1947 | Saint-Étienne, France
ORLAN — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Courtesy ORLAN


French visual and multimedia artist.

Emblematic of the interest that contemporary artists have taken in performance art and in the possibilities of using one’s body as a creative medium, ORLAN stands out thanks to her use of multiple practices and medias. Questioning representations of art, genres, sexuality and the self, this international artist has constantly brought her appearance and her identity into play, reinventing herself in a continuous work of “self-sculpture”. Trained at the Conservatory of Dramatic Arts and at the School of Fine Arts of Saint-Étienne (ESADSE), she shows, from the age of 17, performance pieces in which she quotes classical masterpieces by replaying them in Tableaux Vivants (1967-1975). In Étude documentaire : le drapé, le baroque (1974-1984), an ensemble mixing performance, photography and sculpture and revisiting Judeo-Christian iconography and baroque aesthetic, her bridal trousseau’s linen, diverted from their matrimonial vocation, become the medium for provocative pieces.
In 1977 she brings Le Baiser de l’artiste (The Artist’s Kiss, Frac des Pays de la Loire) to the FIAC (International Fair of Contemporary Art) in Paris. Sitting behind a photography of her own naked torso, she sells French kisses to the fair’s visitors or invites them to light a votive candle to her image dressed as a Madonna. The installation superposed the sacred woman – Sainte-ORLAN – and the objectified woman – ORLAN-corps – and created a scandal that costed the artist her teaching position. Since this first period, her creation hasmoved forward by revisiting her older pieces; most of her performances and derived pieces enter long-term series.

Other occasional works keep their individual status such as her parody of Courbet’s L’Origine du monde turned L’Origine de la guerre (1989) and showing a close-up of the lower abdomen of a man in erection. ORLAN also played a pioneering role in the artistic use of telematics, via the Minitel (a network developed prior to the Internet in France). In the 1990s, assisted by medical doctors, she began a series of “surgical-operation-performances”. She transforms the operating room into an atelier, where her body is surgically operated and modified under her direction. Some of these surgical interventions were filmed andtransmitted live through satellite to high-art spaces (Omniprésence, 1993). If the whole process, from project to result, constitutes a work of art in itself, interventions also bring about videos, photographs, drawings and other pieces recycling body matter derived from the surgeries. The artist associates these performances to readings of essays by philosophers like Michel Serres, and writes her own Carnal Art Manifesto (1992) that explains the issues at stake in her work. As a critical diversion of cosmetic surgery, a demonstration of the new plasticity of the flesh that allows the contemporary subject to claim authorship of her/his own body, a questioning of beauty codes and their violence, her project distinguishes itself from body art by rejecting pain and making her body “a space of public debate”. In Reconfigurations-Self-Hybridations (starting from 1998), she uses digital image processing technologies to blend her face and pieces representing physical and artistic canons from pre-Columbian art, African sculpture, paintings of North-American Natives by George Catlin (1796-1872) and Chinese art. These hybrid portraits blur distinctions in individuality, sexuality, temporality, ethnicity, religion or artistry in order to create as many mutant figures. In parallel, ORLAN pursues her exploration of the impact ofbiotechnology.

In 2007, her installation Harlequin’s Coat mixed video-projections, Petri dishes and a bioreactor allowing the in vitro culture of her own cells combined with those of other human and animal stems. Patchwork, collaboration and reprise equally govern the creation of clothing-artworks, when she collaborates with fashion designers to exhibit garments recycled from her own closet. This logic of recombination continues when she invests Maubuisson Abbey with her exhibition Unions mixtes, mariages libres et noces barbares (2009). The thoughtful and complex path of this norm-challenging artist, which mixes intensely art, life and sociopolitical questions, has always taken place in close dialog with her audience, gleefully mocking consensus.

Hugues Marchal

Translated from French by Emily Freeman.

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
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