Magazine article Artforum International

Orlan

Magazine article Artforum International

Orlan

Article excerpt

Is Orlan a Dr. Benway groupie? Since 1990, the French artist has undergone elective plastic surgery six times (and will go under the knife again in New York) in an attempt to make herself look like a computer-generated "ideal," pieced together not from spare body parts but from art-historical references--the forehead of the Mona Lisa, the eyes of a School of Fontainebleau Diana, the nose of Gerome's Psyche, the lips of Boucher's Europa, and the chin of Botticelli's Venus.

Orlan's point is not simply, however, literally to become a work of art. As is evident in the more or less documentary works that comprise this exhibition--video, photographs heavy with religious iconography, and mock reliquaries containing the fatty by-products of various liposuctions--each operation is treated as a performance piece in its own right. Orlan allows herself to be given local anesthesia only, and thus is able, from the operating table, to direct the transformation of the surgical theater into a sort of theatre burlesque. During any given session, she wears flashy designer gowns (as do the medical personnel), reads aloud from texts (heady things like books by French philosopher Michel Serres), and hams it up for the cameras with props ranging from bunches of grapes to a devil's skull and pitchfork. Meanwhile, as Orlan's flunkies romp through the background with placards depicting her previous performances, a state-certified surgeon might, say, drain fat from her thighs with grotesque thrusting movements, and then inject it by means of syringes into select locations on her face--above her eyelids, below her cheekbones, and into her upper lip. …

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