I am very interested in the way that Orlan, a French artist who works in a wide range of mediums, uses the body as a conduit for her ideas about art and culture. I am particularly inspired by her performance work, ‘The Reincarnation of Saint ORLAN’, in which she set out to have multiple plastic surgeries to transform her face into elements of the famous female faces depicted throughout the history of art. These depictions of women portray the epitome of female beauty as believed by men, and the male artists who created the works. She planned for surgeries to enable her to have the chin of Boticelli’s Venus, the lips of Francis Boucher’s Europa, the nose of Jean-Léon Gérôme’s Psyche, the eyes of Diana, the Greek goddess as depicted in Fontainebleau painting and the forehead of the Mona Lisa, by Leonardo da Vinci. Oral picked these ladies because of the histories of their characters, and the legacy that surrounds their created or imposed beauty.
During the surgery performances, Orland would often be awake, an would read from feminist texts as she was being operated on. These performances were then broadcast live. I am very interested in the power of the act of staying awake through such a visceral act of which the participant has little control. As such, the doctor creates the form of beauty, as he moulds the face, whilst Orlan is forced to remain passive, much like the women she is referencing throughout the history of art, under the control of another’s version of what is beautiful or not. Oral is not opposed to surgery yet believes it pushes the limitations of representation, as one is able to go beyond DNA when deciding what is beautiful and how they wish to look.
I am greatly inspired by these brave and compelling performances by Orlan, and although I don’t believe them to be hysterical acts, as Orlan has considered a plan of action, I am interested in how a crisis in the representation of women, and their lack of language in portraying their own bodies could lead to hysterical acts such as the one depicted in my narrative. The themes Orlan deals with in her work are to some extent deeply personal to every woman, as we experience the representation of our bodies moulded and critiqued by men, with little language, but the patriarchal one imposed on us with which to retort. I am interested in how this restriction could lead to hysterical acts of violence or immolation by women, and will explore these themes further.