ORLAN Le récit The narrative
by tENTATIVELY, a cONVENIENCE - September 3-19, 2012
For the full review go here: http://www.goodreads.com/story/show/3...
The 1st time I remember learning about ORLAN's work was when I was misinformed by rumors presumably based on misleading mass media.She was presented as a performance artist who got plastic surgery to transform her face into replicas of women in famous paintings.Since she actually DID do plastic surgery performances from 1990-1993 I must've heard about her around that time or later.
My impression was positive: here was someone who was willing to go to intense extreme lengths to produce work w/ a strong impact.I imagined her motive as being something along the lines of addressing & critiquing appearance & role models for women in such a striking manner that the general public might wake up & pay attn.Then, around 1998, I heard from my neoist friend Pierre Zovilé that he was working w/ (or for) her.That made me even more interested.THEN, for the next 13 yrs, nothing - until I found this bk of hers, used, in Cape Cod.It was expensive for me but I was curious.
Now that I've read it, I find myself once again in the position of feeling like I must write alot in order to explain my reactions.Do I like her work?Sometimes?Do I think she's a 'great' artist?Probably not.
What prompted me to finally read this bk, wch had been laying around my house for 11 mnths, was that ORLAN has work in an exhibit at a museum I work for & she was in town for part of it: to make the work & to speak about it before leaving.I worked the event where she spoke.I saw her for the 1st time.She seemed unhealthily overweight.Her hair was died white on one side & black on the other & was somehow teased into standing up.She was w/ a younger, more svelte man whose hair was similarly styled.I think he might be her husband.They were both wearing mostly black clothing.This passes for 'sophisticated' among many people & is a quasi-nihilistic uniform for many others.For me, it's mostly a bore that's outlived any sort of substantial presence since the mid 1970s when I 1st saw someone so dressed.
ORLAN's upper clothing was adorned w/ one or more skull images skillfully & professionally printed on the clothing.It struck me as more Fashion Punk, more for 'show', than as any kind of heart-felt statement re mortality or what-not.More Hot Topic than DIY, more consumer than rebel.But, then, she probably deserves much more credit than that.Nonetheless, I was repulsed - the whole vibe was Art World Poseur.& the hair only made matters worse for me.It, along w/ her temple inserts, appears to be her trademark, &, as far as I can tell she 1st died it this way in 1998.
What partially made me groan was that in 1989, or earlier, I made 2 suits of clothes that each consisted of shoes, socks, pants, belts, t-shirts, button-down shirts, sweatshirts, & jackets - that were white on one side & black on the other - AND I died my hair to match.Now, that was fun for awhile but I never wanted to do the same old same old for ever for ever so I didn't do that for long - & here was someone who looked like the fashion punk version of something I'd done much better a decade earlier than she had.GROAN.
Then she got in front of the audience to talk & I found her a bit more likable.She explained that her "microprocessor implants" in her temples (actually implants ordinarily used by plastic surgeons to highlight cheekbones - transplanted to the temples at ORLAN's request) needed new batteries & that her English wd be bad as a result.I thought that was pretty funny.
The piece that she did at the museum was one in wch Pittsburgh company Body Media provided electronic armbands to measure some of ORLAN's bodily activity while she measured parts of the museum w/ her body.This latter being a re-enactment of an earlier series of "MesuRages" that she'd done in 1979.From this process 2 videos were made - one of her measuring the museum & one of her body being measured at the same time.Both of these videos are/were on display at the museum.At 1st, I thought this action & the videos were a bit trite but I've grown to like them somewhat.
In this bk, on p 25, it's explained that "the "ORLAN body" became a unit of measurement, a standard, a parameter of physical self-determination that could be used to determine relationships with space.A body that became the "archi-tectonics of meaning" and that reactivated the ancient system of Vitruvius, which entered modernity via Leonardo de Vinci and Corbusier's"modulor."The MesuRages d'Institutions et de rues (MesuRages of Institutions and Streets) (1974-1983)" marked an even clearer inversion.It was not the perfect body of an ideal man, but the body of a woman of small stature that confronted those spaces and became the measure of everything."Interesting.On pp 156-159 there're fotos of various "MesuRages" - including one where she's laying next to a stack of bks her same length.I'm reminded of Duchamp's "3 Standard Stoppages" in wch the curvature of a meter-long string is taken as the shape of a new meter-stick.
