English 114EM: Women Writers, 1650-1760

The Performances/Surgeries

Orlan is the first artist using surgery and plastic surgery to divert it from its habits of embellishment and rejuvenating.

Carnal Art is not against cosmetic surgery but, rather against the conventions carried by it and their subsequent inscription, within female flesh in particular, but also male. Carnal Art is feminist, that is necessary. It is interested not only in cosmetic surgery, but also advanced techniques in medicine and biology that question the status of the body and the ethical questions posed by them.


The operating room, entirely redesigned, becomes Orlan's artist studio from which comes the works of art (blood-drawings, reliquaries containing Orlan's flesh, shroud, photos, videos, films, etc.). The operating room is Orlan's atelier. And what a surreal theatre it is. Each of her "performances" is carefully choreographed. Famous designers, such as Paco Rabanne and Issey Miyake, have designed costumes for Orlan to wear during the surgeries. Poetry is read and music is played while she lies on the operating table fully conscious of the events taking place (only local anesthetic is used). Each surgery has been captured on video (and fed to live international audiences via satellite link-ups!), and exhibited in a number of galleries in Europe and the U.S., as well as at the Sydney Bicentenial (December 1993) in Australia

She calls it Carnal Art. Unlike 'Body Art', Carnal Art does not desire pain as a means of redemption, or to attain purification. Carnal Art does not wish to acheive a final 'plastic' result, but rather seeks to modify the body, and engage in public debate. Says Orlan: "'My work is not a stand against cosmetic surgery, but against the standards of beauty, against the dictates of a dominant ideology that impresses itself more and more on feminine . . . flesh'" (O'Bryan). It's also a stand against nature. Through her art, Orlan seeks to link the interior self with the exterior self. She takes physiognomy to its extreme.

This surgical montage recalls the practices of the ancient Greek artist, Zeuxis, and Leonardo da Vinci, in which the artists extrapolated the most ideal features of several different models and morphed them into one. But Orlan has taken these methods to a different level. Her operations are not cosmetic; she has had no facelifts or liposuction. Far from an ideal identity, the result seems to be none at all. Her performances are transmitted live via satellite in many museums while Orlan is answering questions from the public during the surgery.

The artist puts into question the actual state of the body and the possible genetic manipulations. Her body has become the product of a public debate both online and off. During the seventh surgery in New York, Orlan asked the surgeon to put on her temples implants which are normally used to make the cheekbones more prominent, and so, Orlan is now wearing two bumps on the temples.

"I can observe my own body cut open, without suffering!... I see myself all the way down to my entrails; a new mirror stage. "I can see to the heart of my lover; his splendid design has nothing to do with sickly sentimentalities"- Darling, I love your spleen; I love your liver; I adore your pancreas, and the line of your femur excites me." (Orlan from Carnal Art Manifesto)








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

This page has been designed by Denee Pescarmona for English114EM: 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/.