 1993 published May 1993)
copyright reserved Desmond K. Hill
WAR AGAINST IGNORANCE
In this the final decade of the 20th Century, Britain has descended into a withered mirror of 1930s Germany. The free individuals of our “classless society” have never been so deliberately targeted, as the increasingly repressive measures of a “back to basics” prescription advance into legislation against freedom of association, of movement and of sexuality. Desmond K. Hill reports:
An exhibition opened in London in July 1993 on the theme of sado-masochism, to provocatively highlight the increased interference by the law with consensual sexual behaviour. The work displayed included photographs, sculptures of instruments used by practitioners and a history of political seizures of gay publications. Some of the photographic material ran the risk of being seized under the Obscene Publications Act, but exhibition organiser Kayode Olafimihan believed the purpose was never to antagonise but to expose increased repression. “We live in a very shockable society but I don’t see anything shocking or obscene about the exhibition. It was designed to raise awareness.”
In March 1993, that unshockable British bastion of continent moderation, the House of Lords’ Appeal Court, voted 3 to 2 against, in a ruling that five homosexual middle-aged, middle-class, male sadomasochists who practised genital torture were guilty of criminal offences, even though all were consenting adults. These men were just some of an original sixteen from all walks of life and all parts of the country, hunted down in the notorious Operation Spanner case, convicted on charges including assault and sentenced to years in jail. Anthony Brown was one of the five men prosecuted in Spanner. A 59-year-old ex-Civil Servant, he was charged with aiding and abetting an assault (for allowing harm to happen to himself) and received a sentence of almost three years.
While understanding the public’s disgust at some of the more extreme acts, he does not condemn the men involved or the acts themselves. “They were consensual activities. No complaints were received. These were victimless so-called crimes. But they were activities in which I would have wanted no part.” Naturally he feels only bitterness and anger that his sexuality has been put on trial. Despite which, his hopes were high that the entire episode would be thrown out on Appeal, and reason would be restored. Far from it. English Law gives such little hope. The verdict was upheld, albeit with reduced sentences, inciting the media to herald the ridiculous prospect of the mass arrest of thousands of happily married couples engaged in the light bondage of nightly love-play, in this unabashed infringement of civil liberties.
Although the more immediate consequences of Operation Spanner illustrate a direct vindictiveness against harmless individuals, the implications of social control are always wide reaching and more insidious than first considered. Effectively, by legislating against all forms of SM, the controlling agencies within the state are telling us that we cannot own our own bodies, skin or blood. Under British law the imagination has been criminalised. As a result, activities which many ordinary adults (gay or heterosexual) enjoy as part of their intimate, sensual lives are now illicit. If you spank your girlfriend or boyfriend, you may in fact be a criminal, guilty of assault. Consent is no defence. Partners who consent (even thoroughly enjoy it) can be found guilty of aiding and abetting.
Alaura and Genesis P. Orridge have always advocated empowerment through artistic ritualised structures, some incorporating tattooing and body piercing. Consequently they have felt the jackboot of British law and order. Both are now fugitives in their own flesh, exiled to the United States.
In February 1992, 23 Scotland Yard detectives from the Obscene Publications Squad, armed with a search warrant and video camera, raided the P. Orridges’ Brighton home. They seized two tonnes of material from a twenty-year-old arts archive, on the pretext that a performance art video featuring the P. Orridges and described by ‘The Observer’ newspaper as “first evidence of ritual abuse,” implicated them in ritualised child abuse and serial killing. At this time, Alaura, Genesis and their daughters were organising soup kitchens in Nepal for Tibetan exiles and the beggars, street children, lepers and urchins of Kathmandu. Within weeks the allegations had been irrevocably disproved. Although they have yet to be charged with anything, the possibility that keeps them in exile is that, were they to return, their two young daughters would be forcibly removed and taken into ‘care’ pending a fuller enquiry which could last for years. The detective in charge of the raid was overheard to remark, “We must eradicate the scum who have hidden in the art world far too long. And that’s what I intend to do.”