The bk cover has a George Catlin painting of an Indian woman that's been altered to put ORLAN's face in.In the portion of the bk where these portraits are displayed (pp 248-265) no mention of Catlin appears at all [Catlin IS mentioned in passing in Viola's article on p 47].Instead the section's called "Self-Hybridizations - American Indians".There's also no credit given to whoever took the fotos of ORLAN's face in order to have images that wd fit the poses of the paintings.Given that these are images of ORLAN's face it seems likely that she didn't take the pictures herself.There's also no credit given to whoever did the digital foto imaging that combined the Catlins w/ the ORLAN faces.Did ORLAN do the foto editing herself?Possibly.. but I doubt it.
I doubt it b/c there are 3 series of these "Self-Hybridizations" & the 1st 2, the "Pre-Columbian" & the "African" give credits that're absent in the "Indian" ones.The 1st series credits "Digital assistance Pierre Zovilé", the 2nd "Digital assistance Jean-Michel Cambihou" - maybe by the 3rd series she learned to do it herself, maybe she always knew how to do it herself but only got "assistance" from these 2.
It's my assumption that she loved the Catlin paintings & decided to insert her face into them b/c she liked the idea of doing so but also b/c doing so wd allow her to associate herself w/ Catlin's remarkable skill w/o having to have that skill herself.It's my further assumption that she then chose the paintings & got a fotographer to take pictures of her imitating the poses in them.I reckon that the next step was to get an un-named someone to make the digital product.Then again, unlike the 1st 2 series, maybe she did it herself.While I find the idea of putting herself in these images to be mildly entertaining, I think I'd find the original Catlin's to be much more important.After all, he was the guy who actually traveled among the various tribes to produce a remarkable body of documentary work, including of the Sun Dance, w/o wch there wd be very little for us to visually consult at this late date.
ORLAN, on the other hand, despite multicultural or feminist claims to the contrary, just strikes me as exploiting historically important works for her own GLAMOR & self-aggrandisement.Hence, the cover of this bk seems more like the cover of a fashion magazine than it does any sort of important socio-political feminist statement.& there's a section of the bk called "Covers" (pp 274-289) wch feature the covers of bks & magazines where her name &/or image has appeared.In an interview on p 95 ORLAN says: "On the other hand I do take pleasure in having at one and the same time an article about me in Le Monde, a university thesis examining my life, and an article in a sex magazine or in Paris Match for example."
Right.In other words she's a publicity hag.I'm reminded of many things..I was in Barcelona w/ a friend whose work I have the highest admiration for.A glossy European magazine had just come out w/ an article about my friend's work in it.The article was heavily surrounded by advertisements for all sorts of youth culture crap - mostly skateboarding-related, as I recall.I don't think my friend is a skateboarder & his work was certainly NOT relevant to the ads - it's far more profound - BUT, nonetheless, his work was being used to attract a consumer demographic.Was this desirable?I don't think so.Nowhere in ORLAN's bk do I see any critique of the way her image might be used to SELL, BABY, SELL!
Last night I got into a heated argument w/ friends of mine who'd taken it for granted that I wd, eg, have something in PLAYBOY Magazine if they offered me enuf money.I vehemently denied this.The whole discussion started b/c one of the friends was explaining that she's "more cautious" about where her work gets published than I am.This infuriated me.I countered that the reason why I'm more widely published than her is b/c I've been being published for over 20 yrs longer & b/c I network widely outside the narrow academic ghetto that she finds career-safe for herself.
I, too, love getting publicity - esp if it's in the form of an article that actually has something intelligent & sensitive to say - but wd I want to be on the cover of GQ?!Hardly.I have no desire to further such insidious role-model promoting garbage.It wd've been great to be on the cover of Experimental Musical Instruments or MUSICWORKS, tho - b/c these are publications that serve a purpose I identify w/ - a purpose other than blanketing the supermarket check-out counter magazine stands.
