Cosey Fanni Tutti - Time To Tell
career that has seen Cosey Fanni Tutti being one-quarter of the
highly influential (non) music group Throbbing Gristle, to
representing the UK in various art exhibitions, and to even
seeing herself emblazoned over the front pages of the UK tabloids
for the Coum Transmissions exhibition, Prostitution.
Throughout these years and during the formative stages of Chris &
Cosey, the musical outlet she formed (with Chris Carter) after
Throbbing Gristle's acrimonious split, Cosey Fanni Tutti carved
out an alternative career within the sex industry. Time To
Tell documents this period of her life, a time regarded by
Cosey as a voyage of discovery. Her initial step into the sex
industry was to garner pure images of herself for mail art
collages. Modeling for soft / hard core magazines lead to strip
tease, stag nights, and porn films - even starring alongside 70s
porn queen Mary Millington. Each level of the sex industry
provided uncharted territories and posed new challenges. It's
refreshing to find no real theory or strategy in Cosey's work
beyond the desire to experience new and different challenges.
Even her subsequent art actions, such as Pussy Got The Cream,
which she was producing at the time, didn't impose
interpretations on the audience.
Cosey Fanni Tutti - Electronic Ambient Remixes
Time To Tell features music specifically composed to work
in unison with Cosey's performance art work. It ranges from the
soft, languid tones of 'The Secret Touch', featuring slow
sensual movements in an almost aquatic like fashion. A constant
analogue electronic pulse reminiscent of Throbbing Gristle forms
the basis of the title track over which Cosey relates her
experiences of modeling, dancing and art performance. Her
soothing voice shifting between channels, from foreground to
background, and, at times, frustratingly, in a voice that's just
out of focus. Even 'Ritual Awakening' is a sensual portrait
with a sense of human frailty. Time To Tell is like an
intimate snapshot of one chapter of Cosey's life.
Interestingly in 1982 when Time To Tell was first issued
(via Ian Dobson's Flowmotion cassette label), Cosey Fanni Tutti
was still involved in the sex industry as a striptease artist.
After several failed attempts by other labels in 1988 Conspiracy
International reissued Time To Tell. Various editions
exist: one including a set of 26 postcards, and an even rarer
edition featuring a signed print. The fact that they now - if you
can find one - command exorbitant prices on internet auction
sites prompted Cosey to reissue Time To Tell in a standard
non-limited edition, augmented by a previously unreleased
collaboration with artist John Lacey. With the passing of time,
Time To Tell has become an important document, as together
with the extensive booklet, it provides Cosey's initial
reassessment of her lifework.
Like her own work Time To Tell has been a continuum, an
ongoing work in progress, remixed, extended and in many respects
the issue of EAR2 is another chapter. EAR 2 features
various sound manipulations drawn from Time To Tell and
"significant events from (Cosey's) personal life, art actions,
musical compositions and personal statements". Deep ambient sound
pieces and barely audible voices surface providing a
particlulary fine slice of electronica.
Last year an article in UK broadsheet The Independent posed the
question: Cosey Fanni Tutti - where is she now? Simple research
would have shown that in the past year Cosey had been exhibiting
work in Barcelona, London, and New York. As Chris & Cosey she
performed live at the Union Chapel, London. Currently, Cosey is
starting work on the new Chris & Cosey album. In fact, she's
never been away at all.
What follows is Cosey's response to the compulsiononline
questions derived and pertaining to Time To Tell and
specific to her experience in the sex industry. Special thanks to
Cosey Fanni Tutti for taking the time.
i) When and how did you get involved in modelling / stripping?
Did you initially do it for money, art or personal reasons? At
the time did you have any preconceptions, fears or prior
knowledge of the sex industry?
I got involved with modelling for sex magazines first because of
my fascination with the sex industry and the images in the mags
which I was using for collage material in my mail art. It seemed
my collages would be more 'complete' and honest if the images
included me in the real sex situation I was pillaging for my own
art. From then on that whole art is life/life is art took a real
hold because it was a different world to the art scene we were
part of at the time. So I guess the reasons I entered the sex
industry was for both art and personal reasons. To be perfectly
honest I didn't consider the money aspect. My interest was purely
in the 'doing' experience of it all. I had contact (through my
mail art) with a girl in London who was already a model for sex
mags and films. We nicknamed her Nanny Rigby as she'd previously
been a nanny. I got my contacts through her when we moved to
Martello Street in Hackney.