Sgt. Mark Nurthern is another man on a mission. He visits West End bookshops twice a month “on a rota system” to enforce the Obscene Publication Act. Browsing on Charing Cross one wintry morning in 1990, he noticed one particular book covered in sealed plastic and kept in the ‘adult’ section of a bookshop. Taking the book out of the plastic, he discovered a picture of a man ”totally suspended” and noticed a number of “genitalia-piercing photographs.” The book was he extensive ‘Modern Primitives’ anthology, (‘documenting all forms of body modification and ritual adornment’) published in California by Re/Search. Infamous though it may be, ‘Modern Primitives’ is an intelligent and responsible text; it even warns against DIY piercing on page two. Despite which, Richard Waller, owner of the Book Inn, was charged under Section 2 of the Act. Found neither to deprave nor corrupt, as the Act requires for conviction, the case against the book and the bookseller was dismissed. Increasingly, the controlling agents of a democratic state are felt to be out of touch and out of control.
Superintendent Michael Hames is a bluff, resolute man in his mid-40s; a traditionalist; an advocate of family values, Mary Whitehouse, moral crusader, once described him as, “a kindred spirit in the fight against filth.” Hames has spoken at Conservative Party conference fringe meetings held by Whitehouse’s National Viewers and Listeners’ Association. Ought police officers be lobbying for more restrictive obscenity legislation? Certainly, according to Hames: “So what if I’ve spoken at fringe meetings? I’ve spoken all over the place. We deal with an issue, which is very sensitive: public morals. Are people saying I should not inform the public of what’s going on?” To these ends, the head of OPS personally oversaw the opening (March 1993) of an exhibition of extreme pornography, including paedophilic material, displayed in that den of sobriety, the House of Commons. As part of a deliberate campaign to widen the OPS remit, Hames has deliberately and inventively fed tabloid prurience.
In January 1991, the ‘Daily Mail’ ran a feature entitled, ‘Open House for the Merchants of Porn,’ extensively quoting Hames’ rather opinionated views: “It is addictive, like a drug. And the addict needs ever stronger drugs to satisfy himself.” When in 1990, the Home Office published the Cumberlatch Report – stating categorically that the causal links between pornography and sexual crimes was rather tepid, but acknowledging that there was some “correlation and association” the report was publicly criticised by both Michael Hames and Mary Whitehouse. Hames has written for a number of Sunday tabloids and has appeared twice on Channel 4’s notorious ‘Dispatches’ documentary series. In all instances, he appears to be forcing a moral agenda not necessarily shared by the population; using the media as a tool to bring both the judiciary and public opinion in line with his way of thinking; undermining the very ‘civility’ he claims to protect.
There is a message to be learned from this operation. Spanner has caused widespread resentment, with an attendant ring of support groups and concern from the wider serious media. This is not just an issue for a handful of eccentrics navigating the nocturnal shadows of the senses – it has created unease on a much wider scale; a feeling that legislative mastery has ideas above and beyond its station. This is the government that has outlawed freedom of movement (legislation against ‘New-Age Travellers’), freedom of association (legislation against ‘Acid House parties’), and now, freedom to explore our bodies as we choose. It is that simple. Only, the war against ignorance is taking shape.
The key is for all people to unite against worthless and needless censorship. Only when we truly acknowledge ourselves may we expect others to do so. One of the effects of the Spanner case has been to narrow rather than widen the safe alternatives to penetrative sex. Instead of broadening sexual choice, the prosecution has effectively criminalised an entire section of the community; real people whose activities harm no one but themselves with, until now, nothing to hide. Currently the Appeal proceeds through the maze of national law before it reaches Europe and the International Court of Human Rights. Meanwhile Liberty, the civil rights campaigning group have reported the UK to the European Commission on behalf of a further five unnamed individuals who could also be imprisoned for SM. Article 8 of the Convention on Human Rights protects an individual’s right to a private life.
If we control nothing else in this society, surely we control our own bodies. If we criminalise an area of sexual activity, which is relatively safe, where does that lead us in responding to AIDS? What kind of illiberal democracy do we live in when consensual pleasure is put in the dock and sent to prison?
The irresistible force will continue to confront the immovable object. Casualties will be inevitable, including the Spanner defendants, justice and common sense, but, says Defence Team Solicitor Angus Hamilton, “We should not have test cases to find people morally rather than criminally in the wrong.” Even the Law Commission would agree. Their ‘Offences Against the Person’ report (February 1994) recommended SM be decriminalised where participants consent. Next on the scene comes European law. In recent history the shift is inexorably towards liberality. The Spanner case – and the bigger battle – is far from over.
(written March 1994, published June 1994)
copyright reserved Desmond K. Hill