The exhibition ORLAN TechnoBody Retrospective unfolds the work of ORLAN from 1966 to 2016. ORLAN has dedicated her career to self-invention using various media including the traditional, technological and medical. Working with photography, video, sculpture, painting, body, mass media, satellite broadcasting, and biotechnology, she champions hybridization through changing identities, and examines the polemics that arise in the fields of philosophy, politics, sociology, archaeology, and religion. ORLAN is recognized as a major figure of body art, more specifically “carnal art” as she defined in her 1992 manifesto. The artist renders her body a unit of measurement, an artistic medium, and a subject for experiments. About her practice, ORLAN says: “my work has always, right from the start, questioned the social, political and religious pressures exerted on bodies.” She continues: “working on the body and on my body means bringing together the private and the social.”
Who is ORLAN?
“To change your name means to invent yourself. After a session of psychoanalysis, I realized that I was forgetting some letters of my family name as I signed my name “M O R T E” [French word for ‘dead’] on my checks. I wanted to reuse the syllables which produce a positive connotation while keeping the word « O R » [French word for ‘gold’], I then added « L A N » and from that time I called myself ORLAN.” — Artist’s statement
ORLAN is a pseudonym that the artist chose early in her career. Written entirely in capital letters to avoid fitting into lines and ranks, ORLAN has dedicated her career to rebirth and self-invention. ORLAN attended an art school in Saint- Etienne, from which she dropped out after a year, judging that the education was too conservative.
In 1964, the artist performed her first body-action entitled Slow-Motion Walks Down “No Entry” Routes, in which she walks slowly through a street filled with a rushing crowd, as a sign of resistance. Subsequently, the photograph from the Body-Sculpture series, entitled ORLAN Gives Birth to Her Loved Self (1965), shows the artist’s defiance of the laws of nature and social norms, as it symbolically demonstrates the birth of the artist’s new identity, possessing the combined reproductive organs of both genders. ORLAN resists a body constructed according to genetic predetermination, and social prejudices imposed on women and their bodies. In 1978, as ORLAN was preparing to speak at a symposium on video and performance art, she collapsed, and was rushed to a hospital for an emergency surgery due to an ectopic pregnancy.
Along with her, ORLAN took a video crew to film the operation, and insisted that she remain conscious throughout the surgery. When the video was shot, it was shown as if it had been a planned performance. As the artist states: “The idea was to recuperate the real experience as an aesthetic phenomenon. It was a question of turning the situation inside out.” ORLAN underwent nine plastic surgery performances between 1990 and 1993. Her body became that of an interpreter, prepared to incarnate a diversity of bodies. Placing her body at the center of her approach, in all sorts of Mixed Unions, Free Matrimonies and Unusual Nuptials (title of the exhibition at the Maubuisson Abbey in 2011), ORLAN enacts a permanent mutation, utilizing science and reacting to the world’s turmoil.
Image and Text Courtesy of Artist and Sungkok Art Museum