Research Project Officer, Trinity Long Room Hub
Considered a pioneer of multimedia, installation, and performance art, ORLAN has produced some of the most distinctive and controversial pieces in the past 40 years. Since the 1960s, ORLAN has made an indelible impression on the art world by insisting upon a feminist agenda in each of her creations and bringing identity politics to the fore. She is a contemporary artist in the truest sense, engaging with pertinent issues facing society and pushing her work forward by incorporating technology to achieve the highest impact. While she is recognised for her adoption of multimedia and technology, ORLAN’s body remains the primary material for her work. ORLAN uses her body to address expectations and demands placed on women’s bodies and to consider how art has contributed to these idealised standards through the centuries. She is a physical composition of her past artworks and the identities that she has assumed.
In one of her earliest pieces, called simply The Kiss of the Artist (1977), ORLAN invited passersby outside the Grand Palais in Paris to pay five francs for a kiss. The participants placed a coin into a small bodice-shaped booth that ORLAN straddled. The money travelled from just below her mouth, down the length of her torso, and landed in a clear glass container located between her legs. Once the transaction was completed, they could kiss her. In the 1970s and 80s, ORLAN assumed the persona of Saint ORLAN in order to critique religious iconography and explore depictions of women in religious art. Some of her most recognised pieces from this period are the photographs Black Virgin Wielding White Cross and Black Cross (1983) and Baroque Madonna No. 10 (1984). In these photographs, ORLAN displays her interpretation of the Madonna by exposing both ‘sides’ that have been inscribed into the Judeo-Christian art and later into Freud’s psychoanalytic theory—the saintly figure of the Madonna and the ‘whore’. By the 1990s, ORLAN began to produce carnal art, undergoing plastic surgery procedures while conscious, performing extracts of text, and filming the process. ORLAN uses carnal art, which she defines as self-portraiture, to provoke questions surrounding standards of beauty upheld by society, refiguration, and the possibilities of transformation. During one such performance, The Mouth of Europa and the Figure of Venus (1990), ORLAN broadcast a procedure during which she sought to emulate the image of Botticelli’s Venus and François Boucher's Europa by having a chin reconstruction and lip implants, all while reciting La Robe by Eugénie Lemoine-Luccioni. In another performance, she had surgery on her forehead to assume the likeness of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa.
ORLAN has stated that “I didn’t have surgeries to be beautiful but really for art, to project new images of beauty [...] The real goal was to take off the mask you were born with and reinvent it.” At a time when cosmetic surgery is almost matter-of-course among celebrities and increasingly popular among the general public, and the cosmetics industry continues to be a multi-billion dollar business, ORLAN’s art has lost none of its punch. Her works, particularly the acts of carnal art, still gain considerable attention for their shocking content and the discomfort and repulsion they produce in viewers. Given the range of personas ORLAN has embodied combined with the core theme of shifting identity and transformation, it is difficult to think of an artist and a performance that capture the subject of perfection more than ORLAN’s ORLANOIDE.
Dr Angela Butler is Research Project Officer for a Global Humanities Institute. In 2018, Angela did her thesis on ‘Affective Encounters: A Study of Immersive Performance and Digital Culture’ She has taught on a range of subjects including performance art, theatre history, and performance analysis. Her areas of specialism are immersive performance, digital/postdigital culture, live art, aesthetic experience, affect theory, and phenomenology.
Consultant Plastic surgeon and Director of the National Burns unit St James’s Hospital Dublin.. Clinical lecturer Trinity College Dublin
Perfection is a composite of individual and subjective taste. Many of the ideal measurements defined in aesthetic surgery are averages of perceived beauty, with dimensions and angles which fulfil the viewers taste.
Plastic surgery uses these accepted proportions to determine how appearance can be enhanced. These ideals however fail to capture many obviously beautiful individuals from across different cultures . Indeed many strikingly beautiful individuals have facial asymmetries and significantly different proportions to the aesthetic ideal. And achieving ideal proportions often results in appearance that seems a predicted pattern rather than the perfection expected.
Striving for the uniform ideal through cosmetic surgery, reduces the visual contribution of a person’s own features, and expression lines, which shape a person’s unique appearance , and therefore changes and at times erases the individuals visible character to those around.
As a surgeon I find the greatest inspiration in those individuals who have overcome great injury. With scars and disfigurement highlighting the challenges and difficulties which people have overcome, telling a story of success over adversity. Illustrating the great personal determination necessary to get up in the morning, or simply walk down a street , in a critical world. Such individuals provide a greater inspiration to others than perfection can.
As such, disfigurement, more than the ideal appearance , illustrate that true beauty is within. It is imperfection, rather than perfection that defines who we are.