Sunday, 22 May 2011


Mark Hogancamp was brutally attacked by five men outside a bar in Kingston, New York in April, 2000.
He was in a coma for nine days and spent a total of forty days in hospital following the attack which left him with brain damage, including memory loss, and severe physical injuries.
Having been discharged from hospital Mark received counselling to help him overcome the trauma of the incident and begin to piece together his memories of his life and physical therapy to try and repair the effect of the attack on his motor skills which had become significantly impaired.
Before the attack Mark had been a carpenter and the loss of his ability to manipulate tools and materials, coupled with the terror he felt at the idea of interacting with the world, meant that his personal life and career were left in tatters following the incident.
As part of his therapy he was encouraged to keep a journal to chart his emotional journey and help him to reassemble his recollections of his life before the attack.
Mark made good progress in his physical therapy and counselling but still struggled with many elements of everyday life. His relationships with people around him were affected by the psychological damage he had suffered and he was still unable to work due to his ongoing physical recovery.
Then the money ran out...
Without health insurance or an income to pay his medical bills Mark was unable to continue with his therapy sessions. He feared his recovery would come to a standstill without professional support but recorded his solution in his therapy journal.
He wrote:

'I need to create my own therapies...'

He began to work with model kits to improve his motor skills and found himself drawn to material from the Second World War. He found a doll that he liked, a model of a Captain in the U.S. Army and decided to name him Captain Mark Hogancamp.
Mark had met two women after leaving the hospital who had been particularly kind to him, his neighbour Colleen and Wendy, a colleague at a bar Mark had found work at.
Mark found dolls to represent the two women and had them join Captain Hogancamp in the town he had began to build in his back garden.
Drawing on his work as a carpenter before the attack Mark began to construct buildings for the dolls to live in.
Collen had always loved the idea of a florists in town called 'Pocket Full o' Posies' which had closed down. Mark built a replica in the town in his garden for Colleen the doll to live in and built a restaurant called 'Wendy Lee's Kitchen' for the Wendy doll to live in. For his own doll he built 'The Ruined Stocking' a bar and catfight club and with that the town began to grow.
Mark added more characters with dolls based on friends, family and co-workers and gave them all places to live and work. He decided the town would be based in Belgium during the Second World War and that Captain Mark Hogancamp had crashed his plane there while flying back from a mission to China.
With the population and infrastructure in place the town just lacked one thing.
A name.
Using the inspiration of it's first three residents Mark decided to combine the names 'Mark', 'Wendy' and 'Colleen' and named the town 'Marwencol'.
While undoubtedly useful as physical therapy, the construction of the town and manipulation of the dolls and accessories forming a system of physiotherapy that improved his motor skills significantly, the work hadn't yet began to address the mental trauma of the attack apart from allowing him to create a safe haven for his characters and a world he could control entirely.
This all changed with the arrival of the SS...
Mark decided that an SS platoon would find the town and attempt to destroy it.
They targeted Captain Hogancamp as the leader of the town, captured him and kept him as a prisoner in the town's church.
Captain Hogancamp was tortured by his captors and left with a scar down the right side of his face, the same side that Mark had received his most severe damage during his actual attack outside the bar.
It appeared as if Captain Hogancamp was doomed. The men of the town had either fled or been killed when the SS attacked and he was tied up and helpless.
Then the women of the town arrived...
Lead by 'Anna', a doll representing Mark's ex-wife, they descended on the church armed to the teeth, slaughtered the SS and saved Captain Hogancamp.
For Mark this proved that Anna loved Captain Hogancamp and he had them marry shortly after. They were wed in the town square with the bodies of the SS hanging behind them as a grotesque backdrop.
Anna insisted apparently...
The marriage infuriated 'Deja Thoris', a time-travelling Belgian witch who had fallen in love with Captain Hogancamp 2,700 years previously and had travelled through time to be with him.
Despite this, when another SS platoon arrived in Marwecol on a revenge mission and killed Captain Hogancamp and Anna, Deja was able to put her feelings to one side and used her magic to restore the Captain and Anna to life.
As Mark put it:

'With Anna to protect him and Deja able to resurrect him the SS had to accept that they could never hurt Captain Hogancamp...'

