French feminist carnal artist Orlan is sensational, in both senses of the word. Whether you find her work fascinating or repulsive, you're sure to feel something about Orlan's radical altering of her own body to explore and critique societal standards of beauty. Since 1990, Orlan has had several surgical procedures in order to transform herself into horrifying alternatives to idealized beauty--taking on characteristics of iconic artworks such as Venus and Mona Lisa--in order to point out the ways in which beauty is (literally and metaphorically) man-made. "The body is a sculpture and a pedestal," she says.
Orlan intends for her work to be arresting: "Art has to shock to justify itself." Some of Orlan's more cringeworthy pieces are the performances that happen during the surgery itself. Holding a cross in each hand, one black and one white, a still-conscious Orlan depicts herself as a Madonna while the surgical staff peel away layers of her skin. Did your stomach just flip flop? Cuz mine did.
Despite its surface level grotesqueness, I find myself compelled by Orlan. My inner inclination is to view her as brave. There is strength in making the choice to be physically repellant, and Orlan lives with the disgusted reactions of others in order to make a larger point: "I am not sure I can change [social ideas of beauty], but I can produce images that are different from those we find in comics, video games, magazines, and TV shows. There are other ways to think about one's body and one's beauty. If you were to describe me without anyone being able to see me, they would think I am a monster, that I am not fuckable. But if they see me, that could perhaps change."
Orlan's commitment to her work and feminist ideology is unwavering and admirable. She takes personal risks and makes sacrifices that are not unlike those of grassroots organizers and other feminist activists whose praxis is commonly considered to be acceptable in the way of creating change.
Orlan's upcoming work featuring genetic DIY technologies will appear at the Casino Luxembourg in the sk-interfaces exhibit.