Cosey Fanny Tutti (real name Christine Newby) has always held to me a welcoming place in my sub-consciousness – symbolising to me the ultimate playful ‘tease goddess’… crafted in the same artistic mould as Betty Page – encouraging me to indulge my pre-determined desires and have ease within my own skin. That this was not a sin, but a positive thing as a feminist. Tellingly, Newby pseudonym “Cosey Fanni Tutti” was suggested to her by mail artist Robin Klassnick, derived from the opera Così fan tutte, meaning literally “They [women] all do the same.”
I first stumbled upon Tutti’s industrial pioneering band Throbbing Gristle (evolving from the experimental performance art group COUM Transmissions) in Rough Trade back when I was a directionless, flailing fashion student searching for something musically instinctual, possessing dark female energy… which I couldn’t put my finger on, and that which was not in my direct disposal at the time, during the pre-WIFi accessible, sickeningly happy reigning NME days of Kate Nash, Lily Allen, The Ting Tings and the like.
To me this mystical creature was almost some dark magical secret only I knew about (so I thought at the time, how wrong I was of course, they’re now hipster coffee shop friendly music of choice), she represented intellectual freedom through physical experimentation and beauty through vulgar (to some), sexual gratuity.
It’s easy to forget sometimes, in this current wave of viral, headline friendly feminism — when hip models and actresses post slick essays about ‘intersectionality’ on their Instagram accounts — that attitudes haven’t always been as inclusive as “your feminism is your own.”
𝐂𝐨𝐬𝐞𝐲 𝐅𝐚𝐧𝐧𝐢 𝐓𝐮𝐭𝐭𝐢 – 𝐖𝐢𝐫𝐞𝐝
Tutti long since was the queen of titillation (way before the Kardashian’s reign of sexy selfies). The experimental mix media artist worked for two years on the ‘Prostitution’ project as part of COUM Transmissions, in which she created a revealing exhibition about the porn and sex industry. For this project, she worked as a model for sex magazines and films.
It was shown at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London in 1976. Censorship restrictions were imposed on the exhibition, and it was even debated in the Houses of Commons. The project also involved a performance and discussion events in which women working in the sex industry and the public could enter a dialogue about issues surrounding this industry and prostitution.
Tutti even displayed her used tampons and used diapers from Mary Kelly’s work (nod to Tracey Emin there). This “aroused hysterical reactions from the British media and art establishment, unable to address the political implications of the work” and eventually led to its closure.
The daring Tutti also donated her images to Black Sheep Feminism: the Art of Sexual Politics. Curated by Alison Gingeras, the exhibition also explored the works of artists Joan Semmel, Anita Steckel, Betty Tompkins, who were all pushed to the outer edges of second-wave feminism and largely ignored until recently.
Cosey Fanni Tutti was most active in the 70s, and at which time often sidelined because of the confrontational nature of her art. “One cliche of [mainstream] feminist work made at that time would be a fibre art weaving of something that looks like a vulva,” jokes curator Alison Gingeras. The erotically charged photographs of Cosey were not that. Cosey Fanni Tutti reclaimed images taken of her as a sexworker as her own art.
Cosey Fanni Tutti ironically now speaks to the post-millenial generation of women who have adopted feminism handed down to them, with ease from their mothers. Through Tutti’s experiences expressed in her art, it is illustrating, “here’s your untold history.” The current paradigm of this kind of libertine, outspoken, sex-forward agency — that happened in the 70s, and which women suffered for, paved the way for women to have the choices to behave this way, but often the valid and (still prevalent under the veneered societal surface) justifications for this too often perceived wayward behaviour goes forgotten, by today’s consensus.
I think that Tutti’s whole erotic essence is about that type of agency. This was not (and still is not) a passive woman — Tutti and her contemporaries were seeking a fight. A fight we have become de-sensitised to as a result of our too often accepted ‘armchair activism.’ Tutti was actively demanding through her own kind of Nietzschean style will to existence, the terms of the debate to the centre, as opposed to waiting for a reaction to what her and Throbbing Gristle were experimenting with at the time. But I think, too, this was just the immediate reality at the time, because women often had no visibility or carved out role beyond the household, retail or secretarial realms.
As the saying goes, you can’t keep a good horse down.. And now Tutti will be returning to public consciousness once again, with her controversial art collective COUM Transmissions. in their native Hull for a series of performances and exhibitions this year.
The experimental group, formed in Hull in the late ’60s, will be the subject of a retrospective next year including live performances from original members Genesis P-Orridge and Cosey Fanni Tutti.
Alongside panel discussions and talks, a series of club nights and gigs will be held in February and March as part of Hull’s UK City of Culture 2017 status. Across a six-week period the Humber Street Gallery will host the COUM Transmissions exhibition, gathering together footage and artefacts of the confrontational work the collective was creating after they formed in 1969. You can get a feel for the archive material the original members have unearthed via the trailer below.
𝐂𝐨𝐬𝐞𝐲 𝐅𝐚𝐧𝐧𝐢 𝐓𝐮𝐭𝐭𝐢 – 𝐖𝐢𝐫𝐞𝐝
Words by Natalie Wardle