Mark began to photograph the story of the town, eventually exhibiting them in New York City, winning some competitions and publishing a book.
Although Marwencol has transformed Mark Hogancamp into a respected artist it would seem that it's most valuable role was as a haven for Captain Hogancamp, a character that can endure physical and mental traumas that would devastate most people and someone who has found a love that allows him to even cheat death...

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Genesis and Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge: A Pandrogenous Pairing

Neil Megson was born in Manchester in 1950 but became famous as Genesis P-Orridge, a performer with controversial groups such as Psychic TV, Throbbing Gristle and COUM, the artists collective behind the notorious 'Prostitution' show presented at the ICA in 1976.
'Prostitution' shocked even London's arts community with its line up of strippers, prostitutes and transvestite guards. Work presenting used tampons, rusty knives and syringes was enough to see questions asked in Parliament as to whether government money should subsidise such exhibitions and the organisers described by a Conservative MP as 'wreckers of civilisation'.
The controversy lead to extensive newspaper coverage which was soon cut up into collages and formed new pieces in the show.
This in turn caused more coverage and before too long the show featured collages of cut up articles about collages of cut up articles...
Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV were musical projects where P-Orridge would explore his fascination with subjects such as pornography, murder and the Occult with Throbbing Gristle forming in 1975 and Psychic TV forming in 1981 and P-Orridge only announcing his formal retirement from musical performance in 2009.
In 1993 P-Orridge met the woman who would become his second wife.
Lady Jaye had been born Jacqeline Breyer but took the married name Lady Jaye Breyer P-Orridge when the pair were wed while he became Genesis Breyer P-Orridge.
This entwining of the couple's names was just the start of the blurring of their identities...
From early on in their relationship they dressed very similarly and soon came to the decision that they would dress identically. They made it a rule that if either of them bought any new clothes they would have to buy two of the same item to make sure that they could both wear the outfit.
Genesis Breyer P-Orridge suffered severe injuries escaping from a fire at producer Rick Rubin's house in 1995 and was awarded $1.5 million in damages against Rubin and his record company as a result.
The Breyer P-Orridges decided to use this money to fund their next project, the natural culmination of the gradual meshing of their identities that had began through their renaming and identical dressing.
They would undertake reconstructive surgeries to attempt to become identical.
However, rather than using one as the template with the other attempting to match them they decided that they would form a pair with the aim being to form a single 'pandrogenous' being. Neither was to undergo a 'sex change'.
They would meet in the middle...
Lady Jaye had twelve separate surgical procedures on her face while Genesis had fourteen. They both had breast implants on Valentines Day 2003 giving them identical bust sizes and Genesis had two beauty spots tattooed onto his face to replicate the pair that Lady Jaye enjoyed naturally.
A key part of the arrangement was that neither should have anything removed. It was designed as a creative process rather than destructive.
Lady Jaye explained:

'If I could have a penis attached I would do it tomorrow, but for him to lose any part of the body that could give pleasure, that's not the idea...'

Lady Jaye died in 2007 from an undiagnosed heart condition.
The project ended there but its legacy lives on in the physical form of Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, a man who loved his wife so much he wanted to become her and a man loved so much that his wife wanted to become him.
But it was never going to be as easy as one of them becoming the other.
Instead they both became each other...