I had no real preconceptions of what it would be like other than
seedy because that was the prevalent notion of the sex industry
at the time. Nanny gave me advice as to what to expect, accept
and reject. Then I forged my way through the various scenes
within the underground/overground sex world. I never had any
fears as such, just the nervousness everyone gets when they start
a new job. I was just so excited about getting the first mag with
It took so long that by then I'd moved on from mail art to
performance art so the initial motivation had been displaced by
events. But that was fine because it didn't feel wrong. I was
happy for the sex work and art to cross over as and how it
I had a very different introduction to striptease. Inevitable
really when I put together the links of the chain involved. I had
met a couple when doing magazine and soft core work. She also did
striptease and we talked about it, I went to see her act and got
interested in the very different world of stripping. Later I met
Lynn and her boyfriend who wrote for Forum and their own
books. Lynn did striptease in pubs as opposed to stag nights. I
saw another side to stripping that also appealed to me so I
auditioned for the Gemini stripping agency. That was nerve
racking! I had to do two topless dances on the stage of the
Chelsea Drug Store in the Kings Road. Anyway I got the job. This
was 1977 as I remember, post ICA.
ii) In the Time To Tell booklet you mention that stripping was
the most satisfying, as striptease featured your own personality
and allowed a degree of artistic freedom. Which out of -
modelling, striptease, topless dancing, porn films, stag nights -
was the least satisfying, and why? Which was the most
exploitative for the female and for the male punter?
Without a doubt the least satisfying was the stag nights. I think
you need to be in the position of the stripper to appreciate
fully what it is to be the focus of such baseness. On occasions
even the DJs, compares and comedians derided the girls. The worst
were the police stag night gigs. In fact most of the girls would
try and avoid doing them. I would say stag nights were dangerous
even if we never openly said that to one another, it was an
unwritten code that we never left one another alone at any time
and we left the venue together. I have remained in the room while
the other girl/s provided 'extra services' and maintained some
sort of order as the men wait their turn. Such are the scenes
behind the scene.
I was lucky that I'd done soft and hard core films because it was
a safer environment in which to take of the experiences that I
did. There's a difference between being paid to have sex for a
film and between the sex for sale involved in the stripping world
which was more like prostitution. Your choices and options are
limited to the demands of the 'client'. In the film and magazine
work I learnt how to do what I wanted, even if it was from a
previous bad experience. I wasn't forced to repeat it. That
brings me neatly to your next question.
The issue of exploitation in the sex industry over all would take
me forever to discuss properly because I think it's very complex.
When I was working it was women who were the most exploited, but
things have changed somewhat since then. I absolutely detest the
word 'punter'. I can't tell you. It makes me gnash my teeth. It's
so unreasonably derogatory.
iii) Knowing it was a personal investigation, did that provide
a barrier so that you could say no, or at least suggest
alternative options, whereas other girls who worked solely for
the money perhaps found it harder to say no and under the
circumstances were more accepting? How did it make you feel
seeing girls being coerced into acts or working with girls that
seemed to lack any self worth? How did you deal with that? Was
there a sense of camaraderie between the girls?
I obviously had a different attitude and approach to the
stripping and modelling than the other girls. That was bound to
be because I went into it with a defined and very different
agenda to them. I can't think of any one girl who wasn't
motivated by the money first and foremost. Admittedly as time
went on they got dependent on the attention too. I think the
girls who worked solely for the money were more accepting and
some had a very practical attitude to what they had to do. Maggie
would say she never paid any bills that could be paid in kind,
even the fitted wardrobes in her bedroom. When one of the girls
got her house safe robbed, she referred to the loss in terms of
the number of blow jobs it represented, and how she'd have to do
them all again.
