Review: Throbbing Gristle TG24 Exhibition

Cabinet Gallery, Old Street, London

4th-7th December, 2002

 

FORMED in the late-1970s, Throbbing Gristle (TG) continues to occupy a unique and unfathomable niche on the very fringes of the experimentalist avante-garde. Between September 1975 and June 1981, group members Genesis P-Orridge, Cosey Fanni Tutti, Chris Carter and Peter Christopherson took their extreme fusion of music and art to unimaginable levels. In fact TG invented the very concept of what we know today as ‘Industrial’. The Mute label is poised to release a landmark 24-CD boxset, containing no less than twenty-four hours of live music from the band’s extraordinary repertoire. The material was first released over twenty years ago, on cassette, but this time it has been completely remastered by Chris Carter.

TG24 was a four-day exhibition held at the Cabinet Gallery, in Old Street, and was designed to coincide with this release. Six hours of music from the boxset was played at the exhibition on each of the four days, thus amounting to a grand total of twenty-four hours. At one end of Old Street there is a small statue of a dragon, complete with shield. It stands beside the main road, scowling at all those who dare to enter the border marking the entrance to the City of London. How very apt that an exhibition hosting the treasured artefacts of England’s most revolutionary and propagandistic art form was perhaps no more than a sixty-second stroll around the corner. On one side we have the massed ranks of moneylenders, insurance brokers and captains of industry and, on the other, just a few yards over the border in Islington, what Tory MP Nicholas Fairbairn once described as ‘the wreckers of civilisation’.

I arrived at the drab, six-storey building around midday, just in time for the latest six-hour session. Amusingly, and given the sexual connotations of TG’s name, a local graffiti-artist had scrawled an erect phallus on one of the porch walls. After taking the lift to the third floor, I entered the tiny makeshift gallery and began exploring the various items on show. On one of the walls I recognised the blue camouflage uniforms once worn by the group during their live performances, although they were now very faded and like something from the Imperial War Museum. Hand-written lyrics, set lists and angry manifestos lined the walls, along with the impressive TG flash logo and two glass cabinets containing a wide variety of memorabilia. There were official Industrial Records’ diaries and rubber stamps, meticulously inscribed index cards (including the home address of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis), personal correspondence, leaflets, stickers and posters. A framed photograph of Cosy Fanni Tutti appeared on one of the pillars, with the reverse side containing photographs from her personal album. These pictures included shots taken during the studio recording of TG’s ‘Heathen Earth’ album in June 1980.

The night before, TG had staged a private party at which the members of the band met for the first time in twenty years. The TG24 exhibition was very minimalist and self-contained, but certainly worth the trip. It remains to be seen what kind of reaction will be generated by the release of the box set. Further information can be obtained from http://www.mute.com/tg and for those interested in the history of the band, I heartily recommend Simon Ford’s excellent Wreckers of Civilisation: The Story of Coum Transmissions & Throbbing Gristle (Black Dog Publications, 1999).

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