Sunday, 8 May 2011

George Psalmanazar: London's First Formosan

In 1702 the Reverend William Innes, an army chaplain, returned from Holland to London bringing with him a fantastic companion who would soon fascinate the city.
That companion was George Psalmanazar, a native of Formosa, an island off the coast of Japan now known as Taiwan.
Innes had met Psalmanazar in Holland where the Formosan had been abandoned having been abducted by Jesuit misssionaries in his own land.
Having baptized him and giving him his new name of George Psalmanazar, a name echoing that of Shalmanasar, a King of Assyria who is recorded in the Bible as having exiled the legendary Ten Tribes of Israel and the conquered people of Samaria, Innes decided to bring his prize back to London to be presented to his Protestant superiors as a heathen convert and, more importantly, a victim of Jesuit terror.
Innes introduced Psalmanazar to Henry Compton, the Bishop of London but word soon spread among the society of the city of the bizarre habits of this new, exotic visitor.
Psalmanazar would eat heavily spiced raw meat, explaining to curious observers that cannibalism was common in Formosa, particularly the consumption of adulterous wives, and that he had become accustomed to food prepared in this manner.
He performed various religious ceremonies based around the worship of the Sun and the Moon and centred around the Formosan calender, slept upright in a chair in the Formosan tradition and began, at the request of Bishop Compton, to translate the catechism into Formosan.
Eventually Psalmanazar bowed to public pressure and produced a book, 'An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa', that outlined Formosan society for the curious. His summary contained all the colourful details that his audience demanded.
The capital of Formosa was a prosperous city called Xternetsa where polygamy was common as there was a shortage of men due to the demands of the native priests for the sacrifice of up to 18,000 boys a year to appease local gods. Men walked naked but for a silver or gold codpiece that covered their genitals, their diet consisted mostly of serpents hunted with branches and murderers were executed by being hung upside down and shot with arrows.
Many people had their doubts about Psalmanazar and Edmond Halley, fellow of the Royal Society and discoverer of the eponymous comet, challenged him to a debate on Formosan society. Halley questioned Psalmanazar's own complexion which was very fair with blonde hair, unlike any of the other people from the region that had made their way to London. Psalmanazar explained that many Formosans lived underground to avoid the fierce heat of the Sun. He managed to deflect Halley's other questions about Formosa by asking how an Englishman in Formosa would prove he was English to the natives there given how little the two societies knew of one another.
This was the key point in Psalmanazar's appeal. People were eager to learn of exotic locations far away and Formosa was about as far away from London as you could get.
This also meant it was impossible to verify any of Psalmanazar's claims.
Those who did were decried as Jesuits which, given the religious and political climate of Protestant English society of the time, meant they were ignored or shouted down.
Eventually Psalmanazar was invited to study and lecture at Christ Church, Oxford where he fascinated his peers by lecturing with a python wrapped around his neck claiming it was a Formosan technique for keeping cool and studying through the night.
Innes and Psalmanazar parted acrimoniously with the chaplain eventually going to Portugal and leaving his protege in London.
Psalmanazar developed an addiction to opium and found his finances affected by a string of bad investments.
More importantly, people began appearing in London who had visited Formosa and their description of the island was very different to Psalmanazar's.
Initially Psalmanazar would defend himself and claim regional differences of culture for the confusion but eventually the evidence began to accumulate.
In 1706 George Psalmanazar made it known to London society that he was not Formosan and had never even visited the country.
In fact, he had never left Europe.
Born in France in his mother sent him away aged 16 to find his father in Germany.
He set off but soon ran out of food and money and decided upon an imposture to aid his journey. He stole a cloak and staff from the reliquary of a church and began to beg for alms claiming to be an Irish pilgrim. He soon realised that people were familiar enough with Irish culture to be able to make out his deception fairly easily so he set his sights a bit further afield and began to claim to be Japanese.
This worked reasonably well until he met Reverend William Innes who was doubtful about the young man's claims to Japanese ancestry. Despite knowing no Japanese, Innes asked him to translate an extract from Cicero into Japanese for him.
The young man, knowing Innes knew no Japanese, did so happily and produced a page of nonsense for the chaplain. But Innes had anticipated this and simply took the translation and handed back the extract and asked him to do just one more thing.
Translate the same extract again.
The imposter lost his nerve and admitted his deception to Innes, begging not to be revealed.
Innes looked the man who would become George Psalmanazar square in the eye and simply said:

'We'll have to be more careful from now on...'

They worked together to develop his new Formosan persona with Innes deciding that this nationality would be obscure enough to be able to avoid detection in London.
Once he was unmasked Psalmanazar threw himself on the mercy of London society.
Most people were unconcerned, the craze for Formosa having long passed.
More importantly Psalmanazar could count among his friends the famed lexicographer Samuel Johnson who admired the imposter's contrition and made himself the chief protector of the fraudulent Formosan.
A man given to plain speaking and not afraid to be among the harshest of critics, Johnson said of Psalmanazar:

'He was the best man I knew. His piety, penitence and virtue exceeded almost what we read as wonderful even in the lives of the saints. I should as soon thought of contradicting a bishop.'

