“My life is my art,” says Cosey Fanni Tutti. On the flip side, “My art is my life.”
When the two are so completely intertwined, it can be hard to distinguish them for analytical or critical purposes. Is it an invasion to look at pictures of Cosey unrobed in adult publications or an act of aesthetic appreciation? Was Cosey engaged in deception of the publishing sector when she posed akimbo with chains, or was she deluding herself by thinking that she was different from the girls in the next photo essays?
It doesn’t matter, really. In the end, her art is her art and her life is her life; and, whatever one might think about them, those choices were hers to make. Both art and life are vulnerable to judgement, when opened for examination, but the fellow-traveller of publicity is the audience’s complicity. No one makes you look, so don’t complain if you don’t like your reaction to what you see.
Cosey Fanni Tutti, the artist, was born into the age of the postcard, rather than fiber-optic broadband. Together with Genesis P-Orridge, with whom she was a part of the COUM art collective, she sought ways to subvert conventions and mores using the available technology of the 1970s. Initially, that meant skin, bodily fluids and the post; with time, it grew into electronic instruments. The development of the latter drew in the graphic artist Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson and Chris Carter, with whom she and P-Orridge formed the legendary Throbbing Gristle.
The musical history of Throbbing Gristle has been told and re-told by its participants, but Cosey’s Art, Sex, Music (Faber) reveals just how complex and emotionally charged the personal relationships between its members were. As the sole female member of the group, Cosey spent time in bed with each of her bandmates, separately or together (though, in Sleazy’s case, it must be said, in the interests of an anatomy lesson). This fueled tensions that eventually pulled the band apart: P-Orridge, who initially encouraged group escapades, grew to resent Cosey’s independence and used violence to show his feelings; while Cosey and Carter sought relief from P-Orridge’s tantrums in each other.
The story of P-Orridge’s emotional wrecking doesn’t end with the break-up of TG. Attempts to re-form and tour or record are consistently upset by P-Orridge, who transitions to an intermediate state between divo and diva. Solicitors are paid to write letters. Intellectual property rights are asserted. At one point, all of P-Orridge’s contributions to a Nico cover album are stripped out. In light of Cosey’s revelations about the singer’s controlling and bullying behaviour, none of this comes as a surprise, though followers of P-Orridge’s pseudo-cult, Thee Temple ov Psychick Youth, might struggle to accept it.
Art, Sex, Music isn’t a tell-all story. There is still more that could be said about Chris & Cosey as an artistic project, and it seems P-Orridge might have gotten off lightly. However, as a survey of a life in music and performance art, with excursions into the world of sex work, the book is accessible, well-structured and provides ample new information for fans and researchers to absorb. Written with dark humour, Art, Sex, Music illuminates the spaces other TG biographies can’t reach.