“Orlan is a devoted martyr and a jaded exploitationist, a sincere Feminist and a technological utopianist, a social artist and a shameless self-promoter all rolled into one.”

Orlan was born in 1947 in France. In her ongoing performance art titled “The reincarnation of Saint Orlan” and “Image-New Image”, she offers her face and body as a canvas of flesh for her “rebirth” through plastic surgery. The goal is to make her face look similar to a design of her own computer composition which was made by selecting ‘ideal’ features from representations of women throughout history. Which includes the chin of Botticelli’s Venus and the forehead of da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Her surgeons work from a computerized image where features of several Renaissance pieces are morphed together.

Orlan calls her work Carnal Art- “Carnal Art is not against cosmetic surgery but, rather against the conventions carried by it and their subsequent inscription, within female flesh in particular, but also male. Carnal Art is feminist, that is necessary. It is interested not only in cosmetic surgery, but also advanced techniques in medicine and biology that question the status of the body and the ethical questions posed by them.”

Since the 1970’s she has been exploring the status of the body (particularly the female body) within society and this on-going performance art is a continuation of that. Ironically, she used to be a sculptor. Orlan is often quoted as saying “The body is obsolete.” With her performance art she is examining the malleability of both the physical body and the personality, and just how far an artist should go.

Orlan has often been compared to Cindy Jackson, who has had close to thirty operations to look like Barbie. She wants to have her appearance conform to her view of western society's ideals. This is quite unlike Orlan’s unnatural, space-age looks. Orlan has had cheek implants inserted at her temples, which gives her noticeable bumps, like she was growing horns.)

Apart from the obvious fact that Orlan’s physical image has changed, she makes quite a show of the operations themselves. Shown live on the internet, and sometimes the television, the surgeries are performed while she is completely conscious, while she reads from theoretical texts or even answers questions submitted by phone and e-mail. She has costumes made for her and the surgeons to wear which are later auctioned off to fund her next surgery. She has also been known to include musicians, poets, male exotic dancers and cheesy props, like plastic skulls and cardboard cut-outs of people.

Her work and its meaning are always changing. At times she says she is showing us how technology can be used to transcend human limitations. Other times she says that her work is a critique of how beauty imposes unfair standards on women’s appearances. By showing the gruesome reality of plastic surgery, something that is accepted by society, women all over the world do to themselves each year, but are always hidden behind closed doors. Orlan brings it to the public eye and takes the plastic surgery out of context. She is making a statement of how all norms of appearance are oppressive to women. She raises interesting questions as to what counts as art- and ultimately, what counts as human identity and existence. As the artist herself puts it: "My body has become a site of public debate that poses crucial questions for our time."

Sources:
http://www.wiu.edu/users/gjr100/orlangallery.htm -Some really good photos or her art
http://www.artandculture.com/arts/artist?artistId=685
http://www.dundee.ac.uk/transcript/volume2/issue2_2/orlan/orlan.htm
http://www.wiu.edu/users/gjr100/orlan.htm

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