Orlan is the Media and the Message

1 Dec


Initially, I didn’t know what to make of Orlan and her “art.” Anytime I think of flesh being cut, pulled and reshaped, I squirm a little and feel weak. I don’t really know why either. I have two-gauge plugs in my ears, which I stretched myself, I’ve pierced my own navel before, and I have a tattoo that runs shoulder blade to shoulder blade on my back. I didn’t really think about pain so much when I did those things either, so when Orlan talks about her Carnal Art, I confuse myself with my reaction.

Orlan’s art is extreme though. It’s more than the typical body modification of a piercing or tattoo. She resculpted her face through a series of plastic surgeries to replicate various features of women represented in famous works of art. One resulted in the bumps she has on each side of her forehead, which hostile critics said looked like “demon horns.” However, she says her objective with the plastic surgeries isn’t to beautify herself. Barbara Rose, who wrote a piece on Orlan for Art in America, puts it best. Rose says Orlan’s art shows that the image of the ideal woman is unattainable and horrifying to try to achieve. By using her body to express her art, she becomes the media and the message. Orlan is the canvas and she expresses what she is trying to say through it.

Orlan is unusual. Some might even call her subversive for undergoing such extreme procedures in the name of art. These things have some truth, but her point is very clear and makes sense. If Orlan is OK with being the canvas, then I can only support her because I agree with what she has to say.

In an interview she conducted with the UK’s the Guardian, Orlan says she isn’t out to change the idea of beauty.

“No, my goal was to be different, strong; to sculpt my own body to reinvent the self. It’s all about being different and creating a clash with society because of that.”

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