ORLAN's "Le Baiser de L'Artiste" ("Kiss the Artist") was a piece in wch "ORLAN presented herself, uninvited, at the FIAC (Foire Internationale d'Art Contemporain) in Paris.On a platform there was a chair supporting a cuirass-like molding representing her naked torso.In the middle of the molding there was a transparent slot in which to insert a five-franc coin that fell into a container placed level with the pubis,Beside the artist there was a photo of Saint ORLAN in an ecstatic pose, gazing up towards the sky, offering her breasts beneath the open folds of her immaculate tunic.She sold kisses, real kisses, artist's kisses, to an astounded public". (p 33)The author of the article just quoted, Eugenio Viola, claims that ORLAN "denounced the hypocrisy of a society that traditionally divided the image of a woman into two antithetical stereotypes: the saint and the whore." (p 31)("To be kissed by ORLAN, you had to drop a coin in a slot open on a level with her crotch." (p 57))Fair enuf.
ORLAN: "The performance caused such a scandal that the press releases were no longer issued by the FIAC, but in Le Baiser de L'Artiste in the Argus Press.Following the scandal in the media, the private school where I trained future cultural coordinators immediately dismissed me with a telegram which read: 'Your attitude is incompatible with your role as a teacher.All classes have been halted.We'll let you know about your wages.'This sort of dismissal by telegram is illegal in France.My students went on strike, organized demonstrations, wrote songs that told my story, but nothing came of it and I was dismissed." (p 87)Hooray for ORLAN!No doubt the bourgeois types who fired her were perfectly content to turn a blind eye to the virgin/whore paradigm of nun/prostitute as long as it wasn't challenged in their particular class (double entendre intended).
I'm reminded of VALIE EXPORT's 1968-1971 "Tapp- und Tast-Kino ("Tap and Touch Cinema")" in wch she "wore a tiny "movie theater" around her naked upper body, so that her body could not be seen but could be touched by anyone reaching through the curtained front of the "theater." She then went into the street and invited men, women, and children to come and touch her." ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valie_Ex... )
ORLAN's most famous for her operation performances."To start with, there was no therapeutic need for these operations, i.e. no "necessity" governed by some physical disease or psychological malaise (as is the case with plastic surgery)." (p 59)By this is meant the series of operations from 1990-1993.However, her 1st actual operation-turned-into-performance was otherwise:
"The first operation, with the symbolic title Art Charnel (Carnal Art), took place in Paris on July 20, 1990." (p 35)"Étude documentaire: Urgence G.E.U. (Documentary Study: **Ectopic Emergency) certainly represents an important antecedent in ORLAN"S artistic and existential course.The work had been presented in the second symposium of performance art in Lyons (1979).It was not a planned operation, it was surgery that the artist had to undergo urgently, and she immediately decided to photograph and film it". (p 35)
In an interview w/ Viola, ORLAN states "My first operation was during the performance and video symposium that I organized with Hubert Besacier for four years in Lyon.We were the first to stage a major international performance festival in France". (p 89)That may be so - but ORLAN's performance festival was contemporaneous w/ another performance festival that was in Baltimore: the Festival of Disappearing Art(s) organized by the Merzaum Collective.1978 FDA(s) presented such folks as Steve McCaffery & bpNichol from Toronto & Fred Frith from London.Such international performance festivals were a zeitgeist - & Merzaum had been organizing similar events under different names since at least 1977.
Later on in Viola's article he refers to "The Obsolete Body: The Mutationist Paradigm" & makes the claim that ORLAN was, as of 1990, the "first artist to speak of the mutating body"!This, of course, is utter myopic & ignorant bullshit.I refer Viola to High Performance magazine, issue #24 (volume 6, number 4, 1983) in wch there's an article entitled "The Body Obsolete" - an interview w/ Stelarc by Paul McCarthy.In it Stelarc says "the end of evolution is at hand.We can proceed and begin to modify the human body." (p 19)One might also hearken back to the "Central Members of the United Mutations of Los Angeles" as presented on the Mothers of Invention's 1966 "Freak Out!" double record set.
