Manifesto of Carnal Art by Orlan

Artist Influences, Studio, Uncategorized



Carnal Art is self-portraiture in the classical sense, but realised through the possibility of technology. It swings between defiguration and refiguration. Its inscription in the flesh is a function of our age. The body has become a “modified ready-made”, no longer seen as the ideal it once represented ;the body is not anymore this ideal ready-made it was satisfaying to sign.


As distinct from “Body Art”, Carnal Art does not conceive of pain as redemptive or as a source of purification. Carnal Art is not interested in the plastic-surgery result, but in the process of surgery, the spectacle and discourse of the modified body which has become the place of a public debate.


Carnal Art does not inherit the Christian Tradition, it resists it! Carnal Art illuminates the Christian denial of body-pleasure and exposes its weakness in the face of scientific discovery. Carnal Art repudiates the tradition of suffering and martyrdom, replacing rather than removing, enhancing rather than diminishing – Carnal Art is not self-mutilation.

Carnal Art transforms the body into language, reversing the biblical idea of the word made flesh ; the flesh is made word. Only the voice of Orlan remains unchanged. The artist works on representation.

Carnal Art finds the acceptance of the agony of childbirth to be anachronistic and ridiculous. Like Artaud, it rejects the mercy of God -Henceforth we shall have epidurals, local anaesthetics and multiple analgesics ! (Hurray for the morphine !) Vive la morphine ! (down with the pain !) A bas la douleur !


I can observe my own body cut open without suffering !….I can see myself all the way down to my viscera, a new stage of gaze. “I can see to the heart of my lover and it’s splendid design has nothing to do with symbolics mannered usually drawn.

Darling, I love your spleen, I love your liver, I adore your pancreas and the line of your femur excites me.


Carnal Art asserts the individual independence of the artist. In that sense it resists givens and dictats. This is why it has engaged the social, the media, (where it disrupts received ideas and cause scandal), and will even reached as far as the judiciary (to change the Orlan’s name).


Carnal Art is not against aesthetic surgery, but against the standards that pervade it, particularly, in relation to the female body, but also to the male body. Carnal Art must be feminist, it is necessary. Carnal Art is not only engages in aesthetic surgery, but also in developments in medicine and biology questioning the status of the body and posing ethical problems.


Carnal Art loves parody and the baroque, the grotesque and the extreme.

Carnal Art opposes the conventions that exercise constraint on the human body and the work of art.

Carnal Art is anti-formalist and anti-conformist.


When researching Orlan’s performance work, I came across some of her writings, and one which particularly struck me was The Carnal Art Manifesto. All the ideas I am most interested in I have highlighted with red text.

I am interested by the way that Carnal Art is carries spans temporal cultural moments through the classical aesthetics employed, whilst is made real through the advances of technology, particularly medical technology, so it is possible to gain control of the representation of the self through surgeries. I am very interested in the growing impact of technology, and how this changes our view of the self, particularly of the female self, and how advances in technology have the possibility to open up new forms of language for women, “Carnal Art transforms the body into language”, enabling communication through the ability to control ones representation. In my work, I would like to explore themes of technology further, and see if I could link them to my narrative, and what affect this would have on the tone of the piece.

Perhaps the defining phrase of the piece, which directly connected my work to that of the forms of Carnal Art Orlan states is: “Carnal Art loves parody and the baroque, the grotesque and the extreme.” I am interested in the ability to appropriate or parody different forms of previously patriarchal forms of art in my work, turning them into the “grotesque and the extreme” in act of hysterical defiance against the visual and verbal language of the patriarchy. I want to push my narrative to reach the extreme through the aid of a visual accompaniment, and will consider the ideas written in this manifesto when trying to realise this.

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