Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Cosey Fanni Tutti - Magazine Actions

Cosey Fanni Tutti (born Christine Newby, 4 November 1951, Hull, England) is a performance artist and musician best known for her time in the avant-garde groups Throbbing Gristle and Chris & Cosey.

She also had a long career as a stripper and in the fields of pornographic film and magazines, stemming from a desire to incorporate her own image into collages she produced in this period. This willingness to deliberately and consciously participate in the process of commercial image production has inspired a number of visual and performance artists, among them Joe Potts and John Duncan. Some of her performance art work has also drawn on her experience as an adult performer. She was regular performer at the Raymond Revuebar in London, England, during the early 1970s.

From 1973 to 1980, a key aspect of Cosey Fanni Tutti ‘s art practice was her participation, as a model, in the glamour and pornographic industries. As a form of ‘performance’, this work was conceived in opposition to the didactic exploration of gender politics favoured by contemporary feminism. Fanni Tutti’s success in the field enabled her to gain first-hand experience as a participant in the industry, appearing in more than 100 top shelf publications such as Fiesta and Playbirds. The Magazine Actions show the artist regularly shifting persona, appearing in one early shoot as the faux-naïve character ‘Tessa from Sunderland’, and later participating in a staged painting-and-decorating scene for Knave magazine.

A member of the performance-art group COUM Transmissions and founder member of the Industrial band Throbbing Gristle, all of Tutti’s work is rooted in a highly personal and mediated form of performance, enabling her to move from the porn and music industries to the equally reified context of the art world. In 1976, a selection of her Magazine Actions were included in the exhibition Prostitution, mounted by COUM Transmissions at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London. They provoked scandalised reactions in the national press as well as feminist journals including Spare Rib. Under pressure from the ICA and the Arts Council, the framed Magazine Actions were removed from the wall, placed in white boxes and relegated to the back room of the gallery to be viewed under supervision only. On the gallery wall where the Magazine Actions had previously hung, the artist pinned up newspaper clippings documenting the controversy.
Alison Gingeras

Compulsion Online: When and how did you get involved in modelling / stripping? Did you initially do it for money, art or personal reasons? At the time did you have any preconceptions, fears or prior knowledge of the sex industry?

Cosey Fanni Tutti: I got involved with modelling for sex magazines first because of my fascination with the sex industry and the images in the mags which I was using for collage material in my mail art. It seemed my collages would be more 'complete' and honest if the images included me in the real sex situation I was pillaging for my own art. From then on that whole art is life/life is art took a real hold because it was a different world to the art scene we were part of at the time. So I guess the reasons I entered the sex industry was for both art and personal reasons. To be perfectly honest I didn't consider the money aspect. My interest was purely in the 'doing' experience of it all. I had contact (through my mail art) with a girl in London who was already a model for sex mags and films. We nick-named her Nanny Rigby as she'd previously been a nanny. I got my contacts through her when we moved to Martello Street in Hackney.

I had no real preconceptions of what it would be like other than seedy because that was the prevalent notion of the sex industry at the time. Nanny gave me advice as to what to expect, accept and reject. Then I forged my way through the various scenes within the underground/overground sex world. I never had any fears as such, just the nervousness everyone gets when they start a new job. I was just so excited about getting the first mag with me in.

It took so long that by then I'd moved on from mail art to performance art so the initial motivation had been displaced by events. But that was fine because it didn't feel wrong. I was happy for the sex work and art to cross over as and how it did.

Maria Fusco: Can you tell me about the ordering structures you out in place for Magazine Actions, after all you must have so much material, and you’re not into methodology as such.

Cosey Fanni Tutti: I didn’t want to make any sense out of it, not my sense anyway, because the whole point of the project, was that it was what had made sense to the sex industry. I surrendered myself into that industry to be used as they use any other girl, but I didn’t let them know who I was or anything or why I was doing it, otherwise it would be pointless, because I wouldn’t be treated the same way. What I wanted to reveal was the, the thinking of the industry and how different magazines were for different markets. Like you were saying, magazines are so portable, little pocket-size, so people can potentially have them with them all the time, this gives the industry a head start. What was exciting to me, and what I wanted to show, was the differences and the different kind of varied customer-led images that the publishers wanted, even down to the certain positions, the clothing... You’d get the top end, very glamorous ones, like Men Only and Penthouse, which remove a lot of reality away, so that it becomes very much fantasy. But in a different way to the fantasy of the small pocket-size book that’s in black and white with just a couple of colour pages, more or less ‘Readers Wives’ kind of photographs, as if it was the woman next door and the reader is looking through the keyhole. If that was what they were going for, then they’d bring someone who looked like that in and put you together, to do whatever you do together, you know. So that interested me a lot, very specific.

MF: A vernacular in a way?

Absolutely, even in so much as each genre of the sex magazines had their own kind of advertisers in them, because they fed a particular readership. So you would have sports cars and expensive things in Penthouse, cheap hardcore films or like soiled pants in the more downmarket one and in the middle, it would sort of crossover in between into sort of like massage parlours... when you think about it it’s quite class based, isn’t it?

MF: Yes, yes, yes.

CFT: The language in some of those magazines was sometimes quite shocking. There was one phrase in a magazine I did some work in The Piccadilly. So the whole 80 odd pages were framed up in three frames, a real eye-opener, at the end of one of the magazines and it said ‘Does she stink?’ and then there was like an open crotch shot. To me was just like so insulting and really what they were saying, I mean it was a double meaning obviously, but what they were saying was, ‘Is she any good or is this one better, whichever one you decide we’ll put here in the magazine next month.’ But to see it, ‘Does she stink?’ it was just absolutely horrible, and it wasn’t like the lowest of the lowest genre by any means.

MF: Maybe the opposite of Linguistic Hardcore then?

CFT: Maybe. That’s the base kind of instinct they’re publishing for their readership, tells you exactly how they feel about the girls.

Kate Green: A central concern in much of your work presented in the visual context has been sexuality and the objectification of the female body. Do you find the contemporary moment more able to take on or discuss these ideas than previous decades? Has “progress,” in terms of the feminist agenda of de-objectifying the female body, been made? If it is safe to say that your performances, modeling, and stripping had transgressive and progressive agendas toward the de-objectification of the female body, do you feel these projects would impact issues of de-objectification as potently today?

Cosey Fanni Tutti: My intentions in the ‘70s were not to address feminist issues on the objectification/de-objectification of the female form or the sexual exploitation of women but to explore my own sexuality and the sex industry as part of my existing art work. As a consequence of my sex magazine and film actions and stripping I discovered first hand a great deal about the very issues feminism sought to address but it was the personal experience I wanted – how men and women interact in a sexually charged/volatile manipulated situation.

With the increase in female-run pornography businesses and Internet sites, it’s difficult to say what degree of potency (and in what sense) my projects would impact today. There is a tendency towards a view that women have more sexual freedom today than we did 30 years ago and in some regards this is true, but at the same time I’m not sure that many women actually relate to or recognize this freedom and whether what they do with it is “progress” or liberating.

De-objectifying is such a complex issue. It’s like being forced into a damage limitation exercise and a hard compromise between being non-prescriptive selves at the same time as not pampering to or fueling objectification – dressing how we want to, understanding why we want to dress that way and how we put out sexual signals. Pressure on top of pressure.


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