Copyright Axcel Heise
Orlan-operation- vue-an-interview-by-Creative-Mapping 3
Controversial French artist Orlan is perhaps most infamous for using her own body as a tool for a series of ‘performance-surgeries’ known as The Reincarnation of Saint-Orlan’
Being a narcissist isn't easy when the question is not of loving your own image, but of recreating the self through deliberate acts of alienation.
- Orlan, L 'Acte pour L'Art
Controversial French artist Orlan is perhaps most infamous for using her own body as a tool for a series of ‘performance-surgeries’ known as The Reincarnation of Saint-Orlan’. Her aim was to transform her own physical body, based on, and inspired by, classical beauty ideals from Western art; a chin like Botticelli’s Venus, the nose of Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Psyche, the lips of Boucher’s Europe, the eyes of Diana as painted by the Fontainebleau School and the forehead of Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. Orlan chose all these iconic figures for the stories connected with them.
Yet there is often tragedy in art, and from it comes enlightenment; it was 1978 and Orlan was hospitalized for emergency surgery. She took a video crew to film the operation and insisted on being conscious during surgery. She wasn’t in pain, finding what was happening to her body utterly compelling – and marked the birth of an artistic era for Orlan. And the word ‘birth’ is not used lightly – Orlan’s whole career has been a series of rebirths and reinventions that have challenged mainstream perceptions of both body and art. It could even be said she has changed the course of artistic history.
Creative Mapping caught up with Orlan in Paris recently when she was President of Diane Pernet’s hugely acclaimed ASVOFF 5 (A Shaded View On Fashion Film festival) – and she told us more about what drives and inspires her.
"Since I don't paint watercolours of little flowers or cats, I can only be provocative and controversial. As soon as someone shows uniqueness, some difference [...] questions our variety or ready-made attitudes, he or she will face strong and sometimes aggressive reactions from others. O I can say i'm being controversial, but the society to which I belong makes my behaviour and art controversial." Orlan
CM: What was your philosophy in becoming such a notorious artist ?
Never compromise and let ‘them’ talk
CM: Where do your ideas and inspirations come from ?
It often starts from reading a book, sometimes it evolves from an exhibition, space, architecture - things that grip my imagination. I have the mental flexibility to recognize immediately if what I find is more important than what I was looking for - then I have to abandon this former idea of what I was researching, to devote myself to the new. It’s a matter of persistance and insight and deductive logic. It’s also the art of discovering, inventing … and making discoveries. The result is often several ideas that will be developed further, depending on their feasibility, materiality and meaning.
CM: How do you develop creative ideas or find fresh ways to reinvent yourself ?
As an artist I try to be as aware as possible. I’m always on the lookout for information about our time, what does current means nowadays? I often draw on science in genetic biology (for ideas) ... thus keeping open about subjects other than the cliched arts.
CM: You’re infamous for being controversial and challenging mainstream perceptions Why do you feel it's important to do this?
Since I don’t paint watercolours of little flowers or cats, I can only be provocative and controversial. As soon as someone shows uniqueness, some difference, as soon as someone questions our variety of ready-made attitudes, he or she will face strong and sometimes aggressive reactions from others. So I can't say I am being controversial, but the society to which I belong makes my behavior and art controversial.
CM: Can you tell us more about the Reincarnation of Saint-Orlan ?
La Reincarnation de Sainte ORLAN has a second title: Image, nouvelle image. I made myself a whole new image as my work is a ‘sfumato’ between presentation and representation. Each operation (Orlan underwent cosmetic surgery as part of her art performance) was based on a psychoanalytical, literary or philosophical text. The surgical team and my team were dressed up in all different designers (Paco Rabanne , Issey Miyake, Franck Sorbier, Lan Vu, Charlotte Galdeberg or myself ) – so the operating room became my artist's studio.
There I was, drawing with my fingers and my blood. I also answered questions which were live by satellite from several parts of the world: Sandra Gering in New York, The George Pompidou Centre in Paris, the McLuhan Centre in Toronto, the Banff Centre and so on. People could see me and ask me questions live, which was quite difficult at the time because we didn’t have web cam. I directed the photos and video in the operating room and this performance was a joining between the first part of my work, which questioned my culture and my identity, and the post-operation part, which focused on non occidental cultures.
CM: You're the President for the 5th Anniversary of ASVOFF at the Centre Pompidou - how did your collaboration with ASVOFF founder Diane Pernet come about ?
Diane Pernet asked me (to be part of ASVOFF 5) and I agreed because she is unique. I like her appearance and the way she presents her image - and I love the spirit of her blog which shows great open-mindedness. Her vision is relevant - she sees things through an interesting filter.
CM: Why is the ASVOFF important – both to you and to creatives in general ?
From fashion, ASVOFF questions and puts into perspective not just film, but also music, performance, visual art. I love all these.
CM: What makes a fashion film stand out for you? Are there certain artistic ingredients you look for?
I love all films which explore a certain philosophy and/or humour and I love films that show unusual body types ( for the fashion world). I love disturbances, offsets. I hate anything too nice, anything that shows conventional or cliched feminine seduction.
CM: Who are today's most interesting artists for you?
Artists who are aligned with their time, new techniques and technologies. And also who explore social, ecological, economical, political issues - who are interested in all those subject matters and dare question them.
CM: What’s the best advice you could give to young artists who are inspired by your work and may want to follow in your footsteps?
Re-examine the concepts and the questioning that I explored and giving them total focus.
CM: Where is your home town and has it ever inspired you in any way?
I was born in Saint Etienne but I’ve never worked there, neither on the manufacture of bicycles, nor on the arms factory. Recently, I saw something that I’d forgotten which is the victory of Samothrace, a copy of which was in the kindergarten of Tardy where I was a student. Well, I went to the Louvre to see it again: it really is a fantastic piece, but keep in mind that I hate everything related to stories of origins.
CM: What would a dream collaboration be for you?
If David Cronenberg asked me to play in one of his films: ‘Pain Killers’ would be the title. I'd love that to happen.
CM: Music tracks that help you work?
Tableau de l'opération de la taille by Marin Marais, I love harpsichord. What's more, I love minimalism in music, Monte Young, for example
CM: If you had to live another life entirely what would you be doing - and why?
I would be a genetic scientist or a researcher in biology.
Photography credits: © Orlan, Axcel Heise