One might also open the 1989 "Modern Primitives" issue of Re/Search magazine.In that, Monte Cazazza has this to say: "Nothing's more primitive than the act of birth, right?But I read that now it's possible for two men to have a child with a woman, or two women to have a child also.They take half the chromosomes from one man and half from another, then trick the egg cell into accepting the combination.So there's probably already a child like that out there - I don't believe there isn't.Basically, the lid's been put on all the genetic experimentation that's going on - it's probably far ahead of what's been reported.And this experimentation isn't being done out of the goodness of someone's heart - there's a deep profit motive there somewhere.Something like this is pretty modern, but in a way it's down to the most primitive level.And what's going on today in gene-splicing will probably be considered pretty "primitive" just a decade from now." (p 128)I think that's relevant to the "mutating body" wdn't you?!& there're probably articles in this magazine that're even MORE relevant but I don't feel like skimming thru the whole thing to look for them.
Nonetheless, I DID skim thru it & found this from Heather McDonald about Japanese mafia, the yakuza: "in prison they do these penile implants - take a pearl & insert it under the skin of the penis for every year they've been in jail." (p 156)This reminds me of ORLAN's temple implants.One cd also look at issues of PFIQ (Piercing Fans International Quarterly) that was published from 1977 to 1997.
ORLAN distinguishes herself from the "Modern Primitives" thusly: "I feel that I am a long way from those artists that are working on extreme body art.The new primitives for example and those who practice body modifications, their performances are always imbued with a large amount of masochism.For me, pain is anachronistic and uninteresting.Our bodies suffered for millennia without aspirin to relieve toothaches or headaches.Our age has almost conquered pain, even the pain of childbirth to which Christianity is so attached.Even though it is not my own scene, I do respect those artists that are deeply and intelligently involved in this area, like the work of Marina Abramovic, which I like a great deal." (p 87)
Masochism?Perhaps.. but I think it's more appropriate & accurate to refer to people who're trying to expand their physical limits - much in the same way that initiations such as the Sun Dance marked boys turning into men by showing them their capacity for endurance.Consider this quote from Genesis P-Orridge from the aforementioned "Modern Primitives" issue: "I've met genuine masochists and they're usually rather dull.I'm interested in heightened awareness - not exactly trance states, but altered states in the true sense." (p 169)
As for ORLAN's rejection of pain?I think such a statement cd hardly be more stupid.I don't personally seek out pain - but to make it so that our brain is unaware of it, to numb it, thru painkillers, strikes me as extremely foolish.Pain serves an important bodily function: if one were to hurt one's foot the resultant pain wd warn one to pamper the foot in whatever way might be necessary to facilitate its healing.Taking a painkiller to mask this alarm is likely to result in a certain level of destructive oblivion.People who use 'happy pills' to mask their emotional pain end up not facing the cause of that pain &, therefore, not solving the source problem.They become dependent on evasion.Becoming a heroin addict does not help - it just makes matters worse.
That sd, I can agree w/ ORLAN's distancing herself from the "new primitives".Despite my having gotten tattoos starting in 1986, a time when they weren't popular in the way they are now, I've never felt that I was trying to be 'primitive'.Instead, my intention was to mark my body in a way that represented a deep psychic projection.I've never chosen to identify myself as belonging to a 'tribe', eg.My tattoos have highly personal significance & aren't off of some conformist spreadsheet.Nonetheless, I wdn't say something like 'I was the 1st person to be tattooed' nor wd I accept someone making such a claim on my behalf.
Now the above publications are mentioned as precursors to & refutations of Viola's claim that ORLAN was the "first artist to speak of the mutating body".It cd be sd that all these publications were originally in English & may've had limited availability to a presumably French woman.But what about info about Rudolf Schwarzkogler?A Viennese actionist who lived from 1940 to 1969.Certainly such info wd've been readily available to both ORLAN & Viola.Take this quote from the "R&D Group 28 Product" where his work was discussed: "Schwarzkogler introduced medical appliances to the aktions; scissors, hypodermic syringes".
Is it too harsh of me to say that ORLAN wants to distinguish herself from her obvious predecessors in order to make greater claims to originality?Is it too harsh to say that ORLAN represents the fashion magazine version of something, the version that stays w/in the safe realm of the bourgeois culture of highly pd surgeons?
eBook ORLAN Le récit The narrative