Cosey Fanni Tutti:'I won’t compromise my work or my life choices in order to be accepted'
Cosey Fanni Tutti is a UK-based musician and artist. She is a founding member of avant-garde band Throbbing Gristle and of electronic pioneers Chris and Cosey. As a visual and performance artist she chose to subvert her own experience of the sex industry. She has constantly challenged boundaries and created thought-provoking work over several decades. Her autobiography Art Sex Music is out now on paperback.
What made you want to write your autobiography? Did you want to correct some misconceptions about you and your work? Or was it more about celebrating and recording decades of influential work and potentially reaching a new audience?
I’d wanted to write a book about my life and work for many years but had prioritised creating rather than recording my history. Then as I got more involved with revisiting my past works for exhibitions, talks and writings, the autobiography quite naturally fell into place within the timeline of my activities.
So it wasn’t about correcting the past as I personally had nothing to correct. What happened to me, what I did, was always fact to myself and many others I’d worked with. Truth and honesty were the fundamental threads throughout the book, but as a consequence misconceptions and myth got dispelled along the way, but that was not my objective.
In the book what really stands out is your determination to just carry on, no matter what life throws at you, and your strong work ethic. You never portray yourself as a victim, even when looking at your relationship with Gen. The narrative is very matter of fact rather than falling into psychological analysis. What made you decide on that kind of tone for the book?
I had no interest in analysing someone else’s behaviour or possible psychological problems back then, or now. Trying to work that out just uses more precious energy than it deserves... that’s pretty much how I felt back then too. The book is about MY life not someone else’s. What others chose to do or how to act towards me was / is not my responsibility, or of that much interest to me.
But acknowledgement and accountability is important. When I wrote my book I stuck to the facts, had them verified by others who witnessed certain events. I never felt like a victim. I think my strength came from my having to deal with similar situations as I grew up. My father’s oppressive attitude towards me. I learnt early on that prioritising my self during particularly difficult times helped to negate the manipulation and tipped the balance of assumed power and control in my favour. I guess you could say it’s about having to manipulate the manipulator, and expending the least energy possible.
What are your thoughts on #MeToo? In your book you mention that you did not relate to the 70s feminism, which just seemed like another restrictive set of rules on how to live your life. Do you feel closer to feminism in 2018?
As for feminism... sometimes I feel we need a word other than feminism especially considering the present discussions about gender. It’s getting confusing and somewhat divisive rather than inclusive. I assume inclusivity is the objective in addition to equality. I felt that back in the 70s and would have liked to have said it’s better now. But there’s still a long way to go.
Your work in the sex industry comes across as a seamless extension of your art and an opportunity for self-discovery at the time, rather than exploitation by others (although I suppose this industry is probably very different today). Do you think we still have a long way to go when it comes to women, including in the art world, being able to express their sexuality and decide to use their own bodies in their work?
My work in the sex industry was a seamless ‘part’ of my life, as is my art. I entered it for both art reasons (as a project) and personal interest and experience. Yes self discovery is key but also my freedom of choice to do that. The sex industry is different today but of course there’s still elements of exploitation... no industry is free from that.
The use of artists’ sexuality or naked bodies in their work continues to be somewhat controversial and more judgemental towards women artists. I hate to define artists as male or female but in certain instances there remains an unspoken separation and attitude.
You have said that you hope your work will influence young artists. What do you think of the current art world?
I’ve always tended to work in annexe to the art world as a way to remain independent, keeping myself free from any expectation or rules of engagement so to speak.
I won’t compromise my work or my life choices in order to be accepted. I hope other artists take that as inspiration - to find and be themselves and use that as their source for self expression.
What you did with Throbbing Gristle had such a huge impact on the industrial and electronic music that followed. I wonder how you feel when you look at bands, like NIN for example, who turned the genre into something more mainstream and accepted that became a commercial success?
Well Throbbing Gristle founded Industrial Music as a genre in itself. It never existed before TG. Then people took that up and made it into something far from it’s original ethos. Transforming it into a more commercial and financially rewarding sound. That was never my intention. Industrial music was a way of expressing the situation of the day, personal and cultural, finding sounds that represented visceral feelings in a physical way.
Why do you think these days women don’t seem to pick up guitars, or other instruments, and start bands as much as in previous decades? Punk, Grunge, avant-garde bands, they all seemed to be a great space for women to express themselves but that momentum seems to have slowed down.
I thought there were more women picking up guitars and instruments now. Maybe it’s just a certain section of society you’re thinking of - in general some women's aspirations lean more towards being celebrated for something more superficial or a well paid career to meet the financial burden they face in present society. Taking a more artistic route can be a risk. Certainly there are women in electronic music. The problem is not that there aren’t many but that they’re not represented or recognised equal to their male counterparts - even in terms of sound engineers and studio producers. Their visibility is still a battle.
When you look back at your life so far, do you have any regrets, what would you do differently if you could?
No regrets, I’d do nothing differently. My past has brought me to where I am now and that’s a great place. I wouldn’t change it.
Who are the artists who inspire you today?
Artists who are true to themselves and express from a deep understanding of themselves their place in the world and relationship to others.
What are your current projects?
I’ve been working on a number of projects, exhibitions, remixes for other musicians and about to begin preparations for a CARTER TUTTI audio visual performance for the SPILL Festival in Ipswich on 2nd November. There are also two large projects bubbling under that I can’t mention yet as well as a number of upcoming releases, and my autobiography has been translated into Japanese and will be published this month. It’s been a very busy year and is will be next year too, always something exciting happening.