English 114EM: Women Writers, 1650-1760

Orlan's Philosophy of Carnal Art

What is "Carnal Art"?

Carnal Art is a self-portrait in the classical sense, yet realized through the technology of its time. Lying between disfiguration and figuration, it is an inscription in flesh, as our age now makes possible. No longer seen as the ideal it once represented, the body has become an 'modified ready-made'. Carnal Art loves the baroque and parody; the grotesque, and other such styles that have been left behind, because Carnal Art opposes the social pressures that are exerted upon both the human body and the corpus of art. Carnal Art is anti-formalist and anti-conformist.

What are the classical influences of Carnal Art?

Orlan has engineered art projects around nine operations which remake her appearance, and the series as a whole is entitled The Reincarnation of Saint Orlan or Image-New Images. Orlan deals with the problem of dissection, peeling, and unveiling which feminist theorists have critiqued as masochistic compared to the sexual sadism of the "anatomist's ruthless penetration -- the thrust of the male creator. But her work is also a task of incorporating the image of goddesses from mythology and art history -- such as Leonardo Da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" and the goddess Diana -- as a computerized process of hybridization. Orlan explains: "...I devised my self-portrait using a computer to combine and make a hybrid of representations of goddesses from Greek mythology. I chose them not for the cannons of beauty they are supposed to represent, but rather on account of the stories associated with them. Diana was chosen because she refuses to submit to the gods or to men, she is active and even aggressive..." (Goode, 1997)

Of the operations performed so far, one altered her mouth to imitate that of François Boucher's Europa; another "appropriated" the forehead of da Vinci's Mona Lisa; yet another imitates the chin of Botticelli's Venus. These models were not chosen by Orlan purely for their ideal beauty, however, but also for their mythical and symbolic connotations. Venus was selected for her symbolic notions of fertility and "Europa because she looked to another continent, permitting herself to be carried away into an unknown future" (Rose, 85). Yet another surgery, the widely publicized "Omniprésence," which took place in November of 1993, implanted protrusions in her forehead to mimic the protruding brow of Mona Lisa. Naturally, Orlan's was more exaggerated: rather than a gentle protrusion, the end result was two symmetrical horns.





What are the religious implications of Carnal Art?

"Clearly Carnal Art does not inherit anything from the Christian tradition, against which it fights! Carnal Art points to religion's denial of the 'pleasures of the body', and puts the naked body in the spaces opened up through scientific discovery. Carnal Art does not inherit anything from hagiography through decapitations and other martyrs, it adds more than it takes away. Augmenting their powers instead of reducing them, Carnal Art is not self-mutilation." (Carnal Art Manifesto)

Carnal Art transforms the body into language, reversing the Christian principle of 'the word made flesh', the flesh is made word. Only the voice of Orlan remains unchanged.







Next Page: Orlan's Surgeries/Performances

Return to English 114EM home

This page has been explicitly designed for educational purposes and images should not be reproduced.

This page has been designed by Denee Pescarmona for English 114EM: Women Writers, 1650-1760, taught by Professor Elizabeth Heckendorn Cook.

This website was created in 2003. All references were accurate and all links were operative at the time the site was created. The site has not been updated since then, nor have broken links been fixed. For current information on ORLAN see http://www.orlan.net/.