Diving into Orlan: Carnal Art (2004) by Caroline Cros is enlightening. I have a new respect for Orlan’s work. Work that previously I found difficult and disturbing. Following are some highlights from the book.
Orlan’s work titled Origine de la guerre (1989), which translated reads “Origin of War,” directly critiques Courbet’s Origin of the World (1886). It is a cibachrome of a portion of a man’s torso with an erect penis. What a delight (yes, a delight) to see how she handled this reactionary gesture. Not to belabour the point, but it is the humour and wit that is wonderful.
Surprising also, is her work surrounding concepts of the Baroque. “…her interest in the Baroque aesthetic was not motivated by provocation. Rather, the Baroque offered a context for exploring how art uses imitation and artifice to solicit the senses, and provided a means for testing art’s capacity to suggest what lies beneath the surface of things” (85-86). This is tied to the claim that Orlan’s work is “organized according to a dialectical principle…[t]he division between these terms is not conceived of as an opposition, but as a “fold,” as theorized by Gilles Deleuze…the fold that unfolds infinitely (in matter and in the soul) is proper to the Baroque. Knowledge resides in the fold, which is multiplicity in unity, difference within itself, in its unfolding and refolding, the fold engenders form, space, and time” (90-91).
The notion of knowledge lying within the folds is also tied to her surgery works. Régis Durand in Texts for Orlan draws a comparison between Lyotards Économie libidinales (1974) and Orlans surgery. “Here we have a patient unfolding of the ‘vast membrane of the libidinal body’ like an endless moebius strip,” an “opening out” (208). The unfolding of Orlan’s body during her surgery performances reveals a knowledge in the space of the fold, which is then refolded so to speak. Her action becomes Baroque in style.
She says, “If I am verbally described as a woman with two big lumps on her forehead I’ll probably be taken for an unscrewable freak; but if people actually see me, it’s possible they’ll look at me differently, or at any rate they’ll realize that the lumps are [a]esthetic possibilities – assuming of course, that people manage to free themselves from the models conditioning their judgement” (199). Orlan questions notions of beauty, which in turn challenges identity.
Of interest to my current project is her “Self-hybridation” works. In this series of cibachromes she digitally collages imagery of herself and imagery from Pre-Columbian and African civilizations. Orlan, a French woman, has spoken from a position of “white” privilege. It would be interesting to hear (or read) what those of a non-European background/heritage have to say about this work in particular. Does it constitute an inappropriate form of appropriation? Is there such a thing as inappropriate appropriation?
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Cros, Caroline. Orlan: Carnal Art. Trans. Deke Dusinberre. Paris: Flammarion, 2004. Print.
Durand, Régis. “Texts for Orlan.” Orlan. Paris: Flammarion, 2004. 205-213. Print.