“Orlan is not her name. Her face is not her face. Her body [is] not her body” (Rose). A French performance artist, who is known by her self-proclaimed name of Orlan, was the first artist who underwent a series of plastic surgeries sometime in the 1990s to transform her physical image to match the portrayal of ideal feminine beauty from famous Renaissance and post-Renaissance artworks such as the sculpture of Diana and the portrait of the Mona Lisa. In addition to selecting works that portrayed the appearance of female beauty, Orlan also chose features that involved history and mythology such as the idea that Diana was an “aggressive adventuress and did not submit to men…and the Mona Lisa because of her androgyny (the legend being that the painting actually represents a man, perhaps Leonardo himself)” (Rose). One of her most known modifications are the implants on either side of her forehead which she often decorates to accentuate their presence (Sumitra). Orlan’s surgeries were treated as performance art and were displayed and made public through the sale of the rights to her photos, videos, and interviews. She additionally includes exhibitions of vials that hold samples of her flesh and blood taken from her surgeries.
Through her project, Orlan meant to support the idea of “triumph of will over technology” (Sumitra). In this way, her artwork and herself as an artist furthers the belief of some artists and theorists that “see technology as potentially enhancing the experience of body…[to] free ourselves from standard definitions of gender and limitations of the physical body” (Wilson, 153). And as “body modification technologies develop, their use becomes more accepted… [contributing to] a future of ever expanding, nonmedical uses for these technologies” (Wilson, 156).
Rather than using these cosmetic surgeries to improve her physical appearance, Orlan attempts to make a statement and challenge the standards of beauty that society has set for both women and men. She utilizes the technology that is put into plastic surgery to transform her face and body in such a way that may seem disturbing or distasteful to some in an effort to question traditional perceptions of beauty in our culture. Orlan tries to transcend the gap between society’s criterion of what is feminine and what is masculine by reforming her own physical image and identity. As the first artist to utilize the technologies applied to bodily modification, Orlan potentially sets the standards for future use of cosmetic surgeries as a more commonly accepted practice in society – not necessarily for ideals of beauty but perhaps for the creation of an identity or self.
~ Amber Tang 🙂