Orlan: Millennial Female

Orlan: Millennial Female

Orlan: Millennial Female

Orlan: Millennial Female

Synopsis

The French performance artist Orlan has acquired both fame and infamy for her performances. A multimedia artist since the 1960s, she embarked at the beginning of the 1990s on a project of body modification through plastic surgery, the basic premise of which was to transform herself into a digitally designed pastiche of the greatest icons of female beauty in Western art. Orlan's project has sparked intense debate in the visual arts, among feminists, and among those concerned with medical ethics, as it raises complex questions about sexuality, beauty, subjectivity, gender and technology. This book addresses all these issues, and focuses on the interrelations of dress, body and culture in Orlan's work since the 1960s. Surgical performances represent the most extreme phase of Orlan's artistic practice, but she has made extensive and varied use of costume throughout her career.Using the 'body theory' and theories of monstrosity developed by feminist, gender and film theorists, and the work of philosophers Luce Irigaray and Gilles Deleuze, the author examines the challenges Orlan's performance art poses to its viewers. Anyone working in the fields of gender, the visual arts or cultural studies will find this book and the questions it raises provocative and enlightening.

Excerpt

Orlan is a French multimedia and performance artist whose performances over the last decade have consisted of cosmetic surgery. In 1990 she took the term ‘operating theatre’ literally and embarked on a project entitled ‘The Reincarnation of Saint Orlan’, which has consisted of performing – remaining conscious throughout, photographing, filming and broadcasting – a series of operations to totally remodel her face and body, and thus her identity.

The fact that ‘Orlan’ is not the artist's ‘real’ name, but one she gave herself at the age of fifteen in 1962, is one indication of how pivotal the question of identity has been to Orlan's career. While sounding to some like a man's name (Lemoine-Luccioni 1983: 140), it fairly bubbles with polysemous and suggestive cultural connotations; ‘Orlan-do’ the sex-changing hero(ine) of Virginia Woolf's famous novel, Orlon the synthetic fibre, and the glossily advertised perfume Orlane. When just the name's initial letter ‘O’ is taken, it is perhaps even more suggestively connotative: the ‘O’ of ‘Other’, the ‘O’ of Pauline Réage's infamous erotic – or pornographic – novel Story of O/Histoire d'O, the ‘O’ that signifies and figures the opening of all orifices. Orlan's story of how she ‘found’ her name and rebaptized herself points to another of its elements, the poetic, polysemous and psychoanalytically overdetermined syllable ‘or’ (= gold):

I decided to change my name completely, to begin with because I was doing some acting and also because I was in a conservatoire when you got thrown out if you used your own name for acting purposes. It grew little by little, then I decided to have psychoanalysis. At the third session the only thing the analyst said to me was: “The next time you'll pay me in cash, not by cheque”, whereas I had been paying by cheque. Just as I was signing the last cheque he said “no, on second thoughts, carry on paying by cheque”. Since these were the only words he'd uttered in the whole session, this contradictory message was very perturbing. I tried to work out what had gone on in the session, but I couldn't. At the next session […] as I was signing the cheque, I realized that I was signing, in very clear, precise, childlike writing, with a name which wasn't mine […from the most beautifully . . .

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