The pandrogynous icon is teaming up with artist Hazel Hill McCarthy III on a documentary to unearth the origins of the ancient Vodun religion
Genesis P-Orridge, lead singer of Throbbing Gristle, pandrogynous icon and all-out sweetheart, is collaborating with the LA-based artist Hazel Hill McCarthy III on a documentary called Bight Of The Twin, which sees the duo travel to Ouidah, Benin to unearth the origins of the mystical religion of voodoo (also known as Vodun). But if you ever want to see P-Orridge initiated into voodoo, they need your help – they've set up a Kickstarter to raise the funds to return to west Africa and finish the film.
P-Orridge and McCarthy have been co-conspirators from 2008, when they connected at a Throbbing Gristle gig and collaborated on esoteric art project Breaking Sex><X (Sigil). They travelled to Ouidah six months ago, where P-Orridge was initiated into the Twin Fetish, an ancient part of the Vodun practice that celebrates twins – a particularly emotional voyage for Genesis, who sought to reconnect with Lady Jaye, h/er soulmate and pandrogynous partner who passed away in 2007.
We spoke with Hazel to talk about the project, the emotions felt on the journey and what they learned about Vodun.
You and Gen have been collaborators for a while now. What took you both to Benin and how did you become interested in Vodun?
Hazel Hill McCarthy III: Genesis was initiated with Jaye into Yoruba (also known as Santeria) years ago; their honeymoon actually was in Haiti. For myself, having grown up in Los Angeles, Santeria was a very prevalent part of Hispanic culture so I was aware of oshuan (cowrie shell divination) at an early age. I was never a practitioner but intrigued by the practice as a small Catholic child. I guess Genesis and I have that in common. There’s a mystery behind the way you appease the deities with rituals and ceremonies. There’s an allure behind that mystery...
Is Vodun something that you've come across before, in America, or just on this journey?
Hazel Hill McCarthy III: Vodun feels very familiar. I come across it in my art practice. It’s a feeling, a rawness – an activation that embodies purpose and puts things in motion. Vodun drove me to take risks, take risks to bring a crew to Ouidah and capture something different. I went with an idea, that we would capture something raw, real and beautiful – possibly one of the last places to experience this beauty.
Was it emotional to see Genesis reconnect with Lady Jaye? It strikes me as something that could be overwhelming to watch.
Hazel Hill McCarthy III: Yes, but also loving and peaceful. There was a recognizable connection made between Genesis and Jaye through this tiny wooden statue. It felt very energized and charged during the ceremony. I think the filming reflects the rawness of being thrown into a very special intimate experience. There was anticipation and wonderment of what would happen next. At the end, the adepts who conducted the ceremony gave Genesis h/er twin, charged with Jaye’s spiritual essence, wrapped it and... It was like being at a strange birthing, like when a mother is given her child for the first time. You could see the light in Genesis’ eyes and the smile, wide across h/er face. The completion of two into one.
So did you find the origin of Vodun?
Hazel Hill McCarthy III: That’s an ongoing search, I feel. That’s one of the reasons we are going back. There was so much to take in during our first trip, too much to actually absorb in two weeks of shooting. This time, going back will give us the chance to really dig deeper and ask the questions we now know how to ask, to have a greater grasp of the Twin Fetish and to explore the recognition the Beninese people have for the abundance of twin births in Benin.
How were the people of Ouidah, Benin? Did they have any cultural practices besides the religion of voodoo that you cherish?
Hazel Hill McCarthy III: The Beninese people were amazingly non-judgemental and extremely open to helping us understand their culture. Vodun is such a part of the everyday lives of the people we were with; there was no separation between daily life and religion. We saw other religions there; besides the basilica there was a mosque. There was a wonderful moment when we were walking past the main square (where the python temple and basilica face each other) and we saw a group of school girls in white gowns with tiny angel wings waiting for their procession into the church. All of a sudden, another procession – a Vodun procession – passes by them, beating their drums and clanking their bells. There’s a calming duality.
Was there one particular moment or vision that felt like the most important of the trip?
Hazel Hill McCarthy III: The twin ceremony was the turning point of the film really. that’s where the “of course” factor that genesis talks about – the serendipitous ties that bind us all together in this fabric of life as humans - happened. It turned from being a documentary about Vodun and actually becoming Vodun and that’s really when our experience and what we captured became more dynamic.