Cosey Fanni Tutti
Photo by Chris Carter

Cosey Fanni Tutti: “It’s like a metamorphosis”

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Short Profile

Name: Christine Carol Newby
DOB: 4 November 1951
Place of birth: Hull, Yorkshire, England
Occupation: Musician, artist

Cosey Fanni Tutti's new album Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and Legendary Tapes is out on 16 September 2022 via Conspiracy International.

Ms. Tutti, you’ve dedicated your career to pushing the boundaries of art and music. Would you consider yourself a trailblazer?

No, I've always been called a troublemaker! (Laughs) So it's just retrospectively isn't it? You can only come up with that expression when people have seen what you've done and been inspired to do something themselves. And that's what I like to think of, rather than compliments or being defined as something. You have this voice, you make it heard, and thankfully, other people are then inspired to do the same thing.

Have you always had that kind of belief in your own voice?

It's a conviction of accepting your right to do what you want to do. It pushes you forward. It's very difficult to describe because I've always been like this, ever since I was a child, I've never done as I was told, I've always followed some path that will allow me to dodge the rules a little bit, to enable me to do what I need to do. And as you get older, you have all that experience and that's really valuable because it informs the work you're doing and your energy. And that's very powerful, that’s what drives you forward.

“The art has to appear to me, the feeling, the emotion has to be there for me to actually manifest something...”

You once said that throughout your career, you’ve been inspired by people who had strong conviction in themselves, and that that informed your music and helped you on your path. Can you give me an example?

Sure, one of those people was the sound artist Delia Derbyshire. I knew about her struggles at the BBC, and some of her personal life, and it kind of echoed what I had gone through as a as a female artist. That inspired me. I discovered how innovative she was with her approach to music and her process, and then as I learned more about her when I was invited to work on a film about her called Delia Derbyshire: The Myths and Legendary Tapes, and I was given access to her archive tapes… It just spoke to me. I locked into her as a person, and how her emotions and her lifestyle impacted her work. And that's what made me want to write about her, both in my book Re-Sisters and for my new album. But most of the things that bring works into being for me kind of happen over time.

What do you mean by that?

It’s like a metamorphosis, really. That's how I like things to happen. So everything that happens in my life has some influence on what happens later on — or it can be years before. And then suddenly, something comes through and connects. So I'm just accessing things and something sparks and I create something from that. The art has to appear to me, the feeling, the emotion has to be there for me to actually manifest something, and it can come just out of the blue, sometimes slowly and other times so quickly, you’ll almost feel like, “Surely, it's not that simple,” but it actually is, it’s perfect. You just know that moment when it's complete. It's a strange feeling.

In your book Re-Sisters, you wrote that as a creator, whatever you do, you have to do it to excess, to explore to the very edges, to step into the unknown.

Yeah, I'm pushing past, into uncomfortable places. I think that’s why you find the golden nuggets of things to be honest, and then you bring them into into your life in a different way, and express them.

Is that how you famously ended up posing for adult images in order to include them in your artworks?

(Laughs) I'm working with myself to create. And sometimes that means working with uncomfortable things or issues; I found out what was the smell of the room, the touch of the bedsheets, the way people speak to you to get what they want for the photographs… All those things are really interesting to me. I wanted to know how their art was created, so the only way to do that is to be part of it. And also, it was a huge thing for my sexuality! I came from a generation where we were expected wait until we were married. But my mum and dad were quite open about it.

So you were curious?

I very curious, I wanted to get out there! But at the same time, I was still very nervous when I got on set because I'm entering a place I'd never been before that has its own ground rules and its own formulas. And I didn't know any of them.

How did you push through that fear? Does it come back to this idea of having conviction in your own ideas?

I felt passionate about the fact that I wanted to have new experiences. And when I've come up against something that I really wasn't sure about doing… I simply had to think to myself, “Why do I not want to do this?” And go from there. It was like that with my art collective, COUM, as well as Throbbing Gristle: it was democracy, and if someone didn't want to do something or didn't like it, that didn't work, that's not going to do.

“I try not to think about anything to do with compliments or acceptance. I mean, where do you get power from when people are constantly being complimentary?”

And what about when your art or your music was criticized as too provocative or too eccentric? Did that also make you stop and question things?

Oh, no, I loved not being orthodox in my approach to music, not writing music exactly, not going by a script. I like to take whatever equipment we got in the studio and use it for unintended purposes. I remember playing this music festival with COUM where we used contact microphones and our actions became the soundtrack to the piece… We were improvising noises, and the action sort of became the art. It was really strange! But I think that's far more interesting for me, taking sound to a different place. So, ironically, I think the fact that it was criticized fueled me on. I thought, “Oh, I've hit a nerve here.”

But then at one point, something shifted and your art started becoming more accepted in the mainstream — you even exhibited with artists like Marina Abramović and Gilbert & George. Was that a surprise?

Well, I knew Marina and Gilbert & George from the seventies, but I never aligned myself with established artists like that. I always felt like I was independent and separate, even though maybe I was on a parallel path to them. And I didn't need the institutions to say that I was an artist. I didn't need anyone to say I was an artist, I was just going to just do my thing. And my work fit in to those exhibitions I was shown in, so it’s just where it finds its place, you know?

Did it change anything in terms of your approach?

No, I try not to think about anything to do with compliments or acceptance. I think once you get into that, there's a danger of thinking, “Right, that's what they like, I must continue to do that.” I think that that creates an inner strength and power in you. I mean, where do you get power from when people are constantly being complimentary?