Of course, if that Bishop is Henry Compton and he's waving around a copy of his Formosan catechism, perhaps a spot of contradiction wouldn't be out of place...

Sunday, 1 May 2011

Jandek: A representative from Corwood Industries

Jandek appeared live for the first time at an obscure music festival in Glasgow, Scotland in 2004.
This, on the surface, is unremarkable.
Doubtlessly other bands on the bill were making their live debuts but it is unlikely that any other band playing that show, or indeed any other, would be playing live for the first time having already released 34 albums with the first being recorded 26 years previously.
That debut record, 'Ready for the House', set the template for the majority of the early Jandek recordings, featuring a man singing on his own accompanied by an open-tuned acoustic or electric guitar.
The final track 'European Jewel (Incomplete)' cuts off halfway through a line of the song and the album ends there.
Since then Jandek has recorded 67 albums and has released at least one a year since 1981.
However, for many, Jandek's output is a triumph of quantity over quality.
Music writer Richie Unterberger has described it as:

'...slightly demented stream-of-consciousness rambling and guitar playing which rarely strays from set notes and chords, none of which pick out anything close to a melody. His voice can range from a hushed whisper to a Janovian primal scream; unsettlingly, he hardly ever mines the wide territory between those two extremes.
Sometimes that guitar is acoustic, like a deathbed Neil Young; sometimes he sounds like a 13-year-old who's just got his first electric for his Bar Mitzvah...'

Although it has never been confirmed, it is widely accepted that Jandek is Sterling R. Smith, a mysterious figure from Houston, Texas.
Jandek's records are released through a company called Corwood Industries which has no address but instead operates from a post office box in Houston.
Cheques written to Corwood Industries are endorsed by Smith and he is listed as the copyright owner for the Jandek recordings in the Library of Congress.
The contact telephone number for Corwood Industries in the Houston area phone book is also identical to a number for 'Sterling Smith Corporation', a stocks and securities broker.
The hostile response to the debut album seems to have been unanticipated by Corwood Industries. They had pressed a thousand copies of 'Ready for the House' and managed to sell two.
Any enquiries to the post office box from journalists or record stores would see them being delivered boxes with up to fifty copies of the album to be given away in an attempt by Corwood Industries to spread the word.
Smilarly, any enquiries from curious music fans over the following years would see them sent a catalogue of Jandek's prolific output and the opportunity to order 25 LPs for $25 or 20 CDs for $80.
Smith's desire to remain in control of the production and distribution of his material may be a result of his rejection by publishers for seven novels he had submitted to them as a young man.
Eventually he gave up on his dream of being a published writer and burned the manuscripts. He said of their eventual fate:

'Of course, we took the printed matter to the countryside for an unfettered, proper cremation. Stirred the ashes into the ground. The dirt was hungry...'

Smith has never admitted to being the man behind Jandek and for appearances at gigs the man performing the songs is never named as Smith or Jandek but is referred to as 'a representative from Corwood Industries'.
The one interview given on behalf of Corwood Industries was to journalist Katy Vine in 1999.
The man she spoke to was not prepared to confirm that he was Sterling Smith or Jandek, refused to be recorded or photographed and declared that he was unwilling to discuss music but would happily talk about food, gardening or allergies.
However, after discussing a North Texas town where the residents have no cavities in their teeth, he was drawn onto the subject of Jandek.
He revealed that he enjoyed a critic's description of the music as 'pentantic, refractive dissonance' and described the photos on the covers of Jandek records as 'the pictures that the photo lab gives you a refund on'.
When Vine asked if he felt people would get what he was trying to do the representatives reply was succinct:

'There's nothing to get'

Other requests for information from Corwood Industries are similarly vague and usually put the onus back on the questioner. One attempt to ask for the story of Jandek received this response:

The story must be crafted from what you have or know from the music. We cannot provide interviews or other exchanges of information outside of the releases at present. It's probable that your crafted story would be more interesting than any other. Intrigue goes a long way sometimes.

Please stay in touch.
Your friends at Corwood