I thought that epitomised the difference between me and her as
strippers. There were about 6 hard core girls with my stripping
agency and each of them would request that I be the second girl
for a stag night purely because I never did hard core with the
guys, only lesbian acts with the other stripper. That way they
could earn BIG money and they could take centre stage as the blue
act. In the end I got request bookings for stag nights on the
grounds that they wanted a 'class' act. How ironic is that? To
refuse to play the game gains you status (of some kind) with both
the guys and girls. So yeah, I suppose my motive for being there
gave me options that paid off.
There was great camaraderie between the girls in stripping and
modelling. I guess it stemmed from an unconscious feeling of
vulnerability and willing yet unwilling subordination. If you
stick together you don't feel quite so bad about doing something
that not only doesn't feel right but also fuels the fantasy of
someone you wouldn't normally give the time of day. But we all
talked about it and had a great laugh at the guys expense
sometimes. Is that bad too? It was another defence
There was an instance during a stag night when a girl really
didn't want to do any extra sex services. She was almost crying.
There were 4 girls there including myself and the other 2 girls
were writing up a 'shopping list' of who would give what to which
guys. I just told her she could actually make the decision to say
no, she had a choice like me. She refused and never did it again.
In fact we would work together and do lesbian acts instead. A
similar situation arose during a couple of hard core films
actually. It's weird watching it all because I empathise with the
girl yet I see the film director coercing her, her looking around
for support or help. In those situations I and some girls would
work out a compromise as to what we wanted to to to and with each
other or the guys and present it in such a way that the director
was happy to swap his request for what we wanted to do.
I have worked with girls (and a transexual) who had no self worth
at all. It becomes a self preservation situation at times because
their attitude can be falsely taken as yours too, so I would
often distance myself from them. In some of the London pubs it
was really dangerous for girls like that because there were guys
who would (and did) take full advantage. Some girls you could
approach and steer them away from such destructive actions and we
always tried. It was accepted that we all had trouble dealing
with what we did and we supported one another in different ways.
Them against us, even us against our own agency and some of the
other girls too.
It was a strange thing coming home to someone after all that has
happened and they don't have a clue about what you have had to do
to survive. The drives home late at night helped me assimilate
things but the cocoon of 'home' was so welcome at times as was the
fact that it was totally separate. I was lucky I had that, some
of the girls didn't. They worked 7 days and 7 nights a
iv) I understand you ceased your activities in the sex
industry in 1984, after ten years or so. That's a long time. When
did it cease to be an investigation and actually become
enjoyable? Why did you decide to stop? What did your explorations
in the sex industry teach you about yourself?
I decided to stop because I had my son in 1982 and we had moved
out of London to give him a childhood in the country. Besides
those personal and practical reasons, there was my music and art.
People at the pubs and stag nights began recognising me and
booking me as 'Cosey' (I was called Scarlet). For different
reasons it began to feel uncomfortable.
At that time I was a three way personality, Cosey Fanni Tutti,
Scarlet and mother. The time had come when I needed to be just
Cosey and whatever that represented. I had exhausted the intial
reason for entering the sex industry and I asked myself why I was
continuing. If it was the money only then it was time to leave
before I got totally dependent on it. I needed to refocus my
energies on personal relationships, my music and art. Also I felt
uneasy about my dear innocent child and how what I had done would
affect him as an adult male. This came from my knowledge of some
men's attitude to women who stripped or modelled for mags and
films. Or maybe from a feeling that I was contaminating someone
precious to me. Psychoanalyse that one! It's the reason I stopped
stripping as soon as I knew I was pregnant.
I'm still trying to figure out what I learnt about myself from
all my exploits. I learnt something really obvious but something
I think we tend to overlook. That is, to please someone else is
not always the right thing for myself and when I do something
that I feel uncomfortable with it can be a valuable experience in
terms of it being an acknowledgement that the uncomfortable
feeling was justified or not. It's when you repeat it knowing it
isn't right that the damage is done.
I learnt that I was in control of my sexuality and of the power
of being a woman. I chose to enter the sex industry with my own
agenda and to explore its reality. That entailed submitting, but
not necessarily repetitiously, to what went on. How could I have
got as near to the actual experience without being the stereotype
'model' or 'stripper'? Being Scarlet was a challenge and
experience in itself that taught me so much about the sexual
rapport between men and women and women and women. It's made me a
stronger and more confident person. It's taught me social skills
I would never have acquired had I not done it.
v) Your experience within the sex industry was the cornerstone
of the Coum Transmissions exhibition, Prostitution. The
magazines featuring yourself were sealed in containers and could
only be viewed one at a time and by request. Did you feel that
such a presentation diluted the impact of the overall piece? Did
the furore surrounding Prostitution overshadow the purpose
of the exhibition? I believe you are working on a retrospective
exhibition, Select Reflection, any news?
I think by default, that the enforced boxed presentation actually
enhanced the overall project in some respects. It placed the mags
back in their worldly 'top shelf' situation and said so much
about how the sex industry was regarded at the time. That is,
something best not discussed, pushed out of sight. But it was bad
in so much as the works weren't seen as 'artworks' and therefore
not readily accessible to those who wouldn't find it easy to ask
The furore added and detracted from the purpose of the
exhibition. It was itself a retrospective that had the adverse
effect of relaunching COUM in a way. The hysteria rode rough shod
over the purpose of the show. It wasn't sensationalist in intent.
It was just a presentation of our work and a comment on the
artworld and society's attitude to our bodies, sex and what is
acceptable as art, performance. The underlying
Select Reflection is ongoing basically because it requires
my reflecting and making sense of what I've done, who I've been
and where and who I am now. I don't know yet! Thank goodness,
that would be sooo boring.
vi) What reaction did you get from your fellow Coum
Transmission/Throbbing Gristle members when you decided
to investigate the sex industry? Was it difficult to maintain a
separation between the art world and sex world? It's quite
strange that you crossed over from the art world to the sex
industry which is the reverse from what others such as Annie
Sprinkle, Annabel Chong have done. It must have been quite seedy
then what's your impression of the sex industry today?
I was modelling before TG was formed. At various times and by
different people I was asked to stop, after their initial
fascination had worn off. I refused because I didn't feel that I
had fulfilled my potential with the project at that time. It had
to be my decision to pull out the same as it was to enter. I
never consciously tried to keep the art and sex world separate.
They merged into one really.
What I've seen of Annie Sprinkle's work I've really liked because
of her warmth and directness.I never knew she came from the sex
industry into art. That would explain why I found her work so
'unarty' and unpretentious. And apprenticeship in the artworld
does tend to result in cold pretentiousness whereas the sex
industry demands some degree of warmth and openess.
The sex industry then was very seedy in some areas. I dare say it
still is now but I think it has changed enormously. Now women
choose it as their career. It's more open now. I wouldn't say
it's less dangerous though. In fact I'd say it was dangerous to
assume it's safe. And I mean safe in all meanings of the
vii) What was the idea behind the CTI series of Electronic
Ambient Remixes? Given that Time To Tell dates from
1982, it must feel weird revisiting that era, listening back to
those pieces and remixing it for EAR 2, what memories does
The ambient remixes were inspired by Chris and I using new gear
and thinking it would be interesting to manipulate sound pieces
we'd already created. Like an extension of when we recorded them.
To reinvent yet retain the original spirit. At the same time we
were invited to submit a sound piece for an exhibition at PS1
gallery in New York. A piece that was based on an important
aspect of our individual history. Synchronicity. Hence the first
Electronic Ambient Remixes were born. Chris's Space
Between and my Time To Tell both contained so much of
our personal and creative history they presented themselves so
I can't say I'm comfortable revisiting all that I've discussed
because I haven't thought about it in the way people assume. I am
who I am, I did what I did and never stopped to analyse it or I
wouldn't have experienced things in the way I wanted to. It's
only now because of interviews such as this that I have had to
think about what it all means/ meant and how I feel/felt about
it. And I still can't define my experience. But for me that's a
positive thing. It leaves many stones unturned and things to
explore. When I hear and see myself from that era, I'm not that
person. I was someone else then, I was the person who was to
become me as I am now. I said some really idiotic things back
then but I can forgive my arrogance and naivety because it was
part of the process.
Cosey Fanni Tutti
Chris & Cosey